Those with an eye on the education news may have noticed that it was announced that as part of the overhaul of the exam system the Arts subjects were going to be made more ‘rigorous and demanding’ This is the education secretary, Mr Gove’s attempt to make schools ‘nurture creative talent in every child’.
This is potentially great, but what is of concern is the manner in which this is to happen. For if this means that these subjects are going to lean towards more academic content it’s more likely to be the case that creative talent will be sacrificed not nurtured.
The problem comes firstly from the fact that the Arts subjects are less academic which is exactly why they are incredibly important for some children, giving them an opportunity to excel in other skills. This would be fine except for the fact that less academic subjects are still considered inferior within the system’s hierarchy.
And the second problem comes with the assessment and measurement of them.
The increasing danger is that, despite lip service being paid by Gove to the arts, children are pushed towards all having the same academic skills, because it is often through academic results that judgements are made and snobbery reigns.
The blinkered thing about this is the fact that academic skills are just one set of skills and as such are equally inhibiting as the skills needed to draw, for example, if they don’t come with a whole range of life skills.
Learning to drive or perform a play requires other sets of skills. But these more practical or creative skills are hard to measure. Therefore we tend to judge children not on a range of skills but on their academic ability, because they are more easily measurable.
Take Jamie Oliver as an example. We’d probably agree that he is an intelligent, entrepreneurial and skilled man. We don’t need him to do a test on it! But his academic record doesn’t reflect that. Many artists and performers come into the same category. They are incredibly artistic and clever but if we were to judge them through academic means it might show something different.
Regarding academic achievement as the only valid achievement is to ignore a mass of intelligence.
Albert Einstein was right in saying that ‘if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree it will live its whole life believing it is stupid’. We judge too many kids by the wrong means and leave them feeling stupid too.
Arts subjects, or practical subjects like sports or even cooking, are much harder to measure because that measurement nearly always involves a subjective view, not a definitive right or wrong answer.
And with the government’s obsession with testing and charts the danger is that, as these other more practical subjects become more ‘rigorous’, they are going to be sacrificed on the altar of academic results, making intelligent and skilled children appear to be failures.
Our children are diverse. They have a diverse range of skills, strengths and weaknesses. And thank goodness – our survival as a species depends on it.
But the education system squeezes this diversity down to academic content and measurement thus making them to be all the same.
And despite Gove’s condescending remarks about nurturing creative talents, if it is to be done in the same academic way as all the other ‘shake ups’ we will have the same results. Namely an elite academic few looking down on those with more practical, creative and diverse abilities who ‘fail’ in the eyes of the system and may spend the whole of their lives, as Einstein says, thinking they are stupid.