First of all, let me just say how funny writing is, and the process through which any written material comes to fruition. This particular post is the result of my discussion with Julie Israel a few days ago. One thing led to another, and soon we found ourselves talking about education.
Respect the arts
Unfortunately, we live in a society where the arts—and writers, in particular—are not appreciated. First I thought that it was strictly an Asian thing. But Julie soon confirmed, “Even in the States, writers are not thought particularly high of. Certainly some are; but generally-speaking, I think, writing is not seen as prestigious work. Even when it comes to basic schooling, which has been hurting financially in recent years, the arts are usually the first thing to go.”
Why is that? It’s the country of Hemingway, for crying out loud. Of Faulkner, Melville, Steinbeck, Vonnegut, Thoreau, just to name a few. Of Susan Sontag, Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou. In the face of all this greatness, why does the arts, according to Sir Ken Robinson, author of “The Element”, place at the bottom of the hierarchy?
If you haven’t watched Robinson’s epic TED Talks, I encourage you to. They are not only entertaining—indeed, sometimes I wonder if I wasn’t watching stand-up comedy—but also inspiring.
I think he’s one of the most prominent figures who pushes for education reform—or as he puts it, revolution. He wants to put an end to the one-size-fits-all education system and implement a more customized, more personalized approach. His books and talks are not just about education, though. Here’s what he has to say about talent:
“We all have distinctive talents and passions that can inspire us to achieve far more than we may imagine. […] Many highly talented, brilliant, creative people think they’re not — because the thing they were good at at school wasn’t valued, or was actually stigmatized.”
It’s arts against the world
The horrifying thing is, it’s not only happening in the U.S. The problem is global, really. In Indonesia—where people have adopted the American ways of doing almost everything, for better or worse—education is not only expensive, it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on children.
Parents seem to compete in a race to determine whose kids can learn faster. Even before elementary school, children are given private lessons in maths, English, and sometimes Mandarin. Sure, they learn dance and music as well, but these are not a priority. The definition of success is still to have a prestigious job at a major corporation.
Like many other parents, mine have always been pushing me towards more “serious” occupations. I never stop writing, however, and I’m thankful they’re at least supportive, as long as it doesn’t interfere with my “main career”. I’m also thankful they’re not as extreme as Paulo Coelho’s parents.
Arts or die
The hierarchy that Robinson talks about is very clearly defined in Indonesia. Students who can get into science majors are considered smarter than those who can’t. My secondary high school didn’t even have a language major. Our English class doesn’t even teach Shakespeare—one of the reasons I had never read any of his work before college. Aspiring writers, rest assured, are left to their own devices.
The good news is, more and more schools have adopted a similar vision to Robinson’s. The bad news is, they tend to be expensive and therefore inaccessible to the underprivileged. Moreover, the cost of tertiary education in Indonesia is similar to the U.S. And I guess you all know that story. Millions of people simply can’t afford to go to college, and when they do, they graduate neck-deep in debt.
For a revolution to begin and to succeed, policy-makers should realize that education should aim to prepare citizens, no matter their background, to become the backbone of a country—to contribute to society. Education should not be reserved only for the privileged. It should not only mold students’ minds into future Wall Street or corporation slaves.
And it should not neglect the arts. Otherwise we would all become mindless miscreants living—existing—only to work.
As Stephen King says,
“Life is not a support system for art. It’s the other way around.”
What are your views on education and the arts? Let me know in the comments!