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The Global Search for Education: More Arts Please – Ken Robinson

18th November 2014

“To lose our culture is to lose our memory.”

More Leonardo da Vincis, more Martha Grahams, more Ludwig Van Beethovens, more Luciano Pavarottis, more Marlon Brandos, more Antoni Gaudis, more Coco Chanels, more Bob Dylans, more Zhang Xiaogangs, more William Shakespeares, more Julia Margaret Camerons, more Gustav Vigelands, more Andrew Lloyd Webbers, more Francis Ford Coppolas, more Meryl Streeps, more Alice In Wonderlands, more Anna Pavlovas, more Michael Jacksons, more Vincent van Goghs, more Harry Potters, more Phil Knights, more Rabindranath Tagores, more Pablo Picassos, more John Steinbecks… Please Sir – can we have some more?

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD, is one of the internationally recognized leaders in the development of education creativity and innovation. He has received numerous honorary degrees from universities, and many awards from cultural organizations and governments, all over the world. He was knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the Arts. He has advised governments in Europe, Asia and North America on the Arts. In 2005 he was named one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s Principal Voices. His book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times best seller and has been translated into 21 languages. His latest book is the 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative.

Sir Ken, what do you believe an arts curriculum should look like in primary and secondary school education?

I believe that the arts should be on an equal footing in schools with the sciences, humanities, languages and physical education. In most school systems there is a hierarchy. Arts programs are being cut ruthlessly since “No Child Left Behind” came out ten years ago. In the UK, they still talk about core foundation subjects, i.e. English, Math, and Science. In most countries the arts are a second tier activity. My first point is that the arts must be given equal footing. That’s what we argued in The Arts in Schools, the book I published in 1982.

There’s a need for a balance in arts education in several respects. One of them is that a proper arts curriculum would provide for music, dance, visual arts, literature and drama. When we did The Arts in Schools project, I made a point of not trying to define the arts in any form. The reason for this was that the arts are a vibrant set of disciplines, and when you go into different cultures they don’t think of there being 4 or 5 different art forms. For example, for an audience watching a dance performance, that is a visual art form; if you look at musical theater, that is a combination of different disciplines: acting, dancing, music. So even defining 5 or 6 different art forms can become problematic.

Secondly, I think there should be a balance within the teaching of the arts. I ran a large project in the UK in the 80’s called the “The Arts 5-16” in which we offered a clear framework for arts education. There should be a balance between actually doing the arts and secondly, engaging students in understanding other people’s work. In other words, making and appraising. In some schools you will find that there is a greater emphasis on the latter, i.e. appraising. Students read books or listen to music, but they’re not encouraged to create it themselves. In other schools, you will find the opposite, i.e. students doing their own work and never looking at anybody else’s. A balanced arts education has to include both.

Under each of these areas of creating and appraising, we have to teach that creating arts is a discipline based process. It is not just free form. You must learn the skills and techniques of any area but they have to be taught in a way that enables you to think differently and imaginatively. There are forms of teaching that are highly uncreative and where the emphasis on discipline can kill the passion to make art. So there has to be a direct relationship between learning the skills involved and having the freedom to use them and to think creatively through them. The balance is about technical and creative development.

In terms of appraising other people’s work, arts education should include a balance between contextual knowledge and critical judgment. A full appreciation of a work includes understanding something of the history and context in which it was produced. For example, some people look at modern art and think it’s nonsense and that’s often because they don’t understand the context in which it was produced or what the artists’ intentions were. It’s like looking at a page of Romanian if you don’t speak it. So an important part of arts education is helping people understand context, background, and cultural references. The second process is developing skills of critical judgment. In the end you can understand a piece of art in the context and the background to it and still not like it. Enabling students to formulate, express and defend their own aesthetic and critical judgment of the arts is an essential element of a properly balanced arts education in any discipline.

Read more on the Huffington Post website