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What's a proper arts education?

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Monday, Feb 20, 2006

Carol Sarler’s “Why I’m one of the great unread” article first struck me as a typical boring, self-involved narrative that’s supposed to somehow illuminate a great truth.  The fact of the matter is that it does.  Mainly, the question is “what are our kids supposed to learn in school and why are they being forced novels that are considered ‘classics’?”  It’s definitely a point worth considering and made me wonder what else is lacking the cultural education that students are getting nowadays.
  
As much as I love Melville and Joyce, I do agree with her: “classic” literature shouldn’t be shoved down kids’ throats.  What’s the purpose?  To force upon them what’s been considered for decades and decades to be great writing?  When I sat through school reading these books, I learned to admire them on my own but never really found out in class why I was supposed to admire them or what was truly great about them.  It was supposed to be a given- they were assigned to you and you had to read them.  That was it.


The assumption is that great literature should be forced upon impressionable young ones and they’re supposed to like it or at least respect and fear it (mostly the later, from what I’ve seen).  If literature is considered such an important art form that’s necessary for a proper education, why aren’t other art forms considered as crucial to a kid’s education?  Unfortunately, it’s probably because outside of academia, books usually don’t have much value or currency (unless it’s a tell-all, diet book or famous celebrity dishing) but within the ivory tower, there’s no questioning it.


And so, over 100 years after the advent of film and longer than that for the advent of recorded music, neither of these art forms make an inroads into the basic curriculum, unless it’s part of a specialized arts program in higher education.  If we’re trying to tell kids that to know American culture is to know and apprecaite Twain, Poe and Melville, it is unreasonable to think that they also need to know about Duke Ellington or Elia Kazan to also know about the soul of their country?  Do academics really see this as too frivilous, even this long after the fact?  What century are they living in?  This has been the Net age for over a decade now and it’s a disgrace that their culture is still trapped between book covers only and want to keep it that way for students.


Every school doesn’t shut out other art forms but more and more, music education is under fire, being cut back drastically when it’s offered at all.  That’s a shame because there’s a lot that kids could learn from that.  I still have fond memories of hearing Aaron Copeland’s “Rodeo” in Mrs. Riley’s 5th grade music class as she actually let us act out whatever we thought of the music: my friend Elliot turned his tie into a lasso and most of us galloped around the room.  There and then, we learned to truly appreciate the arts.

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