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Stem subject snobbery: a student’s view on why arts subjects matter

1st February 2016

This 16-year-old says taking GCSE dance was the best decision she ever made – why is everyone so negative about it?

“Y’know, the soft subjects,” says the boy in maths. “The easy ones: the stupid girls in bottom set take them. Extra, pointless GCSEs. Like dance. It shouldn’t even be a subject.” We’re choosing subjects for our A-level taster day at school, and for some, the prospect of choosing an “arty” option is hilarious. I see the raised eyebrows when I explain two of my GCSE options are dance and drama.

At 16, I am constantly baffled by people who believe they can define what is of academic value. People see me as an equation – because I am academic, I should not choose dance and drama at GCSE.

“But you’re, like, clever – why dance?” was one friend’s response.

“What do you even do? An extra A* to prance around?” was the response of someone who, needless to say, was not my friend.

Maybe it’s no surprise that this stigma exists: we’re in a society that is obsessed with living for the future. I remember at my GCSE options evening, a boy who was a talented actor was swiftly moved away from the drama stand by his father, who told him that the days of make-believe had been and gone. As early as primary school, dance, art and drama were offered in clubs because they aren’t the “real subjects” that we need for “big school”.

There’s this stigma with the arts that only “unintelligent” students take those subjects. I still struggle to be taken seriously for taking arts subjects. I was told by advisers that dance and drama wouldn’t help me to get a suitable career, and by other adults that I was wasting my potential. But the only potential I was wasting was to be sat in classrooms, with no motivation for what would never interest me. My friends told me I’d get bored of dance and switch to triple science within the first month.

But more than a year later, I’m reminded daily that taking GCSE dance was the best decision I ever made. While everyone complains about the subjects their parents forced them into, I am in the dance studio every lunchtime. Dance gets me into school. Dance gives me something to pour my head and heart into. It gives me a feeling of belonging, creativity, security and freedom.

Then the bell rings and it’s back to Ohm’s law and circle theorems. Back to being told that the subject that makes you feel alive also makes you not of value. But it’s the arts subjects that get me in to school every day, and get me through all my other subjects. Knowing I have something to work for, a reason to be motivated and driven. The skills that I get from the arts also help me hugely with work across the curriculum, from improving my analytical skills to making me more self-confident.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the education secretary Nicky Morgan has put emphasis on science, technology, engineering and maths, saying that students who focus exclusively on the arts risk their career paths. But it appears Morgan is only peering into the doors of one street, without understanding that children are different, and what may be perfect for one certainly won’t be for another.

Stopping young people from expressing themselves at such a young age is not doing them any favours. Perhaps Nicky Morgan has forgotten to open the door of being passionate about your subject, of having a drive to study that subject day in, day out. It shouldn’t matter what that subject is.

To study arts subjects, you have to take risks, push yourself emotionally, expressively and creatively in every lesson, you have to persevere and be interpretive, passionate and collaborative. I’ve worked harder in these subjects than I’ve ever worked in my life.

To deprive anyone of the opportunity to find what dance and drama gave me is to strip them of a real education that goes beyond the walls of a classroom.

I don’t doubt the impact that Stem subjects can have for the people that love them. But to encourage children into one bracket is cruel. As much as I try, I’m not good at and don’t love physics, biology or maths. I don’t want a career in these areas. I understand why these are important subjects but I think I should also be encouraged to be a dancer, musician, artist and sportsman if I want. The world needs these people too, along with our so-called soft subjects.

There has been a decline in the number of state schools offering arts subjects taught by specialist teachers. And the ones that remain have it tough. I can’t even imagine how it feels to be told that you don’t teach a “real subject” by a year 8 boy. The arts teachers I’ve had have completely changed my life, giving so much to me in hours and inspiration.

To the teachers, the parents, the government: expand your definition of what is possible for the children you know. Let them make their own decisions, let them be inspired and live in the present. Let them have a real, unrestricted education.

Read more on the Guardian Website