Reverse the Headline

August 31, 2019

You’ve probably seen the recent headline in Forbes magazine: High School Students Do Better In Science, Math And English If They Also Take Music Lessons. The article, like many dozens of others, summarizes research that shows how young people learning to play music perform better academically in school.

I’m often frustrated by the implication of this type of research. The message ends up being: “the arts are valuable because they make young people better at school.” While that is probably true, it is an ultimately dangerous message that makes the arts more vulnerable, not less. (If the job of a school’s arts program is to improve math scores, it’s at risk of being cut as soon as there’s a cheaper, quicker way to improve those same scores.)

Let’s reverse the headline: High school students who study math, science, and English make much better art.

At The Academy, we’ve long understood that the best art is made by the students most actively engaged in learning about the world they inhabit. And, we understand that their art is about far more than graduation requirements, ACT scores, and job prospects.

The arts are a critically important, non-negotiable part of living a good life. The arts inspire, unify, comfort, broaden perspective, heal, give voice, mobilize, and bring joy. In our darkest times, the arts remind us that we’re not alone. In difficult times, they help us understand one another. And in the best times, they amplify our joy.

As the legendary John Maeda (MIT scientist and former president of Rhode Island School of Design) writes:

“Amidst all the attention given to the sciences as to how they can lead to the cure of all diseases and daily problems of mankind, I believe that the biggest breakthrough will be the realization that the arts… will be recognized as the whole reason why we ever try to live longer or live more prosperously. The arts are the science of enjoying life.”

P.S. In case you missed last week’s post, click here to read Excellence, Purpose, and Passion.

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