Culture in action

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One of the potential outcomes of drama in education is its ability to develop participants’ metaxis. The meaning of this term has been defined by Boal (1995:43-44) as a lens that someone can use to view their simultaneous position in different ‘worlds’ and that this process enables a person to comment upon the two. Similarly, for Bolton (1992:11) metaxis is “the power of the experiences” that “stem from fully recognising that one is in two social contexts at the same time”, and it is with my ‘metaxical’ lenses firmly on that I have been considering the worlds of arts education and cultural education.

The recent release of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s white paper highlighted the important role of “culture in action” in “rejuvenating our society”. This “evolution” (interesting to note the use of the word ‘evolution’ as opposed to ‘revolution’; the word ‘revolution’ is reserved to describe the government’s devolution of power) discusses the importance of increasing opportunities for children and young people to participate, appreciate, create and contribute to the culture of society. The clearly stated aims include;

  • Everyone should enjoy the opportunities culture offers, no matter where they start in life
  • The riches of culture should benefit communities across the country
  • The power of culture can increase our international standing
  • Cultural investment, resilience and reform

Worthwhile aims, I think, and these are appealing on both a professional and personal level. The idea that “Everyone should have the chance to experience culture, participate in it, create it, and see their lives transformed by it” is also worthwhile but interestingly one could substitute the word ‘culture’ for ‘education’ and the two worlds suddenly crash into one another, shattering my rose-tinted ‘metaxical’ lenses; darn it!

Glasses

Contrast this view with the DfE’s white paper Educational Excellence Everywhere and I am left to glue together my shattered lenses and see things anew. The drive toward full academisation of all schools by 2020; the incessant energy forced into ‘core academic subjects’ through EBacc; and the arguably continued further de-professionalisation of teaching through the QTS debacle, means that I should have perhaps left my lenses where they were (or would I then become another contributor to the ever growing number of those leaving the profession, interestingly ignored and denied by ‘those in the know’?). By forcing schools to concentrate on EBacc subjects and enabling them to do so through academisation, the future of arts and culture in education is perilously close to benefitting those who have had a better start in life; in fact it’s just unethical! How will culture benefit the young people of deprived areas if they are consistently forced to concentrate on an ever narrowing curriculum? Where will their opportunities come from? How will pupils from diverse backgrounds have access to cultural and arts education and meet the intention of ‘publicly-funded culture’ reflecting the ‘diversity of our country’?

The DfE have the answer; schools can now extend their day! Is this not the Government’s way of justifying the EBacc? Using my x-ray metaxical lenses I can see that when people start complaining about the lack of arts in education the Government will simply say that the arts can be taught during the extension of the school day. Unfortunately, as many colleagues will know, this happens already! The arts are being trivialised never mind marginalised!

EBacc

I’ve heard, anecdotally, of many arts organisations facing challenging financial situations; of many drama departments closing; drama, music, dance and art losing time to more ‘academic’ subjects; Ofsted only inspecting EBacc subjects; arts teachers being ‘asked’ to teach other subjects or lose their job, it’s just plain wrong. See here for an interesting take on the state of drama in schools. Worryingly, “the most commonly withdrawn subjects” from UK schools in light of the EBacc “are drama and performing arts, which had been dropped in nearly a quarter of schools” see here (page 36).

Nicky Morgan claims that she “want(s) every single young person to have the opportunity to discover how the arts can enrich their lives. Access to cultural education is a matter of social justice.” How is enforcing the above fair? Young people are being disenfranchised by those in power. Potentially their access to arts and culture is being denied by those who have had a better start in life. Bruner (1996) wrote about education being a system that should help those growing in a culture find their identity and that the aim of education should not only be a transmission of culture but also provide people with alternative views whilst strengthening their will to explore them. How will this happen Nicky?

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Professor Jonathon Neelands (2002:122) predicted a “cultural choice” that we now face in British education, 14 years ago, positing that schooling should be “designed to feed, nurture, guide and fulfil the humanising and compassionate potential of the imagination”. I think that the alienation of arts teachers also feeds into the students that they teach potentially leading to an “impoverished and limited sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’” despite the aims of the cultural white paper. This means that learners are often struggling to understand the world they are in and are potentially told what they should be doing, learning and thinking. I support Neelands’ calls for a ‘humanising curriculum’. Perhaps one that places the arts and culture at its core; why not? Interestingly, Neelands (:119) makes the point that “Policy makers have tried to persuade parents, commerce and the powerful constituencies that the greatest challenge we face is not the need to address new cultural work and career identities” or “new economies based on communication rather than manufacturing” or “endemic poverty and the creation of disaffected underclasses” rather we are told that “the real challenge is falling literacy test scores” or could that be PISA rankings, school league-tables, Progress 8 or Ofsted grading?

So what is the culture of our education system? We are told that culture and arts matter but they are increasingly devalued in our education system; schools are increasingly forced to value what is assessed rather than assess what is valued; teachers are leaving the profession and recruiting is increasingly difficult. Maybe we need to look at the world of Canada? Their government are investing $1.9 billion over five years in the arts.

Maybe I need some new glasses?

References:

Boal, A., (1995) Rainbow of Desire, London: Routledge.

Bolton, G., (1992) New Perspectives on Classroom Drama, Hemel Hempsted: Simon & Shuster.

Bruner, J., (1996) The Culture of Education, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Neelands, J., (2002). 11/09 The space in our hearts. Drama Vol 9 No 2 4-10 in O’Connor, P. (2010) Creating Democratic Citizenship Through Drama Education. London: Trentham Books.

 

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