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Why Conservative Education Minister Is Wrong To Say Arts Education Is A Soft Subject

14/07/2017 11:23

Last week Conservative Education Minister John Nash said, talking about arts subjects: "I think we all know that the quality of some of these subjects was not what it might be, and that quite a few people were taking some of them not because they suited them, but because they were easier."

He also said, during the House of Lords debate about the English Baccalaureate, which contains no creative subjects, that: "The decline in the subjects to which the noble earl refers (arts subjects) has been more than made up for in the substantial increase in the number of pupils taking IT and the now almost 70,000 pupils taking computing."

But, in this day and age, how can statements like this be ok?

Arts education isn't a soft subject, it gives us:

1) Idea Solving - Steve Jobs, whilst introducing the new iPad in 2011, said: "It is in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough--it's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing."

2) Creativity - I was recently asked to speak in Parliament, where it was discussed that, as it looks like more jobs will become automated, creativity will become increasingly important as a skill of the future. Already, Microsoft co-founder Paul G Allen has said:"In my own philanthropy and business endeavours, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities....the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country."

Similarly, Annette Bryd of GlaxoSmithKline said: "We need people who think with the creative side of their brains--people who have played in a band, who have painted...it enhances symbiotic thinking capabilities, not always thinking in the same paradigm, learning how to kick-start a new idea, or how to get a job done better, less expensively."

3.) Reflection - the arts also help us reflect on our lives and how we can make the world better and question and challenge and present new possibilities - one of my favourite quotes on arts education is by Lyndon Johnson who, upon founding the National Endowment of the Arts, said: "Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

When John Nash says arts subjects are a soft subject, research has shown all he is doing is ensuring children from diverse backgrounds not previously associated with the arts avoid these subjects, limiting who becomes the innovators, artists and reflectors of our society, and limiting whose voices, experiences and perspectives on the world we read and see and are influenced by.

Recently, I ran The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting - the first in a new competition and book series to provide access for the first time to the leading training coming out of the industry to help anyone feel that they can become a writer.

The winners of the competition which accompanied the book, which published industry advice which had never been published before, have already gone on to begin work as professional writers, changing who our voices in the industry are.

Similarly, during my five years at Salford University, which recruits its students often from the most deprived 1% of the UK and often from families not previously associated with the arts, I saw students go from saying playwriting was an area they couldn't be a part of to 8 then 40 then 80 students studying this area over the five years, via showing these students that this was a possible and viable career path.

These are the students Nash is putting off when he says these things. And when our writers and artists only come from one type of background, the voices we read which help us reflect on the world - on what it is, was and could be - only show one perspective too, and our world and possibilities become smaller.

Shame on Nash for the damage the expression of and belief in such views will do. As his namesake said: "The only thing greater than the power of the mind is the courage of the heart" and it is often our poetry, our literature, our art, which encourages us to find that courage.

The Student Guide to Writing: Playwriting can be purchased here

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