Earlier this spring Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote that "dance, music, theater, and visual arts" are essential to preparing our nation's young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity." That may be the case, but thanks to education funding cuts, the arts are being systematically stripped from our schools. According to creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson, what's left can hardly be called an education.
"We may be providing something else, but it's not what we want to think of as education," Robinson told attendees at the recent Action Children's Art Conference in the U.K. Instead, says Robinson, our children are growing up in a fast-paced world "that's becoming more standardized," which means kids "live within education cultures that are more prone to testing, to conformity, and to compliance than ever before."
Indeed, what Robinson advocates for "are opportunities for self exploration" and the ability for "young people to explore the range of their own imaginations." Because the arts are intimately connected to our emotions, students also need a chance "to explore the depths of their own feelings and their connections to other people."
Without the connection to our emotions that music, dance, visual art, and drama provide, students' ability to cultivate their right-brain "soft skills" ends up being stunted. In a global society that needs people with the emotional intelligence to have both personal and working relationships with people from diverse cultures—and the ability to think creatively and entrepreneurially—that means denying kids access to the arts has less-than-desirable consequences.
It's not too late to get on the right track though, says Robinson, if we support a robust, child centered arts program in our schools, and if arts organizations in our community—the local ballet or symphony, for example—also develop programs specifically for students.