A survey asked Seisen high schoolers what they would prioritise if they were to choose between an international science fair and an international art/music exhibition: 80% of students chose going to a science fair, despite their personal interests. Out of these students, half of them admitted their choice was affected by college applications, and gaining ‘specs’. Many also mentioned that they did not see the art option as helpful in their future.
Despite all the different education systems around the world, one thing remains common amongst many: the hierarchy of so called ‘intelligence’. Many tend to look at intelligence in the order of sciences/maths, commerce, humanities, then the arts. This perception of intelligence dates back to the 19th century during industrialisation, when common education was introduced. In those days, subjects that could be put into practical use in industries and factories were favoured. Two centuries later, in a world that is allegedly modern, this common mindset still remains. It is not uncommon for people to believe that pursuing a career in the arts would not guarantee a stable, successful life. Even in education systems that claim to be holistic such as the IB program, the arts, or in this case a group six subject, is not compulsory - this is not the case with the maths or sciences.
In the few hours of art classes that Seisen high schoolers are granted, the class is yet again focused on the academic aspect of the arts. Music classes are largely based on theory, with less than 10% of Seisen grades depending on practical performance. Looking at current music lessons taken by Seisen high schoolers, 95% of class time has been used on learning music theory from a textbook. Only the remaining 5% is dedicated to ‘performance’ and has led to many students feeling discouraged to perform. These attempts to educate students on the arts have defeated its purpose, as more students develop a lack of interest for the more creative activities. The lack of focus on creativity translates into student activity. Growing up in an environment that prioritises the academics over the arts are reflected in the way students leaning towards more academic extracurriculars, giving less priority to more creative clubs. Yurino K. (10), who has taken part in the Seisen band for over four years, stated that the number of musicians involved has had a straight decline over the years. She mentioned, “I feel like students do not care as much about the arts, since as they get older, they start prioritising academics and sports. As for CAS, I feel like there are many opportunities to complete the ‘creative’ aspects such as with ELs; this might be why students do not take creative extracurriculars as much.” Sunwoo K. (10), also suggested how a sense of inferiority plays bigger roles in the arts, as it is largely based on talent: “People are more likely to give up on the creative field, as they see the people at the top, and lose motivation in fear of failing to meet those standards.”
The creative aspects of school are degrading as we associate intelligence and success to academic ability. Emilly M. (10) reluctantly speaks about stereotypes affecting her activity choices within school as she mentions, “I have always had an interest for drawing and art, but I have thought about giving it up multiple times, as putting more time into studying the sciences is associated with a better future. Although I like the sciences, I definitely felt sad about giving up the arts, which I was so passionate about.” She further mentioned that by discovering career fields that combine both the sciences and the arts, such as graphic design and engineering, she has been more encouraged to continue her passion for the arts. However, this is not the case for everyone. Emilly continues, “I feel like students could be more informed that there are many ways to incorporate the arts into their career paths, and still be economically stable; many talented students give up their passions because of ancient stereotypes. The truth is, the constantly changing work field is in need of more innovative, and creative people.”
One of the biggest reasons for more creative extracurriculars being overlooked is the lack of relevance that students find in being part of these groups. In this conversation, however, we tend to ignore the music we listen to everyday, the netflix we binge on, the videos we watch, the posters we see, so on and so forth. Ms Delbridge, the head of the Seisen English department, brings up this point as she mentions, “The arts make the world go round, but it is also the first place where funding is cut - whether it is in school or governments.” Even if students do not wish to pursue their club activities as careers, all clubs, despite being sports, academics, or the arts, allow students to develop skills which cannot always be done in classrooms. Mr. Nitu, head of the science department and soccer coach expands on this point as he mentions, “These clubs may seem like they have nothing in common -but the skill is the same - I need to practice. I want to play good football, I want to play an instrument, I need to practice. It involves patience, a lot of work, time, time management; these are the things that universities look into when they look at your extracurriculars. They don’t look specifically into what you did.”
Many also seem to ignore the truth that the arts have the power to change the world, in ways that the sciences, or speech cannot. As the arts take the place of speeches and talks, it is able to cross the borders of cultural, economic, political, and social differences. Over the years, music has come to become recognised as one of the best ambassadors of cultural diplomacy. From the well-known single “We are the world” written for African Famine relief, to the DMZ World Peace concert held in 2013 that encouraged dialogue between North and South Korea, music has undoubtedly paved paths for peace. Closer to home, our own music teacher, Ms Johnson, has spoken about her own experiences where music has has transformed, and kept communities together through difficult and trying times. She mentioned, recalling her time spent at Guatemala, “Throughout the difficult lives the community lived - in a place filled with chickens, floors made of dirt, the stove in the corner of the room polluting the one-room house with single mothers - was music. The only thing that kept them going was sitting together as a community, singing songs, and temporarily leaving all the problems they had going on.”
In a world that’s constantly evolving, with technology easily replacing manpower, the need of the hour is to foster imagination, creativity, and innovation. How can we then ready the students for the ever-changing future, when we tie them down to the shackles of current societal norms? What we need now is a paradigm shift in the mindset of people - and what better place to start, than in our own schools and institutions?
- fine arts