After watching Ken Robinson's 'Do schools kill creativity?' video, via Article19's Evil Imp, I sent the link to a lot of people I know as I thought it was a very important speech. Not long after my mum read an article on a similar vein and forwarded it on to me. It was written by Penny Marshall, a woman who had her views of the education system turned upside down when her husband got a job in South Africa and she moved there, along with their three daughters. click here for the full article
The youngest daughter had been in a top London primary school and was classed as 'highly academic'. In South Africa she was thought of as 'special needs' because she couldn't balance on one leg with her eyes closed.
Two quotes from the article stick in my mind. The first is after Penny's daughter has been placed in the special needs class; '"Don't worry," the child psychologist told me, "we see this all the time with children from your private and public [state] schools. Your system just doesn't develop the whole child."'
The second is discussing the merits of the learning African music with a Zulu teacher; 'The teacher would not let me, or them, see any sheet music or read any lyrics as we learnt the songs -- something that I found extremely difficult and they didn't. "The children must use their memories and ears only," their teacher told me. "Music must be learnt in the heart and not in the brain. In your country, you know only how to learn with the brain."'
Sometimes the best way to learn about yourself is to learn about you culture, because culture informs our behaviour more deeply than we can ever imagine. And often the best way to learn about our culture is through the eyes of an 'outsider', someone who doesn't hold our cultural codes or values. For example, as a dancer I have struggled to learn new material with my body and not let my brain take over. This is a trait of my personality for definite, but having been educated with brain as the center of importance for my formative years probably didn't help. Reading the Zulu music teacher talk about learning with the heart instead of the brain highlighted to me the angle with which our education system generally approaches learning, and that this is completely unhelpful in a dance context.
As I child I enjoyed school, this was because I found it quite easy - I've always enjoyed reading and writing, and my brain works in a way that fits the western structure of 'learning'. But even at a young age I recognised that I was fortunate and that some people struggled, not because they were any less intelligent but because of the inflexibility of the education system in this country.
A few days after reading Penny Marshall's article I was contemplating dance and all the things it has taught me as I was growing up. I have only been dancing 'seriously' (i.e with the intention to become professional) for about five years, but dance was my hobby since a young age, and I will always be grateful for this. I feel that it taught me to work as a team and the ability to take direction. It taught me self discipline and to respect and value the body. It taught me about competition, politics within institutions, and that life is not always fair. Importantly, it also gave me a supportive social network - most of my childhood dance class are still in contact now, and only recently I had my first teaching experience working as a 'guest' teacher for Julie, lady who taught me.
None of these things could be taught through a text book, yet what place does dance have in the education system? Practically nothing.
When I think back most of the fundamentally changing experiences in my life, the most educational ones, the majority have been outside of school and often involving dance, art or travel in some way, the very things that are seen undervalued or seen as an escapism of 'real life'.
I don't think that this is just a problem of primary and secondary education I think it is across the board for education in this country.
My sister has just started to study photography at Parson's New School in NYC. In her first year she doesn't actually have that many photography classes, but she does take drawing classes, poetry classes and has lectures on history of art. This is the standard practise in most American universities. In your first year you have to do subjects other than your speciality. To be honest I'm jealous. NSCD is training me very well as a dancer, but within the BPA program there is room in the timetable to develop the whole artist.