‘don’t be a robot…’

This post is written by Lexi Earl. 

In my recent visits to schools I have heard the phrase, ‘don’t be a robot’ or ‘the arts allow you to not be a robot’ a number of times. I have wondered about this and so I asked some of the students at Ark Helenswood in Hastings about the kinds of self-development that goes on in schools, and in particular, the kinds of opportunities creative subjects offer to this end.

The students told me:

I think as well, with Dance and Drama, they help you to build your own person. Because Dance makes you unique and different. You can do your own style. Like the choreography part of the curriculum, you can become your own person and reflect that in other things.

In Drama you’ve got to be able to stand in front of people and present it nicely instead of being all hunched up, or shut up and really quiet. You’ve got to be able to stand [up for] yourself and project, get your point across as well as you can.  

Those skills go with you for the rest of your life as well. If you go for an interview, if they can see that you’re confident it is better for them because they know that they can ask questions that need to be asked.

We’ve just done our English speeches and I think that’s helped me so much, having the confidence to know that I can speak in front of people. I can talk about something I’m passionate about, I didn’t have that added on stress. It was just ‘let’s memorise this’. I know the talking bit is okay it’s just let’s get the facts together.

 I then asked the students whether they thought this self-development needed to happen in schools. They said:

You can have so many people who have A*’s and everything, if you say I’ve done Drama performances, Dance performances and things like that, you have something about you that is different.

 You’ve got to have a character.

It’s all very robotic. It’s all very, it needs to be this, this and this. You can’t do this because it is wrong. It’s all following a strict script. That’s not what we’re made to do. We’re made to be our own person, we’re made to go off and do something that someone else hasn’t done before whereas they’re [the government]trying to make everyone the same. And that is not right!

It makes you more diverse as a character as well. If you’re doing dance and you’ve picked up a new choreography or you’re thrown into a dance that you weren’t expecting, you’ve got the skill to be able to change quickly. You can have a job that is completely not to do with Dance but you know how to deal with pressure, changing environment, learning new skills quickly.

Finally, I asked the students what they would say to people who make policy about all the ‘sameness’ that they feel is going on. They elaborated:

It’s not right!

I think the only way to get that out is to have the creative subjects, and the performing subjects. You have to do Maths and English and there is a right and a wrong way but it’s those subjects where you can build your confidence and work out who you are, they’re the subjects you need and that is what helps you then in your academic subjects. So you’re able to answer questions, interpret the text in your own way. I think if you didn’t have that at all, everyone would think the same.

The subjects are a relief as well. If you do so many academic subjects, just one creative subject can take you away from everything. If you enjoy that subject so much you just get immersed in it. It’s so much easier to drop everything. Schools tell us, don’t get over stressed, but once you’ve got that added pressure that they do bash into you out of good nature, it becomes very hard to do that.

Niall Whitehead, Head of Performing Arts, explained to me about why the school was so committed to the arts (particularly in the current climate), and why he is focused on turning the school into a community space for the arts.

We are in an area which is one of the poorest parts of the south east and over a third of our students are disadvantaged so wellbeing is vital and I do see that the arts play a major role in this. In all our learning and all the work that we do we are pushing skills onto the kids but along with that we are always aware that we provide an element of social and emotional capability for these students. I know these words get bandied about an awful lot but it is important that they do learn that sense of communication and collaboration and resilience that the arts can deliver. So it is twofold: it’s the idea that wellbeing is always there as a subtext to the arts that we provide and, of course, there is the skills of the arts themselves and a lot of our students are passionate about it as are we but it’s just about making sure that it still has a high profile and is still important.

Ark Helenswood is committed to providing opportunities for their girls that allows them to develop their own personalities, confidence and communication skills.

 

you can’t express a feeling in an equation

During my visit to Three Rivers Academy in Surrey, I had numerous conversations with students about the importance of arts in their lives. At the end of one interview with four Year 10s, they expressed an argument of why arts should be included in schools. I thought I would reproduce it here (with some editing) so that others could read what young people at Three Rivers think about the importance of access to arts education in school and what it means to them. This conversation came after we had been talking about their experiences of arts education in school, their plans for the future, and their own creative practices. I always ask if anyone has anything else they would like to add to our conversation, or if there is anything I’ve missed or they think is important that we should know about their own experiences. This is the conversation that then followed…

I’ve heard that they’re going to try and get rid of all the creative subjects for all the years to come, I heard in parliament. That is so sad!

What do you think about that?

Absolutely no way!

I think Art is really important. Arts is a way for a lot of people to express themselves.

It is a massive part of school and growing up.

And school in general is so stressful. Being able to have that one lesson that you can look forward to and you know it’s not going to be as stressful. And this is the one lesson I look forward to every week because I know it’s not going to majorly stress me out.

It’s a nice subject and if we get rid of it, how are kids going to be able to express themselves? It’s going to become a rare thing. So many people are not going to find what they want to do in school. Everyone will just be doing straight writing on paper like 24/7. It just makes everything a lot more boring.

Where are you going to get architects and stuff from? It’s literally such a big part of everyday life and I think no one realises. It’d be stupid getting rid of it!

Also if you get rid of art it can affect anyone majorly because if you work or go to school, every lesson is always writing and it’s not easy in a way. Everything is so hard and it can stress you out and affect you so badly. Being able to have art or photography or textiles where it’s different, it can change a lot of things.

It is something you can enjoy. A lot of the other subjects are really hard to enjoy getting into but art is so nice to enjoy, you can work hard and get proper into it. It’s so good.

You can experiment as well. You can’t exactly experiment in literature can you?

This is the subject I put most of my time and effort into because it’s the one that I really enjoy. It’s the subject I want to spend all of my time on.

Having a good teacher, not being pressured, makes you want to do well. When I’m so pressured it makes me not want to do it.

I sit there and am like ‘no I’m not doing this’.

I don’t want to do it. But when I’m relaxed and I know that I can take my time with it, it makes me want to do it and want to do well. So being able to have that is better for you.

It feels like you’re worth it as well.

More funding should go towards the creative subjects!

This post is written by Lexi Earl.