The failure of the American public school system is that while we have emphasized the importance of those skills that “get things done” or that provide our children with the technological tool set to “compete” on a global scale, we have neglected to teach them the reasons WHY one should avail themselves of that technology. In addition, by eliminating the arts, we have removed the one source of study that provides insight into how all these technological skills fit together, how they construct a culture, how they inform an intelligent community, how they make life worth living.
When I look back at what I learned from the fine arts in school (back when they were part of the school curriculum), I wonder why they are not mandatory education.
From music (both instrumental and choral), I learned history, foreign language, mathematics, literature, geography, ratios, fractions, timing, physical and mental discipline, team dynamics and collaboration, listening, posture, breathing, improvisation, balance, poise, public speaking, and self-respect.
What I didn’t learn from music, I learned from art: proportions, composition, construction, optics, chemistry, preservation, creative visualization, theme, and color theory.
And what both gave me was a healthy introduction to religion, philosophy, anthropology, marketing, psychology, communications, politics, self-criticism, self-discipline and logic.
Only one or two of those things I learned in P.E. or playing sports. And while math and science as individual subjects may provide greater depth into some specifics, they certainly are pretty dry when you don’t have something meaningful to do with them.
The arts are not an elective.
Not for a culture or society that hopes to survive its technology. Not for a culture that wants to do better than just “survive”.
They are, and should always be, mandatory education.