We gotta fight for our right to be arty
‘I don’t see the point of this.’
‘This is mince.’
‘This is bobbins mate. ‘
‘This is a waste of my time, I can’t even pronounce this dudes name so how is it going to get me a proper job? ‘
It is during this onslaught you rely on your performing arts training with regimented precision. You recite impassioned monologues that you’ve mastered during endless duals fighting drama’s corner. The drama class room is a minefield of cusses and boycotts and very quickly it can dissolve into peace talks and negotiation techniques worthy of the Nobel Prize.
You’re viewed in the staff room as the ‘air head hippy’ ‘soft’ and somewhat ‘trivial’. Some get it most don’t. The only time the drama department ever manages to be seen as priority is when the school’s low on funds or SATS loom and usurp rehearsal time for extra revision periods. From entering the staff room, to walking in the classroom you’re armed with a mental ammunition rooted in a stoic belief that you’re part of a revolution that has come to rebalance the arts as equal to science. More importantly, given the current state of affairs our only way out of a metaphorical war on humanity. Drama teachers are anything but soft. Worn and withered from decades in the wilderness of ‘pointlessness’ but never soft.
Because unless you have had drama training, unless you have studied its rich history, how would you know that drama built the ancient civilisations and is the fabric of a vital historical political process. How would you know that drama is an expression of our humanitarian ideals acted out to change the sequence of important events? How could you ever feel never mind promote the therapeutic benefits if you’ve never engaged in Forum Theatre or Jungian dramatherapy?
It’s like we reach the concrete operational development age and have a bout of amnesia. We begin to view the world as a logical map of definitive problems and solutions bereft of creative intervention. What we eradicate is the memory of when we first enter the world free of any conditioning and explore and make sense of it through our sensorimotor skills. The point here is that we are born with a ‘to be or not to be’ dependency on socialising and love. In fact as Sue Gerard emphatically points out in ‘Why love matters’ it is our innate need for social interaction that wills humanity to survive, not the Pythagoras theorem. So why do we undervalue the very subjects that enable us to expand our psychosocial skills? Are we missing a trick here or is this a creative coup?
Progressing or regressing?
In ancient civilisations the arts and sciences co-existed as equals. Akin to the yin and yang their opposing yet unified symbiosis ensured the governing values of the time were balanced. Science and art were viewed as embodying both masculine and feminine energies and as a result harmony was experienced by both genders. More importantly both men and women were encouraged to embrace the equal value of both as a mark of reverence and enlightenment. Or better still as the great Albert Einstein put it ‘art and science are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.”
Viewing history with this insight only brings into focus just how imbalanced and imprisoned by our beliefs we have become. Statistics show a desperate decline in students taking arts based subjects and what’s more damaging is the gender based stereotypes we assign to them. If we place more importance on STEM subjects and view them as the barometers of success whilst upholding the belief that boys are more naturally inclined does this mean that gender inequality is embedded in the very core of our educational framework? In direct response there has been a strong focus on encouraging more girls to access STEM subjects but are we counterbalancing this by inspiring more boys to enter the Arts without the ramifications of questioning their masculinity?
Annie Warburton Creative Director at Crafts Council who has campaigned against the decline in the arts for over a decade put it this way.
“Creative education fuels not only the UK’s world-class creative industries but is essential in developing the ingenuity, problem-solving and collaborative skills valued in all sectors. Signs of a rally in the take up of Art and Design GCSE is welcome and we hope that it continues. In addition, we urgently need to work together to reverse the steep in GCSE entries, to stem the decline in classroom hours given over to the arts, and to address inequalities in arts provision if a creative education is not to become the preserve of a narrow band of society.”
Life is but a stage
Not long ago I watched a Greek Tragedy whilst the sun rose in Syracuse, Sicily. Not only was I able to sit in an amphitheatre where the great Aeschylus premiered his first play I was also able to learn about each characters belief and motivations and how these translated into behaviours and actions. In some scenes the characters machinations revolted me. Other times my heart surged with empathy because of a parallel vein of similarity. But I wasn’t just connected to each character. I experienced this with a community of other souls, each of us individually having our lives shaped by the encounter.
I can remember thinking ‘I am in Sicily, watching a Greek play, in an amphitheatre designed in 500 BC, surrounded by strangers of all ages, speaking 10 different languages, a diverse sea of cultures and here we are experiencing a sense of connectedness. Imagine how powerful an impact this process would have on a community in conflict? A young girl being groomed by a local gang. A teenager trapped in an abusive relationship.
I’ve often shared this story with my students, trying to convey to them the transformative power of theatre. Pleading that in no other subject will you ever sail a thousand oceans in your mind to walk in the footsteps of another person. Never will you journey through another culture to learn how this has shaped the people who inhabit it. Drama is the process of becoming another, so we can become ourselves. This is drama’s dominion. It has the ability to jolt human consciousness and provide the next generation with a window to the future, so they can create the tools to carve it, shape it, change it.
As the amazing playwright Danny Braverman puts it;
“drama is the dialogue across difference.”
So how do we stop the war on the arts in education?
According to the EPI there is evidence to support that the decline in arts GCSEs is partly down to accountability measures for schools, like the EBacc and progress 8 which encourage schools to emphasise a set of GCSEs that don’t include the arts.
When the Progress 8 measure for schools was implemented in 2016, there was an increase of more than 10 percentage points entered for four of the EBacc subjects (English, maths, science, languages, computing science, history and geography).
For the team at EdShift we are more than aware that the decline in arts entries is driven by a number of different factors. This includes changes to the way performance is measured, financial pressures, and of course, decisions taken by local school leaders. So, we send out an urgent message to the government to meet with arts campaigners, industry and unions who are united in calling on them to reconsider the current educational system that depletes the value of arts education.
However, we call on all young people, from all walks of life, budding scientists and artists alike to forge a united approach of goliath proportions. We urge them to send a loud and vibrant message to school leaders and the government that they, the next generation deserve equal access to the creative industries. It is vitally important that they utilise their voice to speak up and shout out that everyone has a right to an education enriched by the arts.
They quite literally have to stand up and fight for their right to a creative life.