Last week, I wrote about the importance of literacy, history, civic and historical education, science reasoning, and mathematical reasoning. All of these things remain important. How, one might ask, should we think of the visual and performing arts, creative writing, and athletics / physical education?
While these things are sometimes dismissed as frivolous, or in the case of athletics, sometimes promoted within a neo-liberal context to the extent that it interferes with education, both athletics and the visual and performing arts and other creative work can play a very important role in shaping young people’s perceptions.
In the case of athletics and physical education, at its best, one can learn teamwork, physical dexterity, and leadership qualities. Athletics also can prepare young people to handle adversity and, potentially, the ups and downs that come with life. How to be gracious winners and how to handle the adversity of loss is a skill that certainly would help to prepare these young people for life. There are plenty of excesses in athletics, to be sure, but an athletics program focused on building a young person’s body, mind, and character can do very good work.
The performing and visual arts can also add value to the educational process. Creativity is a skill needed to be able to deal with difficult problems. They also allow for a creative outlet for students to be able to express themselves in a positive manner. In order to be able to solve problems, one needs to think things through and not always in a conventional manner. Performing arts such as theatre also assist with public speaking, a skill that likely will assist students no matter what their occupation later becomes. Music teaches the need for cohesiveness and important listening skills. Visual art teaches not just creativity, but also design. It expands our knowledge beyond basic function to aesthetic appeal. It can even assist in improving function.
Creative writing assists students with expression and writing / verbal skills. Words have power and creative writing can sometimes amplify these words in a way not found in more conventional academic writing schools might assign. Description and a way to utilize words are a great gift to utilize in today’s world. It gives young (and not so young people) a way to express themselves gifting them a voice that they perhaps would not have otherwise. A voice is a precious thing to have.
Of course, the arts and athletics also exist for their own benefit. The exhilaration of an athletic play, the beauty of a song, the way art captures a scene, the way words form and speak, plays a role in our human existence. These things have key educational purposes. One can debate the utility of these things, but they should not be idly dismissed either. The arts are not merely a frivolous extra. They help to make up the aesthetic and creative function important to any creative, democratic community.