Can removing arts from schools inspire effective rebellion?

Along with Grayson Perry, and “leading arts figures”, when I read about Government plans to scrap art subjects from GCSE’s (now known as English Baccalaureate or ebacc) as of next year, something inside me died. Briefly. Then I had a sneaky nagging sensation that all was not as lost as it first seemed. If Schools Kill Creativity, then surely purging them from the clutches of Government controlled curriculums will blow wide open the possibilities for the next generation of artists? These people will grow up in a world where dance, music, painting and any other “arty” intellectual pursuit will be subject to the anarchic rules of play and entertainment, and will feel no obligation to spend hours pouring over the melodic contours in Stravinsky, or over the back catalogues of bands writing songs for an entirely different time.

My eyes cast over this month’s edition of Uncut magazine, with the iconic image of Mick Jagger loaning his brand of rebellious cool to the pages contained within. Where did he come from? I highly doubt a convincing argument could be made that a Government curriculum crafted the cultural gift that was the Rolling Stones. The fact that they were so divorced from that environment gave them the air of hedonistic freedom that people sought when they looked for entertainment. Something to distract them from and diminish any lingering memories of time spent doing anything that was unfun.

The only way I can suggest how this plan for future populations came about is to attempt to adopt some snobby Tory wooly thinking. The sort of thinking brought on by too many evenings by the fire in the drawing room, sipping fine wines and texting one’s friend about which horse one may want to borrow tomorrow. Maybe this lead to an entire generation of young people who, determined to overcome any obstacles separating them from that incredible music, studied music and other arty time wasting activities to the detriment of traditional subjects like Geography. A lack of meteorologists, fluent French speakers and mathematicians born from these ashes could have lead to, or at least advanced, the economic problems of the 21st Century. Somehow I doubt that ignoring the arts will lead to any economic improvement, and I find a special kind of solace in the dangerous antics of any number of pop acts (including the current gen of DJs) who have seared through the cultural spectrum lobbing TV’s left and right in the wake of their destructive refusal to adhere to the norm. Therein lies the secret to the salvation of the arts from what can only be described as a bloody stupid move by a disjointed governmental machine.

In what is perhaps an attempt to find some silver lining in what appears to be a monumentally ignorant policy, the optimist in me pictures after school clubs, where only the kids who really want to be there are present, eager to be taught by adults who are as eager to impart the knowledge as the young artists are to absorb it. When I think back on year 9 school music lessons, where so many of my class hated the lessons to the point where they did all the could to ensure that school music was a complete waste of time. Maybe the teaching just wasn’t very good, or, quite possibly, the material they were covered was totally meaningless to most of the students at the age of 16. Either way, it made those of us who took it seriously just as disillusioned as the rest of the class, realising that if we were going to learn anything properly, we were going to have to get it outside of school.

When I cast my mind back over my own musical education in school, I can pull out few examples where I felt like the whole thing was worthwhile. Most of the kids taking music at GCSE had had music lessons outside, and so, were already way ahead of the material being taught. I wonder if your school’s musical instruments were in as bad a state as ours were? Very few of my self-taught musical friends got much from school music lessons, as they didn’t seem to concentrate on even basic skills like sight-reading until A-Level. All in all, I felt pretty short changed by my attempts to get out of sport at every opportunity to spend more time hanging around the music department.

Maybe the key to making great art is relating it to the outside world. Maybe, we should be getting creative kids into as wide a range of subjects as possible, and just accept their creative abilities as a constant. A child with a good background in music lessons has to hang any new ideas or experiences on their pre-existing mental framework, so music just becomes an undercurrent to the rest of their real world experiences. I believe the same would hold for dance, painting, pottery or any of the other creative pursuits people could fill their time and heads with.

Even more exciting, are the possibilities offered by getting more children to learn hot to code. While a brain can do a lot with a piece of software, it can do even more if it knows how to bend that software to suit their will, even beyond the limitations of its original creators. Imagine if the next generation of young DJs could all code their own plug-ins, saving millions of pounds in the process, and helping to expand the essential creative time suck that is “tinkering”. Easy to envision is a future crop of musicians coding and creating their own virtual instruments, conceivably collaborating primarily via the web. Not an entirely novel concept, but it’s yet to truly define any mainstream pop movements.

Unfortunately, this is all very wishful thinking. The sad reality is this particular move by the Government is quite clearly an attempt not to liberate the arts from the restraints of the school system, but to marginalise and trivialise them in the public perception. Or to cut access to arts education from millions of families who can’t afford to pay for them. I highly doubt our ancient private schools will suffer any loss of arts amongst their student population. I came from a home with a love and knowledge of music within the family, and the will and means to pay for lessons. Not everyone gets that at home, so they should have access to the opportunity at every school.

However, it’s hard to imagine this all happening without a fight. The one thing that artists and musicians can hold on to is their influence over the emotion of their devotees. The government might have a say over a lot of things, but it lacks the ability to influence people as directly as a fully realised creative expression. Maybe we, as one, need to bond together and argue. Maybe we just need to wait for the inevitable cold, dark, calculating sense of dread which would fill a school devoid of the arts to overwhelm the student population.

There will still be millions of kids hearing and loving music outside of school. Could this finally catalyse the sort of uprising once dreamt about by any young school kid hearing Dark side of the Moon or Never mind the Bollocks for the first time? Can we take back the arts for us, unbound by traditional study or thought? Freeing them to finally organise and calm the information loaded minds of the grown up iGeneration.


School Kill Creativity – Ken Robinson TED talk

Huffstudents – Leaving Arts Out Of English Baccalaureate Could Destroy UK’s Creative Economy, Say Leading Cultural Figures

All images either free of copyright or used under Creative Commons Licence: Header, adapted from the Guy Fawkes Mask photo – By JustinLing (Flickr: V) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Library of the London School of Economics and Political Science [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. Student March on Houses of Parliament – By BillyH (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons. Student protest conservative party hq – By Simon Patterson (Transfered by David Gerard/Original uploaded by DenkMit) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.