It doesn’t really get much more condescending does it? Having your life’s calling being described as inferior to someone else’s, unable to do anything but sit back and watch as a power, out of your reach, changes public perception around you. The hype surrounding “arts subjects” is more than just a government issue. Rather, it’s something we can all learn from – describing a subject as “soft” is just plain wrong, and repeating it in the media simply reinforces that stereotype.
Over the past few days, Gove has announced his intention to make quite a number of changes to the education system. Unfortunately, I’ve never been the most political of people. Call me innocent, or perhaps cynical, but as a 19-year old English Language student at Lancaster University, there is little that I can do alone to change a big government policy. With that said, it’s admittedly rather easy to spot a strange decision when it’s staring you in the face, and campaigns such as this are paramount to raising awareness of shaky policies. That means, of course, that group campaigns are the way forward, and we should never shy away from a challenge.
I don’t think it’s a matter of hurling abuse at the education minister though. Only a handful of our politicians (regardless of party) have any idea what the working man endures, so coining this as an abstract case is very wrong. I’m sure it goes without saying that personal comments are a clear indication of a weak argument, so we must stick to the facts. It’s up to us, as regular citizens on the ground, to educate those who are so clearly unaware of the disastrous effects of their actions. One signature on a new bill can have intended, serious, or wonderful outcomes.
And that’s where we stand with the “arts subjects”. The very notion of labelling them “soft” in the media reinforces the stereotype to future generations, and that must stop. Rather than portraying them as “non-academic” or inferior, we must change the language that is being used.
Subjects such as drama and music offer something very different to the “core” subjects. They offer freedom, and a natural outlet to express one’s individuality. This is, of course, something that all school children are able to benefit from. Adolescence is the time in which children turn into adults, and our education system should be there to facilitate that transition. Here at university, careers advisors are warning us that a degree is no longer enough; we need to have a range of “transferable skills” that set us apart from the crowd. We need that individuality to make a living, and we need to learn those skills from the arts. Skills in team work and negotiation are paramount, along with public speaking, independent thinking, self-management, and problem-solving. These young adults need confidence, and the arts offer just that.
I’d also go as far to comment on the social significance of our arts subjects. Anyone working in education is aware that the national curriculum only serves a certain group of people. It is beneficial to those who are able to fathom essay-writing and question-and-answer, and it ignores people who simply aren’t suited to this style of work. But that’s just fine, for education should be about learning. Our arts subjects are here to offer a different kind of medium, a different kind of “exam style,” and a different kind of qualification that should be equally weighted amongst all others.
But when all is said and done, we still have people calling them “soft”. We have to change the perception. Arts subjects are described as if they’re an outlier, unstandardised, or nonconformist.
That’s exactly what our education system needs.