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Mitch Harrison

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Are the arts (music, dance, visual art, etc.) as important to teach in public schools as mathematics and sciences?

As a senior in high school and a passionate musician, I have been thinking a lot recently about the future. My future after graduation, my future with my loved ones, my friends' futures. Most of all, however, I've been thinking about society's future. In school, I am taught that math and science will get me to college, and college will get me a good job. That is all well and good... for the students who excel in math and science. I am an artist, and I think schools should build on that strength, instead of trying to fit the suqare peg of analytic classes into the round hole of my creative heart. I am very interested to hear both sides of this argument, though, as my side is not necessarily the correct side to take (if a "correct side" exists at all). I want some opinions. Should the arts be pushed more? Mathematics and sciences pushed less? Is education okay where is now?

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  • May 26 2012: I think its a great question. I am a High School music teacher and I would say that all subjects are equally important and many are interrelated. For example, music, physics and mathematics are strongly linked. One problem is that subjects like Maths are often not taught creatively. Students don't learn about the historical context of maths problems and so most don't ever really understand the subject.
  • May 27 2012: I don't see it as unethical to grade art or music. In the same way that we can measure a children's creative writing or essay. There are objective measures that can be applied, such as technical facility, interpretative risk taking, etc. You might ell ask, is it ethical to measure children at all. I can't see the difference between grading a music composition and marking a short story.

    In your art classes at school, they were indeed trying to give you a taste of different mediums. If you'd chosen Art for your final High School year, then surely you would have had the opportunity to refine your skills in one area like painting. At least you would in Australia.

    If you had a real passion for painting, it was hardly your school's role to refine those skills. That is what University is for.
  • May 26 2012: Some of the commenters here have a very black and white view of the arts and science and this is likely a result of your own experiences with these subjects at school. The fact is, to be a successful scientist, you need to be highly creative. And art is not as abstract as you might thing. In music, for example, the harmonic series follows very strict laws of physics. So to assume we need creativity less than maths and science is quite naive I think.

    Something that is also forgotten at times, is the importance of the arts on our emotional and physical well being. WE need to surround ourselves with beauty to survive. Art is as essential to life, in my opinion, as food and water.
  • May 25 2012: Well, Josh, I think the arts go beyond giving us pleasure in opening cognitive connections & expanding imagination. That was my point about Einstein. Not that math & science can't accomplish this, but the connection between music & math is pretty well documented; & visual arts teach shape, color, & design in a way that develops neural pathways. Taught well, art also teaches beginning chemistry, as in learning media properties, & basic math in terms of shape, measurement, size. I wasn't knocking the importance of the hard sciences but suggesting that both sciencec & art are important. People at all levels learn differently, & what one individual learns via math & science, another might learn through art. I agree, however, that basic competency in reading, writing, & arithmetic are absolutely essential.
  • May 23 2012: Hello Mitch from Davison!
    We will always need the arts to sustain us, despite the growing "fad thinking" that hard science & math reign supreme.
    This thinking is naive, in my view. The more our left & right brains connect, the better off we are. Einstein's theory of relativity arose from his imagination, & he was then able to use his grasp of math to develop the theory. If you are good in both hard & soft subjects, you are fortunate. Someone posted a question about "imagination time" in k-12 classrooms. The best teachers are themselves imaginative & support this in their students, & there are unlimited ways to do this.
    Learn all you can, & integrate! Appreciating the art/beauty of biology & chemistry have made my life richer. (I was a bio/chem teacher & have always lived artfully.) If you can, work doing what you love; if you don't have that opportunity, work at what willl give you the lifestyle you want w/out damaging your soul, but always find time for the art you love. Be true to yourself; don't sell out. Best!
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      Josh S

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      May 25 2012: What practical applications do the arts offer to us. Of course the arts are liked, are enjoyed by everyone including myself. I'm listening to music now, a painting is in the same room. A website designer designed the website i'm communicating on now.

      But compared to the practical applications of science and math, the arts offer relatively few benefits.

      We are talking about education now, Einstein did not come up with his theories in grade school. At the moment in grade schools, there are in general 1 to 2 periods of arts, not including English which is a form of art. There are generally 2 science and math periods. Seems about the same to me. Maybe science and maths are considered more important because they are more important?
  • May 22 2012: I think the biggest problem with art education is the content, context, methods, and objectives they typically employ. I've been fortunate to have had a few good art, and one good music teacher in the past. The rest have been rather mediocre to terrible. While I doubt not their capacity in their own right, they lack the instructional material and guidance to cultivate it in their pupils. Because of its rather subjective nature, Art requires to some degree an affinity for it. Naive perspectives tell us that everyone can appreciate art, but the real question is at what point does it become appreciably useful or not to students. This is no different than those studying physics. At some point, trying to beat material in to a student's brain becomes detrimental, leaving the student with a complete hatred for the subject and a complete waste of resources. Especially if that student turns out to be a prodigy in some other field of interest.

    Reflecting on Robinson, "digitizing" answers in to correct and incorrect choices is an unfortunate consequence of those that employ a measurement of success. Robinson addresses an important issue but it is simplistic at best and deals with extremely young ages. If you are a parent that has such a narrow viewpoint you give your children medication for behavioral disturbances, you don't deserve them. Children are vastly volatile characters. They are supposed to be. You lack this understanding, then you were not ready to reproduce. If you are disappointed by your child that does not score high on tests, I suggest next time you go out and buy one that is full matured with pedigrees already accomplished, instead of trying to grow your own. If you insist on growing your own, make a couple dozen and discard the ones that don't succeed.

    What displeases me about Robinson's lecture is that he needs to speak about this at all. It sickens me to think there's an epidemic of performance worry among parents.
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    May 22 2012: Some people design and build bridges. Other people paint pictures of those bridges. If you want to drive across the river the former group is more important. If you want to look at a painting the latter group is more important. Sometimes you have to drive across the bridge to get to the art museum then both groups are important.
  • May 21 2012: Should the Arts be pushed more?
    mathematics & Science pushed less?
    Is Education okay where is now?

    The last question is probably the easiest to answer so I will start there. The obvious answer to this is no, even if you say yes. Progress is dependent on improvement. How do we progress any field of study? By challenging it, finding ways to improve it. Why should it be any different for the study of studies.

    The question really comes down to constraints. In the limited resources of time, money, administration, etc. available, how do we PROPORTION our curriculum? Although Art is obviously important, I would have to argue for Science to be a stronger focus in the years just before getting to college. An ideal composition would be to shift focus during development. All other aspects of natural development occurs in waxing/waning cycles. Why are we so artificially linear in our development of education? For example I think debate, philosophy, psychology would be more helpful in the last year of HS than trying to cram a few more courses of calculus.
    (1) Critical Thinking: Providing the groundwork for objective perspectives gives a stronger foundation for subjective ones, rather than the reverse. Basing opinions on facts is stronger than basing facts on opinions. Especially in other studies.
    (2) Practical Application: The application of science & math are obvious not only in general usage. Especially in other studies.
    (3) Potential Development: Building on both of these, a student can expand in to other areas of science & art more proficiently & broadly, the synergies are stronger. Incorporation of other studies is a systematic & analytic heavy process.

    But what do I know, I may be completely wrong. Ask a developmental psychologist. Or study renaissance periods of different cultures for a better answer. That's what my science brain tells me. See what I mean?

    BTW: I became an engineer instead of an architect because not enough art. Answering this is a struggle for me.
  • May 20 2012: According to Blooms Taxonomy there is six orders of thinking: Evaluation, Synthesis, Analysis, Application, Comprehension and Knowledge. Knowledge and Comprehension are considered the "lower" end of the scale which is related to acquisition of knowledge and comprehending it. The other four are considered more difficult due to dealing with abstract concepts. The arts often requires people to use the top four. The arts also require you to use Meta cognition. This is a process of "thinking about thinking". It encourages "lateral thinking" which then allows for flexibility (Ken Robinson argued this point very well in his talk).
  • May 26 2012: Teaching creativity seems like an oxymoron.

    Is it ethical to put a grade on someone's art or music? Is it possible to be objective over something that is subjective in nature? Would giving that grade possibly kill some childrens creativity because they are trying to please their teacher and not themselves?

    I remember back in high school in my art class, I exceled in painting. But the art class was so focused on making everyone "well rounded" that it had to divide up it's time for different subjects. Such as clay pots, art history, sculpture, pastel, etc

    If I did have the talents to take my painting skills further, my art class won't have helped me out. It constricted me to waste my time on other skills that I wasn't interested in or use in the real world.
  • May 23 2012: Yes, they should. There are valuable skills that lie within creativity, whether its in music, art, writing, dance, etc. There was a study done that showed a creative peak which children reach around the age of 7-9. After this age, their creativity tended to plateau.
    Its not about simply learning to draw or play the piano, its about creative literacy. If a child doesn't learn that art is a form of expression they may lose out on a valuable tool that could help them to express their feelings in a healthy way. Children need to become comfortable with creative expression at a young age, otherwise they may become self-conscious, or lose the imaginitive drive that they had at a younger age. By encouraging creative literacy, children will learn to be more expressive, being more expressive makes us compassionate, and being compassionate makes you a better human being.


    As a musician who grew up competing and performing at all levels, I've learned first hand the benefit of the arts, versus the benefit of creativity. There were certain creative skills that I never practiced, I always hoped that through study I would find my creativity, but its really something that has to be nurtured like any other type of knowledge. There are certain things that I will probably never do, because no one let me be creative at the time when I was open to being impulsive and creative. Although I am still able to express myself through music, I often wonder how much I could be holding back, without the freedom of expression that I had envisioned.
  • May 23 2012: As one who excelled at math & science in my school years, but somehow, unbeknownst to me, my creative side took control in early twenties, I see the value in pursuits of teaching the brain to operate from either side. My best illustration of this transformation is hardly academic, but I could never dribble a basketball with my left hand growing up, the right always dominated, but now it is a great struggle to dribble with my right, nstead the left dominates.

    Neither pursuit can be ignored and I believe both can aid you in whatever you decide to pursue in your life. I don't like how there are too many students that go to college to major in the arts. It is hard to find employment with such majors, and even when found, the pay is not necessarily enough to live and pay off loans. I believe those that major in the arts should be the exception, not the rule. There are ample career paths that can utilize creative minds and will pay enough to keep up with the rent. Not sure I am answering the question posed however. I guess yes, I do think the arts are pushed too much, and that creative minds that could be coming up with random uncalculated ideas for solving poverty, disease, etc, are too busy acting in local theaters, painting canvas that will end up in Goodwill, or playing trombone on a street corner, to ever do much more than they potentially could have? This is a generalization and by no means a broad brush to paint on all artists for I love the arts, theater, dance, and playing an instrument (all of which I do or did). Math and science may not be the complete answer, but neither is art either.
  • May 22 2012: I grow up in Komunisem regime and we had learned everything in the school , music, dance, military, art, and komunisem idea. The last one was completely out form education, but every thing were obligated from the teacher; therefore, we learned and spoken everything what was served by teacher. The school is better to change completely I mean from elementary to high school. If we do not have a crease youth. The most of invention came from the youth because they dream mostly of the time. They life in their own world. As more we support our child with their creativity , as more easily is for us as parents to communicate with them
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    May 22 2012: Yes! Arts are also very important in shaping our brain. I don't know much about this, but there's this concept of multiple intelligence. Sadly, the intelligence being develop in schools focus only at certain skills like math and sciences. What happen to the other areas of intelligence? They are left undeveloped.

    Even if we don't think about multiple intelligence, I feel like arts is a good way for us to channel our emotions, our creativity, and the 'freedom' of our soul. So I think it is important to be implanted in schools' curriculum.
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    May 21 2012: Wow. This is the first debate that I've ever posted and I'm shocked at the responses. Thank you so much everyone! Keep the responses coming.
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    May 21 2012: Certainly! We need to meet the needs of all students. We are enriched when the poet and the mathematician befriend one another and the mathematician learns a new way of seeing the problem from the poet or the musician. Before that he might have been in a mathematical cul de sac.
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    May 21 2012: Hey Mitch.

    Enter into the muse.

    The classroom is you. Be it.
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    May 21 2012: Mitch to me you are obviously right that we need exposure to both since we need both. Other than an reasonable exposure to math or science on the level of need ie for health and finances it seems to me that most of it is now wasted. At least some of that could be spent on the arts for those interested. Yes most artists will not become world renowned millionaires but a lot of them will get continued pleasure in a personal mastery of a hobby. How many people play with geometry for fun? Can you entertain your friends with a hypotenuse?
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    May 21 2012: I think that art programs in schools should be made more available, not pushed more. What would happen to those who do excel in math and science? It would be a pity to waste their knowledge in the arts, just like it is a pity to waste your creativity in the sciences.
    I am not sure how most high schools operate, but the one I attended allowed me to pick my elective courses and this was amazing. I was able to pursue whichever area attracted me the most and wasn't confined to a specific course as long as I had the basics covered (math, science, history, literature, etc). Also, it was fundamental for all students to graduate with a certain number of credits in all of these areas, including art.
    This method opened the possibilities for students to pursue their interests while still making them explore all of the options. While I might not have enjoyed taking math courses, I at least knew why I did not like this.
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    May 20 2012: There is no doubt that arts are as important as maths and sciences.. It's Just that the schools and even parents are not ready to give the same importance!! Well infact most of the schools in my country they don't have any arts classes!! The other thing is that parents search for schools those which dont have any extra-activities except studies for their children. But seriously arts should be given an equal importance. music,dance,arts are the things which can give a person relief, peaceful mind and we know they are very much necessary for a student to be active all the time!!
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    Josh S

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    May 20 2012: I myself am a junior in high school so we both have that in common. However, i take the opposite perspective as i enjoy science much more than the arts.
    My answer is most likely going to be biased, but atleast it is one side of the argument. I think that the sciences are only slightly more leaned on then the arts. In my school, we have 3 years required to take of the sciences, earth science, biology, and chemistry. We must also take 2 years of any art form. So in this way schooling obviously leans closer to the arts. However, in the variety of subjects available, there is much more in choosing in the arts. While there may be about 10 science electives, there are 15-20 art electives.
    On the other hand, i think arts are generally considered to be lesser to math and science because math and science are for the most part, concrete. 2+2=4. in math this is always true, it can't be different. in art on the other hand, it is all opinion. Some may say this piece or this work is amazing while another may say it is bland. Not only this, but art has little practical use that i can think of in the world. Concepts of physics and chemistry can change our society; if a new way to create energy was found, it would be an amazing breakthrough that affects everyone. But if someone painted an amazing picture, only a few would take notice.

    I think it has more to do with the practicality of what is studied that determines how much it is valued, especially in schools.

    Again, these are just my thoughts and are probably slightly biased, but i'm open for your view on it
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      May 21 2012: I respect your opinion, but I believe that art is just as important as any science in the world.

      The beauty of art is that it is not concrete, it can be molded into anything the artist and viewer wants it to be.

      You make the observation that few would notice if anyone painted an amazing picture, however, you fail to acknowledge how before most of the people were literate, it was through art that religious organizations conveyed their messages to followers and to those they were converting. While not everyone could read or write religious texts, they could all interpret religious images.
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        Josh S

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        May 21 2012: Yes 300 years ago this art did make a difference, but what we are talking about now is the educational system in the 21st century. While there are needed skills in the arts, there is nowhere near as much as need as their is for the sciences. In today's day and age, the arts offer relatively minor benefits that the sciences offer, in terms of monetary gains, societal respect, achievements, and humanitarian benefits.

        I dont debate that the arts are useful, for example i am listening to music at the moment and love my music dearly. This website was in part helped created by a visual art designer, so they helped created the website. What i am simply stating is that their are more uses for the sciences than the arts, and that is why it is focused on more in school.
  • May 20 2012: I certainly think that the arts are important topics to be taught, I would be extremely concerned if they were just treated as optional extras. It seems in this day and age that you are either science or arts, I wonder if this really needs to be the case?
  • Sw Tan

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    May 20 2012: In my country, the public school curriculum is designed such that music and arts are considered extra, non-compulsory or non-essential subjects. They are some what treated like extra curriculum. I guess, as mentioned by Sir Ken Robertson the school curriculum was designed for the 19th century....it is outdated!
    I think there is a lot of truth in the statement that we must not be ordinary to be extraordinary, to be special. Arts, music - these uses the right brain. Creativity requires the use of right brain.
  • May 20 2012: Obviously we can see clearly that most public school don't think its necessarty to teach the arts. They focus more on teaching math, english, chinese, chemistry, physical. Because those subjects are important for school to bulit good fame for schools. However,THE REALITY MAKE US FEEL TO MISERIBLE
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    May 20 2012: To put any facet of what makes an education on a pedestal above another is going to always be a step in the wrong direction. Yes, the core math, science, language, and social studies will always be needed to keep society going, but creative outlets like dance, music, and art will always make sure we’re moving forward. Now the balance of these things might be hard, but it’s not impossible. All it takes is motivated students, supportive family and community members, and a plan. Right now what usually seems to be lacking is the plan portion.
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    May 20 2012: The arts are as important as science and mathematics. Education should be given a broad view; the diversity of learners also means the diversity of subjects of interest. The social sciences,arts and other faculties are vital contributors to nationbuilding, hence they have to be given ad much priority as the sciences.