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Arts education in the new economy ……….and why it’s so important

Creative ImageSo there I was leaving a monthly music lesson at a montessori preschool in Jamaica, Queens when I saw it. A parade of children walking down the street. A big banner announcing their purpose: “We are the Future”. As the long line of children and their parents began to walk by me, I noticed that the children were all dressed up in costumes depicting what they wanted to be when they grew up. They were dressed as nurses, engineers, lawyers, doctors, police officers, fire fighters, and even a cowboy. All honorable, inspirational and incredibly important professions (yes, even the cowboy). Many amazing and passionate people do this vital work daily.

But as I stood there with my keyboard and bag of drums I wondered, where are all the artists, musicians, computer programmers, graphic designers, app developers, entrepreneurs, and problem solvers? Where is the future of creativity? Where is the child who wants to create the next Facebook? Where is the child who wants to create the environmental breakthrough that will tear us away from fossil fuels? Where is the child who wants to paint like Picasso or play like Coltrane?

I have the utmost respect for anyone who chooses to be a lawyer, firefighter, or doctor. I’m not trying to belittle the importance of those careers. What I am saying is that the current education system, by continuing to downplay the arts and the creative, leaves students at a disadvantage in the real world. The world has changed, the economy has changed, the job market has changed, and yet our education system stays the same. A broken system desperately hanging on by a thread to the reminiscence of an industrial world.  A system in which success is measured by archaic standardized testing. Yet in the real world, success has changed. The successful are the innovators, the creators, the Mark Zuckerberg’s, the Jonathan Ives‘ (designed the iPhone), the Esperanza Spaldings‘. People that are not afraid to fail. People that are pushing the boundaries of technology and using it to solve problems. Shouldn’t we be encouraging this type of learning?

Lucky, people are starting to talk. Guitarist/former Tonight Show bandleader Kevin Eubanks discussed music and arts education in this wonderful interview on WBGO in New York. He states (at minute 48) that music education is vitally important because it teaches students the following qualities that will make them successful in any career:

  • confidence through problem solving
  • the understanding that if you are not on time someone else in the group suffers because of you
  • the ability to take and give direction
  • the ability to listen to the person next to you
  • the ability to work as a group.

I agree with Kevin on every point and I frequently use these points when discussing the benefits of music lessons with the parents of my students. These benefits are at the heart of why arts education is so important. The arts help students create healthy hobbies that build character which will help them in any career.

Sir Ken Robinson another outspoken advocate of arts education (and really education reform) discusses creativity and learning in this iconic TED talk (watch it if you have time, it’s excellent).

Ken states that the entire system of public education was based on the needs of industrialism and follows these two guidelines:

  • The most useful subjects for industrial work are at the top and are considered most important.
  • The whole system is designed from the start as a path towards university acceptance.  Academic ability is rewarded while creative ability undervalued.

Ken’s right! Our industrial economy is gone. Why hasn’t our education system figured it out yet? With this new economy the new jobs are in creation. How can we best prepare students for the future? has a good idea for reform. This video is 6 minutes and you have the time to watch it now I’m sure.

That’s brilliant! I’m not saying that I know the answer but I think we can start by encouraging creativity and teaching that there are many paths to success. That success is not measured solely by a MD, JD or PhD. That we can give our students encouragement and make them feel valued equally whether they are passionate about math, music, or programming. Give them the confidence to stand up and say, “Look, I made this” (I totally stole that phrase from Seth Godin, check him out). As educators we are building the future. Let’s start acting like it!

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