Liberal Education? What’s the point?

A colleague recently shared the below TedxTalk. As I near completion of my Master’s program in Childhood Education and start to think about student teaching and, beyond that, my future classroom and school, this issue returns again and again. Integrating the (yes, capital “A”) Arts, as I have seen all too often in my limited experience, means that students can choose to present their learning through a song or a poem or a drawing – our attempts to include those modalities and learning styles. However, I see these modes of expression and learning used merely in the service of the academic content. The value of the Arts, as used in these circumstances, is secondary to the “more important” (and more useful and profitable) academics. It amazes me when I hear teachers, parents, or adults bemoan our young people’s command of the written word (“Kids today can’t write”), but we rarely stop to consider the idea that powerful writing is not an exclusive function of practical grammar, that art and reflection and self-expression are intrinsic to powerful writing. The Arts remain and are thought of more and more as extra-curricular. Is it better that these modes of communication are at least somewhat included? I think, yes. But the Arts are indentured servants to our obsession with measurable standards and learning outcomes and academic growth. Throughout our brief history on this planet, we’ve strived for expression through the Arts, an attempt to make sense of our world and our experience of it, to create new understandings and perspectives, and to communicate the essence of our individual and collective humanity.

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