The United States education system experienced a seismic shift in the late 1950’s – Sputnik – the Russians had beat us to space! This caused a huge reallignment in the emphasis math and science received in our public schools. As a professor at a liberal arts college, I am deeply committed to a well-rounded education, but I fear that this shift began a long slippery slope that has not been friendly to the arts.
The over-emphasis in math/science has definitely impacted our students as well. I cannot deny the good that has transpired as a result of increased technology. (I’m typing this from my iPad3) Who could have possibly predicted the incredible advances in medicine and technology? For all the good these have accomplished, I believe an over-emphasis on math/science has led us away from being balanced. So many of the “improvements” thrust upon us, at their core, have much to do with money and the free market system.
It was just a matter of time before other things began to get squeezed out the school day – one of the first to go was, and is, the arts. This is most unfortunate! We seemingly headed full-throttle towards the “pot at the end of the rainbow” – all the things that math/science would bring society – all the while ignoring the rainbow along the way! Since the days of Plato and Aristotle, music was thought to be a key component in the development of not only mankind, but of a certain type of mankind, and was placed side by side along with math.
Please let me reiterate that I am NOT anti-math/science! I am for balance. We have allowed many things to tip the scales in our American lust for pre-eminence. Another has been athletics (which by the way, I love). In elevating many things to a higher priority than the arts, we have launched a subtle, yet consistent message – competition, money, and getting ahead are what is important. I believe we have failed to stay anchored to the things that ensure we remain humane as a society.
Increased technology allowed me to Skype when my son was in Norway – I enjoyed that. Technology affords us many things – one of which is the allusion of being truly connected. It is staggering the number of students that can walk across the campus where I teach and not even have a conversation with anyone. They all have their technology, and they are definitely plugged in – just not to each other!
If one looks at our society today: the crime, the guns, the violence, the disrespect, the cheating, the might makes right mentality, the survival of the fittest strategy – I would argue that we are, in comparison to generations gone by, culturally and humanely “running in the red.” We are one of the only “civilized” nations on the planet that doesn’t subsidize the arts as a vital part of our heritage (and many would severely slash what little we do fund). The above mentioned, and many other things, go into making a nation that does not value the arts as it once did. It is getting harder and harder for arts organizations to stay financially healthy and personnel robust.
These things concern me! I fear we are less humane, and that we care less that we are. I’m not really sure where we are going from here. I would love a groundswell for the arts to occur, but my fear is people in decision-making places (they control the budgets) will not deem it necessary for a balanced life and well-rounded citizenry. I fear we will continue to march down the digitization highway, thirsting for the newest gadget, and will just continue to not question where all this is leading, and what the cost is in human capital, self-awareness, and our connectedness to things of beauty.
In my next blog, I will touch on how we have become a nation of experiencers rather than participants! In the meanwhile, I will continue to highlight beauty wherever it can be found. I will continue to try to inspire hearts and minds to experience and internalize the great thinkers, writers, poets, artists, composers, and musicians of past times and present times, and to use that as food for the soul. I believe that not only can the arts exist side by side with math/science and their accompanying technologies, but indeed, if we wish to be fully human and truly humane, we MUST reacquire this balance in our society.