Is everything broken?
Many might answer ‘yes.’ It is difficult not to, when day after day the news is riddled with tragedies too terrible, too vast and too petrifying to comprehend. There are too many days when I catch myself asking no one in particular, “What is happening?” And there are too many days when I do not find any answers.
On March 22, two suicide bombers kill over 20 people in Brussels Airport. Less than an hour later, an explosion on the metro raises the death toll to at least 34—more than 200 people wounded. On March 23, North Carolina passes a law making it legal to keep transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that do not match the gender on their birth certificates, and prohibiting municipalities from creating their own antidiscrimination policies. On March 25, Zarriel Trotter, a 13-year-old advocate against gun violence is shot in the back in Chicago. Trotter was not the intended target, he happened to be standing on the sidewalk when an argument between other youths broke out. On March 27, Easter Sunday, a suicide blasts kills at least 69 people in a Pakistan neighborhood park, injuring over 341 others. The Taliban claim the attack and admit its target—Christians. I could go on, but I will not. By the time this magazine is in your hands, more injustices will have inevitably occurred.
To the untrained eye, these events have no concrete ties to one another, no cohesive roadmap. However, one thing they all have in common is that each tragedy stems from differences—different people, different races, different ideas. Because radical terrorist groups think different is inhuman. Because far-right lawmakers think different is dangerous. Because teenagers in Chicago think different is violent. Because of this, we are a divided world—divided geologically, divided ideologically and divided politically. The current human condition is calling us to action. We cannot fix the past. We cannot fix the people who are already broken, but we can keep more from breaking. In order to do this, we need to look outside the box: we need to look at education and we need to look at children. There is a point and we have reached it, and now we must take a step outside of ourselves and actually think about what is important for humans and for the planet on which we live.
So, let’s think: What is it? What do we need?
Something is missing and that something is humanity; benevolence; empathy. Humanity comes from a solid moral foundation. It comes from good judgement, and good judgement is not inherent. Good judgement must be taught. And it should be the school system’s job to teach it. But will monotonously teaching math and science and history necessarily foster this moral code that many seem to be missing? For a lot of students, school is a scary place, where if you do not make the high test scores, you do not belong. A place where they tell you what classroom you should be in based on a number. A place that lives and breathes differences. What we need is for schools to be places where the future generations of our nation can safely talk about these differences so that they may begin to understand and eventually accept them for the beautiful and necessary and incredibly human things that they are. Differences are not violent and they are not dangerous. Differences are not a reason to kill 69 people in a park on Easter Sunday.
The first step toward making schools comfortable and safe places for young people is to make them balanced, which brings me to my main point: schools need art. Founding headmaster of the Boston Arts Academy Dr. Linda Nathan said, “I believe that the arts can transform students’ lives in ways that are unprecedented and in ways that have the potential to change the very society in which we live.” People need art. Humanity needs art. Art is the only thing that can transcend our socially constructed boundaries. Art does not discriminate by skin color, religion, or politics. Art erases differences. Art is everything that we are—the good and the bad.
Unfortunately, around the world today, school systems are much more concerned with high test scores in core academic areas than they are with incorporating a balanced art education. Every student should have access to a balanced education—that means to core academic subjects as well as the arts. Funding is allocated to schools for art education in the following order: physical education, visual art, music, theatre, dance. And for schools who cannot afford to include all of these, dance gets cut first. And then theatre. Music and visual art are left, and schools are known to choose one or the other—visual art for elementary schools and music for high schools. There are National Core Arts Standards, yes, but they are more of a conceptual framework, a pleasant idea. It is up to individual states to choose how they allocate their arts funding within schools.
Art brings people together. Art breeds humanity. The simple act of creating something is so empowering, so rewarding, and because of unequivocal art education funds, many students do not receive exposure to the arts at a young age, and then they live their lives unaware of what they are missing. I am not going to make the claim that if a terrorist received a more creatively driven education when he was a child, he would not grow up to kill people, but I will say that art teaches people how to be people.
Writer Dylan Thomas said it best: “A good poem is a contribution to reality. The world is never the same once a good poem has been added to it. A good poem helps to change the shape of the universe, helps to extend everyone’s knowledge of himself and the world around him.” This concept, I think, can be applied to all forms of art. And this is why more people need to be provided the means to access their creative powers the moment they enter the school system.
We have the power to create and that is more than enough to save humanity. That is everything we need.
*This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue of the Yard.