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Learning at its Best

The Real Reason for the Arts

I watched a mediocre, meandering speech by Kurt Vonnegut. The video quality was lousy enough for him to look like he was an intellectual ninja, his mouth struggling to catch up with his voice.  And then, he said what I’ve been feeling about education.

“The computer said ‘I’m going to do all the becoming from now on.’ You become by practicing an art no matter how well or badly. And it’s not a way to make a living. And of course the art courses are being cut out of public schools because it’s not a trade. Well, it isn’t a trade. It’s a way to make your soul grow.”

I’m tired of trying to defend the arts and humanities with words like New Economy and Creative Class and innovation. I have never sketched a picture or crafted a poem or conjured up a fantastical, fictional world because I thought it would be a great job skill.

My kids don’t love to draw because they think it will prepare them for a globalized technology. They don’t set out to be creative. They aren’t motivated by an audience or a grade or a prize. There is something deeply human about the creative impulse. They draw, unafraid of how bad it will be.

I’m not opposed to STEM, but I want to see the arts thrive in the classroom. I want to see students paint murals, film documentaries and sketch graphic novels, not because it will “prepare them for the future.” No, I want to see souls grow.

A student from a few years ago created this video. I felt affirmed that we were doing something right in social studies by including the arts:


About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


4 thoughts on “The Real Reason for the Arts

  1. Thank you for your human-centric post regarding education. I am of a mind that a focus on STEM, notwithstanding how important that bundle of subjects appears to be, will not help most students lead lives that are at all different from the lives of their parents, or of their parents’ parents.

    Posted by Brent Snavely | April 10, 2012, 7:01 am
    • I agree, Brent. And I’m seeing the value in stepping out of the way and watch the art grow – not to disengage completely, but to sit on my hands a bit and let them explore.

      Posted by John T. Spencer | April 11, 2012, 8:49 am
  2. The idea of art making your “soul grow” is so beautiful! I am sure many people long for ways of expressing themselves in just any creative way. Art classes ought to make kids love art – not feel they are not creative or not talented. I am a German and I had to look up “STEM” and found out it is more or less what in Germany is called “MINT”: Mathematik, Informatik, Naturwissenschaften und Technik. Schools and politicians are so into MINT and tend to forget all the rest. And they definitely forget about the arts and anything else that might make school a place worth going to every day.

    Posted by Natali | April 12, 2012, 5:15 am
  3. A big reason for our decision to homeschool a couple of months ago is this persistent emphasis by school, but almost worse, by other parents, on preparing our children for the future. Our emphasis is respecting their humanity and yes, helping their souls grow, even if helping often means simply watching, enjoying and encouraging them choose to do what feeds their souls. As someone with a degree in Philosophy, I whole-heartedly support the Arts and Humanities. I feel like I would have been half a person if I hadn’t been able to pursue such a subject to my hearts content. My husband’s degree is in Engineering but he loved Maths so it made sense, it was pursued because it was a ‘good idea’. We want our children to study whatever they want because they love it – be it Philosophy or Engineering, not because they think it will lead to a bigger pay packet. One of the drivers for how hard my husband works is to help aid them financially if they end up choosing something less commercial but we also hope to bring them up to put less value in material things and more in the happiness you can’t buy! Love your posts.

    Posted by homeschoolingpenny | April 12, 2012, 8:28 am

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