Sir Ken Robinson, a global leader in educational reform and a New York Times bestselling author, holds very strong opinions about the arts. It often features as the topic of his TED talks. We recently came across one of his headlines which read, intriguingly, "Why dance is just as important as math in school". His explanation maps the wonders the arts can do for children. And although it won’t directly aid them in solving mathematical problems that will change the world, dance is essential to their physical and emotional development.
In his TED talk Sir Ken says that he doesn’t dismiss the importance of science and math, “they’re necessary, but they’re not sufficient. A real education has to give equal weight to the arts, the humanities, to physical education." Kids prosper best with a broad curriculum that celebrates their various talents, he says.
“And by the way, the arts aren’t just important because they improve math scores,” he claims, “they’re important because they speak to parts of children’s being which are otherwise untouched.”
The power of dance
Sir Ken Robinson writes that studies and user stories have proven that through the arts, and dance specifically, the lives of children can transform significantly. Dance has the power to restore joy and stability in children's lives and improve their ability to learn in every other subject, while developing their social and personal qualities.
By utilising the power of dance, many organisations have taught children about collaboration, respect and compassion. And researchers have confirmed that through the increased physical activity, dance has a positive influence on memory, concentration and classroom behaviour, ultimately improving academic performance.
Robinson shares one story from Toni Walker, former principal of Lehigh Elementary School in Florida, where Dancing Classrooms – a non-profit based in New York – was introduced to improve social relationships and create an enriching school culture:
When this young lady first came to Lehigh, the file on her was probably two inches thick, Walker recalls. "She felt she needed to prove herself and make sure everyone knew she was strong and would fight." The girl didn’t want to join the ballroom dancing program … but participation wasn’t optional. Soon, she found she had a natural ability. "In the next lesson, she had a little bit of a different attitude and we didn’t have to fight with her to dance," Walker remembers. "She just got in line."
By the third and fourth lessons, Walker says, the student was transformed. "She carries herself differently; she speaks differently; she is kind; she is respectful; she has not had one [disciplinary notice], not one. Her mother can’t believe what she sees. It’s amazing. Amazing. The program is far greater than people understand.”
- Also read: Get your children moving and shaking
Awakening curiosity and creativity
Sir Ken suggests one of the solutions to ensuring our children get the most in school is to encourage our teachers to be more engaged in the learning process.
Teachers shouldn’t just transfer information – there’s a difference between the task and achievement, he says:
"You can be engaged in the activity of something but not really be achieving it – dieting is a very good example. There he is – he’s dieting – but is he losing any weight? Not really. Teaching is a word like that. You can say, “There’s Deborah, she’s in room 34, she’s teaching.” But if nobody’s learning anything she may be engaged in the task of teaching but not actually fulfilling it. The role of a teacher is to facilitate learning. And part of the problem is, I think, that the dominant culture of education has come to focus on not teaching and learning, but testing.”
He doesn’t refute the importance of testing but says tests and examinations should support learning, not obstruct it. Otherwise we’re taking away children’s curiosity and imagination and replacing it with compliance. And that’s terrible for a being that’s “inherently creative” and different to everyone else.
The education system should not be mechanised and focus only on STEM subjects, he continues. It should be personalised and also focus on the arts, the humanities and physical education, because dance is just as important as math.
He quotes Bob Morrison, the founder and director of Quadrant Research:
“There is a persistent myth that arts education is for the gifted and talented, but we know that the arts benefit everyone regardless of their vocational pathways. We don’t teach math solely to create mathematicians, and we don’t teach writing solely to create the next generation of novelists. The same holds true for the arts. We teach them to create well-rounded citizens who can apply the skills, knowledge and experience from being involved in the arts to their careers and lives.”
Sir Ken concludes, speaking of Death Valley – the hottest, driest place in America:
“Nothing grows there,” he says. “Nothing grows there because it doesn’t rain. Hence, Death Valley. In the winter of 2004, it rained in Death Valley. Seven inches of rain fell over a very short period. And in the spring of 2005, there was a phenomenon. The whole floor of Death Valley was carpeted in flowers for a while. What it proved is this: that Death Valley isn’t dead. It’s dormant. Right beneath the surface are these seeds of possibility, waiting for the right conditions to come about, and with organic systems, if the conditions are right, life is inevitable.
“It happens all the time. You take an area, a school, a district, you change the conditions, give people a different sense of possibility, a different set of expectations, a broader range of opportunities, you cherish and value the relationships between teachers and learners, you offer people discretion to be creative and to innovate in what they do, and schools that were once bereft, spring to life.”
Watch the full TED talk here:
Do you agree with Robinson? Do you think the arts, humanities and physical eduaction is just as important as maths? How has your child benefited from taking on extra murals such as dance? Send us your comments and stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and we may publish them.
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