In defence of the arts in education

A long time ago, in an age of economic upheaval (I think it was the early 80’s) I remember seeing a world renowned conductor at the “Last Night of the Proms” at the Albert hall in London. He made the customary last night speech to the wildy patriotic and predominantly young audience and said, “there are those who are calling for a cut in music and art education and I say to them that they do this at their peril!”The speech received a very loud cheer and hit home with me, that it has stuck in my long term memory ever since.

As those of you who have read this blog will know I am a fervent supporter of the work of Sir Ken Robinson (there are a number of videos of his on this site  and a review of his excellent book “The Element”).  He is a passionate advocate of creativity in education and indeed believes that creativity is essential to our future on this planet and should be core curriculum and not just something tacked on to the basics of literacy and mathematics.

The more I have looked at this subject the more I have become convinced of his argument. Creativity is the ability to create something from  nothing. Whether it is from a piece of stone that becomes a wonderful sculpture, a piece of music that moves us to tears or a piece of poetry that reaches into our soul.

About a year or two back I discovered , quite by chance, as is the way with me and my internet searching, “The Kids For Coltrane” The guiding light of this project is a remarkable teacher called Christine Termini Passarella. I’ve got to know quite a lot about Christine from having read her entries in the website and following her as a friend on Facebook.

There is so  much to say about Christine and her wonderful children from  the Queens area of  New York City. She has used the fact that her school and the children who go there come from a part of the city where the  great Jazz musician John  Coltrane lived. The children investigated the music of Coltrane and used this as the basis for art as well as writing and discussion about the large issues of life. Look at the video below to get a feel for the work that Christine was doing a couple of years back with such very young children.

She has been greatly influenced by her attendance at Harvard University’s Project Zero and in particular by the work of Professor Howard Gardner and his ideas about multiple intelligences.

I feel that Howard  Gardner and Sir Ken Robinson are both strong proponents of the need for arts education to remain as a key part of any school curriculum. It is not just about producing artistic geniuses, that may happen and once in a while it is bound to, it is much more than that. It is about the ability of art to allow us to develop our imaginations, to create from nothing and to build from nothing. It is how we have got to where we are as a species on this planet and it is what makes us different from all the other animals on this planet.

The idea behind this blog post was a news item in my Facebook following of Edutopia. The item is called “The coming Tsunami”  by B. J. Adler There is a useful comment in it by Christine about a forthcoming conference… I thought I would use this blog post as another effort to spread her message about this conference…

Hi all…I experienced incredible PD at Harvard University with seminars given by Lois Hetland and Ellen Winner. I just learned that they will be part of a conference that may interest this community. It will be at the Guggenheim Museum in June. See details below from an email I received.

A Conference for Educators

Thursday, June 3, 9 am–5:30 pm
Friday, June 4, 9 am–1 pm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York City

Unfortunately, as I live in England and am unlikely to be able to get to New York on June 4th I shall not be able to attend myself but I wish them well and would encourage anyone reading this post to go along if they are able. We must defend the arts and creativity in education… if we do not do so it will be at our peril!

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2 thoughts on “In defence of the arts in education

  1. Hi Malcolm,
    you might be interested in coming along to the Making Waves conference at Bath Spa University on the 18th June instead?

    Organised by 5x5x5=creativity ( with BSU and CCE (Creativity, Culture & Education), its exploring similar issues in terms of the role of creativity within learning.

    A programme can be downloaded from the events page of the 5×5 website.

    Hope to see you there…
    Best wishes,

  2. Great post Malcolm. It’s got me thiking quite a bit as I love music and the arts and I’m wondering now if I do enough to bring those into my classroom. You’re quite right to say that we must defend creativity and the arts in education as on any occasion where I have thrown caution to the wind and delved into music, paintings, great literature or thoughtful thinking the students in those classes have responded with added enthusiasm.

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