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The Arts are Nice, But...

by Stephanie Perrin

Many parents feel that the study of the fine and performing arts is a nice thing for their children to do, a kind of finishing touch to a good liberal arts education. However, they feel that what prepares their children for the "real world" of college and the work place is the study of traditional liberal arts disciplines such as math or science. What I would like to suggest, radical as the notion may seem, is that the serious study of the arts is one of the best ways to educate a young person for college and work.

In this postindustrial society what is required of workers at all levels is that they be creative thinkers, problem solvers, able to work well with others, and be able to work independently. They must be self-motivated and proactive. Schools can no longer train people to do specific tasks; we must educate students in terms of broad skills so that they can function in any number of capacities.

How does arts training develop some of these skills? Think, if you will, of the young violin student. What does she learn in the study of her instrument that helps her develop some of the skills and attitudes needed for the 21st century, whatever her ultimate career?

Finally, there is a distinction between education and training. In American schools for the last century, we have been concerned with training; that is, turning out young people who will predictably perform certain tasks and share the same specific knowledge (back in the days when a teacher could convey most important cultural knowledge). Nowadays we should seek to educate, a different proposition altogether; to produce young people who ask questions and who can continue to learn throughout life. This distinction between training and education is analogous to the one between the technically competent musician and the true artist, able to use technique to express her own vision. We need artists in all areas and walks of life and "artists" are people who share these qualities no matter what their occupation.

About the author

Stephanie B. Perrin is Head of Walnut Hill School in Natick, MA. Ms. Perrin was President of the NETWORK of Schools of Visual and Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., served as a member of the Massachusetts Department of Education's Education Arts Advisory Council, is on the Board of Governors of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, and is the Board Vice President of the New England Conservatory Lab Charter School in Boston. Ms. Perrin attended Barnard College and Boston University, where she graduated with a B.A. in Art History, and Harvard University, where she received a Master's in Teaching in Art Education and a Master's in Education in Counseling.

Copyright © 1997 CABC
Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum

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