A recent survey declared that Britain's children are "culture starved" with 50% of parents leaving their child's cultural enrichment to their school and a quarter of them having never taken their child to the theatre.
Now as a child, my weekend was simply not complete if I hadn't held a prolific collection of Wedgwood ceramics in my confused little gaze, or run screaming around a Capability Brown garden at the back of a National Trust house. By the time I was nine, I knew who Munch, Pollock, Van Der Meer and Renoir were and by the time I was 11, I knew that I didn't understand any of them.
My mother rammed culture down my throat with the same mania she shoved broccoli and University Challenge down and it is now that I realise how grateful I am that she dragged me kicking and screaming to all those galleries and theatres. This early cultural exposure really helped me at school, in particular when required to spectacularly bluff my way out of situations I wasn't really paying attention to. Question on Austen? Flick back to the memory of hopscotching as an eight-year-old over Jane Austen's gravestone and you're sorted.
Personally I believe that to have an interest in culture is to have an interest in something beyond the four walls of your own life. Parents have a responsibility to expose their children to as many opportunities for new experiences as they can before their child realises they can conscientiously object and just watch BBC iPlayer instead. Schools are too constrained by the curriculum they must follow and the exams they must pass to stray far from the prescribed material into the realms of mind expansion. Only a parent can provide the time, money and effort it takes to give a child the cultural upbringing that will ultimately make them far better conversationalists at dinner parties.
But, having said that, I understand that there are three things that hold parents back from taking their children to galleries and museums etc. Namely: time, money and effort. If parents work full time or have other necessary commitments then filling the weekend with velour curtains and gilded picture frames is not going to be at the top of the priority list. This is particularly understandable when you consider that children and culture tend to go together as smoothly as IKEA furniture. In the same way you would seriously think about taking a toddler on a long haul flight, thus a production of Hamlet deserves the same consideration. For a parent it can be extremely stressful to take your children out anywhere, let alone somewhere fundamentally aimed at 'grown ups'.
But besides this emotional consideration there is also the practicality that culture does not come cheap. West End theatre prices on average are about £60, a National Trust family ticket can be up to £30 and even something more accessible like the cinema is still an expensive family outing. Culture is a luxury and as such it doesn't surprise me that parents are apathetic towards its necessity for their children.
But I do think that there are good alternatives to having to actually stroke the Mona Lisa's face that parents can do to encourage an interest in culture amongst their children. The most practical of which is, of course, the internet. The arrival of the 'virtual tour' means that sites such as the Sistine Chapel, the Parthenon and the Houses of Parliament can all be accessed for free in the safety of your own living room. A flick through Google can bring up art and literature, Youtube can bring science experiments, concerts and theatre. Are they as good as seeing the real things? Probably not, but they are excellent substitutes for parents lacking the time and resources and take the pressure off schools to be the sole educational provider.
Although being "culture starved" might seem a triviality when there are children in the world actually being starved, I believe that having a general knowledge of the world about you is so important, not only for the box ticking of one's education, but for one's general existence. Everyone should have culture rammed down their throat by their mothers then decide themselves to either digest it or throw it up.
After all it's got to be better than broccoli...
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