The Global Search for Education: More Arts Please

C. M. Rubin — Arts programs are being cut ruthlessly….

More Arts Please Sir (Photo Courtesy of Beechwood Sacred Heart School UK)

More Arts Please Sir (Photo Courtesy of Beechwood Sacred Heart School UK)

“To lose our culture is to lose our memory.”

More Leonardo da Vincis, more Martha Grahams, more Ludwig Van Beethovens, more Luciano Pavarottis, more Marlon Brandos, more Antoni Gaudis, more Coco Chanels, more Bob Dylans, more Zhang Xiaogangs, more William Shakespeares, more Julia Margaret Camerons, more Gustav Vigelands, more Andrew Lloyd Webbers, more Francis Ford Coppolas, more Meryl Streeps, more Alice In Wonderlands, more Anna Pavlovas, more Michael Jacksons, more Vincent van Goghs, more Harry Potters, more Phil Knights, more Rabindranath Tagores, more Pablo Picassos, more John Steinbecks…  Please Sir – can we have some more?

Sir Ken Robinson, PhD,  is one of the internationally recognized leaders in the development of education creativity and innovation.  He has received numerous honorary degrees from universities, and many awards from cultural organizations and governments, all over the world.  He was knighted in 2003 by Queen Elizabeth II for services to the Arts.  He has advised governments in Europe, Asia and North America on the Arts.   In 2005 he was named one of Time/Fortune/CNN’s Principal Voices.  His book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times best seller and has been translated into 21 languages.  His latest book is the 10th anniversary edition of his classic work on creativity and innovation, Out of Our Minds:  Learning to be Creative.

Sir Ken, what do you believe an arts curriculum should look like in primary and secondary school education?

I believe that the arts should be on an equal footing in schools with the sciences, humanities, languages and physical education.    In most school systems there is a hierarchy.  Arts programs are being cut ruthlessly since “No Child Left Behind” came out ten years ago.  In the UK, they still talk about core foundation subjects, i.e. English, Math, and Science.  In most countries the arts are a second tier activity.  My first point is that the arts must be given equal footing.  That’s what we argued in The Arts in Schools, the book I published in 1982.

There’s a need for a balance in arts education in several respects.  One of them is that a proper arts curriculum would provide for music, dance, visual arts, literature and drama. When we did The Arts in Schools project, I made a point of not trying to define the arts in any form.  The reason for this was that the arts are a vibrant set of disciplines, and when you go into different cultures they don’t think of there being 4 or 5 different art forms.  For example, for an audience watching a dance performance, that is a visual art form; if you look at musical theater, that is a combination of different disciplines: acting, dancing, music.  So even defining 5 or 6 different art forms can become problematic.

Secondly, I think there should be a balance within the teaching of the arts.  I ran a large project in the UK in the 80’s called the “The Arts 5-16” in which we offered a clear framework for arts education.  There should be a balance between actually doing the arts and secondly, engaging students in understanding other people’s work.  In other words, making and appraising.  In some schools you will find that there is a greater emphasis on the latter, i.e.  appraising.  Students read books or listen to music, but they’re not encouraged to create it themselves.  In other schools, you will find the opposite, i.e. students doing their own work and never looking at anybody else’s.  A balanced arts education has to include both.

Under each of these areas of creating and appraising, we have to teach that creating arts is a discipline based process.  It is not just free form.  You must learn the skills and techniques of any area but they have to be taught in a way that enables you to think differently and imaginatively.  There are forms of teaching that are highly uncreative and where the emphasis on discipline can kill the passion to make art.  So there has to be a direct relationship between learning the skills involved and having the freedom to use them and to think creatively through them. The balance is about technical and creative development.

In terms of appraising other people’s work, arts education should include a balance between contextual knowledge and critical judgment. A full appreciation of a work includes understanding something of the history and context in which it was produced.  For example, some people look at modern art and think it’s nonsense and that’s often because they don’t understand the context in which it was produced or what the artists’ intentions were.  It’s like looking at a page of Romanian if you don’t speak it.  So an important part of arts education is helping people understand context, background, and cultural references.  The second process is developing skills of critical judgment. In the end you can understand a piece of art in the context and the background to it and still not like it. Enabling students to formulate, express and defend their own aesthetic and critical judgment of the arts is an essential element of a properly balanced arts education in any discipline.

Can student performance in the arts be assessed?

It is absolutely possible to assess people’s work in the arts.  I’ve worked with arts academies and with conservatoires in music and visual arts; with specialist arts teachers in school who are assessing students all of the time.  Assessment requires that you understand what you are looking at and for and that you are clear about the criteria that you are applying.  For example, when a six or seven year old produces a drawing, an art teacher needs to have a frame of reference for what’s normal for a child that age.  Part of that is the creative content of the work.  But what you would also be looking for are the graphic capabilities and the level of execution.  The same is true if you are looking at children who work in dance or theater.  There are multiple levels at which you make judgments.  Part of the problem in schools is that the arts are not taught regularly or systematically, and too often they are not taught by people who have had a proper grounding in the disciplines.

Another problem is that in this country there is a culture of standardized testing based on right or wrong types of answers.  However, if you are looking at someone’s paintings, reading their poetry, or listening to music, then you are focusing on a whole array of factors. We have a tendency to make the measurable important versus the important measurable.  The arts are about textures of meaning and understanding, and qualities of perception and expression.  This does not mean that they cannot be assessed, but it is difficult to reduce them to simple paper and pencil tests.

More Arts Please Sir (Photo Courtesy of Beechwood Sacred Heart School UK)

More Arts Please Sir (Photo Courtesy of Beechwood Sacred Heart School UK)

Our education systems are obsessed with a particular type of academic ability, and that is a rather narrow view of knowledge and what it means to be intelligent.  For all kinds of cultural and historical reasons, the arts have not been seen as being a part of that view.  In my book, Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, I tried to explain why the arts are marginalized.  It’s partly for economic reasons.  People believe that if you do the arts you simply won’t get a job.  The other part is the restrictive culture of intelligence in schools that I just mentioned.

We’ve covered teaching the arts as separate and interdisciplinary forms.  Can art also be integrated into other academic subject areas to enhance learning?

I don’t think “subjects” is a very good term.  “Subjects” implies an area that is defined by its content.  Mathematics isn’t a subject to be studied as much as a set of disciplines to be practiced.  In other words, you do mathematics, you do not just study it.  The same is true of sciences such as chemistry and physics.  Music is exactly the same.  It is a set of disciplines.  There are physical skills, hand eye coordination, aesthetic sensibilities, ideas you need to absorb.  So I think “disciplines” is a better term than “subjects” because it captures the concept of practice as well as of ideas.

The other thing I like about “disciplines” is that it opens up the idea of inter-disciplinary.  There is a lot in common between the arts and the sciences. In my conception of a great school, there would be all these disciplines represented and there would be a lot of traffic between them.  I’ve been working on this idea with schools for over 40 years.  Science being taught through music.  Music being taught through history.  If you want to understand the time and sensibilities of other periods or other cultures, you need to listen to their music.

The more dynamic and collaborative we are in our approaches to teaching, the more likely we are to deepen our understanding of ourselves and of other times as well. Part of our problem is that we have constructed education systems that are like production lines.  There is a big separation in our schooling systems between the arts and the sciences.  They are taught by different people in different rooms at different times of the day.  One example I give of the consequences is from the Natural History Museum.  If you visit the insect rooms, you’ll find wonderful displays of butterflies, all arranged in glass cases on the walls. They’re dead, but beautifully arranged by classification, i.e. size, color, etc.  In the room next to them you’ll find the beetles.  In another room you’ll find the spiders.  But, if you go out into the world, that is not how you see them.  You do not see the butterflies keeping to themselves over in one corner or the spiders lined up in columns keeping their distance.  In nature, they are interacting with each other.

It’s the same in human cultures. They evolve by ideas from different disciplines affecting each other.  They flow into each other and inspire people to think differently in their own fields. Schools can stifle this creative interaction by classifying subjects too tightly and keeping them too firmly in separate boxes.

Sir Ken Robinson and C. M. Rubin

Sir Ken Robinson and C. M. Rubin

In The Global Search for Education, join C. M. Rubin and globally renowned thought leaders including Sir Michael Barber (UK), Dr. Leon Botstein (US), Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond (US), Dr. Madhav Chavan (India), Professor Michael Fullan (Canada), Professor Howard Gardner (US), Professor Yvonne Hellman (The Netherlands), Professor Kristin Helstad (Norway), Professor Rose Hipkins (New Zealand), Professor Cornelia Hoogland (Canada), Mme. Chantal Kaufmann (Belgium), Professor Dominique Lafontaine (Belgium), Professor Hugh Lauder (UK), Professor Ben Levin (Canada), Professor Barry McGaw (Australia), Professor R. Natarajan (India), Sridhar Rajagopalan (India), Sir Ken Robinson (UK), Professor Pasi Sahlberg (Finland), Andreas Schleicher (PISA, OECD), Dr. David Shaffer (US), Dr. Kirsten Sivesind (Norway), Chancellor Stephen Spahn (US), Yves Theze (Lycee Francais US), Professor Charles Ungerleider (Canada), Professor Tony Wagner (US), Professor Dylan Wiliam (UK), Professor Theo Wubbels (The Netherlands), Professor Michael Young (UK), and Professor Minxuan Zhang (China) as they explore the big picture education questions that all nations face today.  The Global Search for Education Community Page


C.M. Rubin has more than two decades of professional experience in development, marketing, and art direction for a diverse range of media businesses.  She is also the author of three bestselling books, including The Real Alice In Wonderland.


  1. Doug

    Since the creation of public education, there has been a low level but ongoing three way power struggle between business who sees education in vocational terms (math, scienc,e tech, literacy), the liberal middle class who sees education a personal fullfillment (literature,poetry,art, foreign languages, history) and the lower classes and their allies in the oppressed catagory that sees education as equality of opportunity and even moving towards equality of results in their search for overall equality. They look to history, English, social science and other areas to achieve this goal.

    None of these three trends wants the other truly eliminated, they do, nevertheless, seek opportunities along these lines to reshape public education in their own direction. When any one begins to dominate, the other two may band together to push back.

    Testing has a deep history in the Taylorism, corporate tracking-streaming camp. It pushes out the arts humanities and social sciences as it demands more emphasis on corporate visions of education. This creates allies of the liberal middle class and the working class to push against corporate reform.

    Successful nations see these three goals as a three legged stool that needs three legsof equal size to function properly.

    • Martin Joel

      When thinking of testing, we need to refer to Robinson’s view. While lower education is mandatory, it can still lay a foundation of love of learning, not rejection of school because of its sometimes primitive testing measures.

    • John Mark

      I think the emphasis is going to shift towards a broad educational background, as Americans will need strong communication skills based on mutliple areas of knowledge in order to compete.

      • Dennis Meyer

        Made in Harvard.

    • Carol A.

      I think that is an intriguing theory. However, to the extent it is true, it has led to a convoluted mess of our public education systems. There needs to be clear principles of education that are implemented in each state with the support of the federal government. Whatever those principles may be, they need to be consistently applied, beginning with clear long range plans to reach the desired goals.

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  3. Keith K

    The Arts is an area of education which REALLY shows up the flaws of testing, yet we can still assess it using other methods. We can learn a lot from this and apply these “non standardiz­ed tests” to the areas of education which are infamous for their heavy use of standardiz­ed testing.

    • Helene

      We should give non-standardized tests a chance.

      • Keith K

        Yes, that’s exactly what we should do, but we still aren’t doing it!

    • John Mark

      I believe that if we are going to continue the practice of standardized testing for another 20 years or more, the tests have to be revised to become more like PISA. We have to learn how to measure the important as Sir Ken says.

      • Keith K

        In all fairness, I’m not sure that we can make the jump straight from standardized to “non-standardized” tests. There is a transitional middle ground, which is occupied by tests such as PISA, like you say. At least that requires creative thinking and problem solving, not just an easy to play multiple choice type test.

      • Dennis Meyer

        Well said. Go PISA

    • Adam Rawson

      If you can prepare for the strategies needed for exams, instead of leaving performance to intellect and drive, we we be a sorry planet.

    • Adam Rawson

      Afraid of non-objectivity. Do it like the panels of Olympic judges who cast ballots.

    • Carol A.

      I think that whatever the test, there will be a tension between state level testing and national level testing. Suppose a test could be developed that fairly tests student knowledge and abilities in all key areas, including the Arts. Should this be a national test that everyone takes, or a test that is different for each of the 50 states, or even a test by school district?

  4. Ross

    Even for those who rate the Sciences as more important, the Arts are still invaluable for aiding the learning of science. It establishe­s a way of creative thinking that is very useful – and only attainable through study of the Arts.

    • Helene

      I think that the better schools will do this, and that the student that has the broad knowledge will succeed in the century ahead.

      • Kath

        It’ll soon catch on that students who do this are better equipped and will get the best university places etc. Then a trend will be set for students to have a broader knowledge rather than specialised just in science.

    • John Mark

      I believe it is the integration of both that will lead to innovation, and that is where the US needs to maintain its leading position in the world.

      • Keith K

        Interesting that you mention innovation – I watched a program the other day about China’s booming economy and how it compared to the West. China has got where it is by copying other countries but just doing things cheaper. The one area where the West can stay ahead and truly not be copied is innovation. So that’s where the US, and more generally the West, needs to maintain its lead to keep ahead of the likes of China. It goes without saying that the creative thinking inherent in the Arts is completely linked in to this.

        • michael jon

          I agree. And we will have a better shot at continuing our leading innovation position if we put the arts and sciences together.
          Don’t be fooled: the Chinese have more patents now being filed than the US.

    • Adam Rawson

      So true. Innovation depends on creativity, knowledge and skill.

    • Carol A.

      I think that the Arts should be part of a student’s curriculum through secondary schools; then the student and his or her family can see where the student is most capable and where there is most interest.

  5. KP3

    Interestin­g article – I wonder how much Sir Ken thinks the Arts have changed between now and in 1982 when he published “The Arts in Schools”, or whether the situation has remained stagnant.

    • Helene

      By technology alone, the arts has changed dramatically.

      • KP3

        Even still I would suggest that technology has had more of an impact on the sciences, at least in terms of broadening its knowledge.

      • Adam Rawson

        How has it changed? Technology gives you access to amazing content, for every possible field.
        This costs money and time.

    • John Mark

      Technology has impacted the way the arts are viewed, the way they are delivered, and the way they are created. Those who are proficient in technology will have an advantage. Given the leadership of the US in this area, we must take advantage of this in our education curricula.

      • Adam Rawson

        Let’s not give away our skills and knowledge. Give our own nation first access.

        • Carol A.

          Our colleges are becoming the training ground for the world. Positions are being taken up by foreign students. Should education be managed like free trade?

  6. P. Ellis

    It’s so true that the education systems around now are like production lines. It’s purpose is to get students in, make them sit exams, then send them off to university or wherever else is appropriat­e. It’s all so impersonal nowadays.

    • Martin Joel

      These production lines will not stand up in the new world we are living in. We are going to have to make this process more effective and stimulating, or we will lose further position internationally.

      • P. Ellis

        Ultimately we’ll reach a tipping point where we’re so far behind everyone else that to catch up again would be infeasible for a very log time. Then people will wonder how we got in that mess..

        • Adam Rawson

          Tipping point will be extended. But still, need to identify the tipping pointl.

      • Dennis Meyer

        Perhaps they will stand up for part of the resource need. But dramatic changes need to still take place.

    • John Mark

      If the kids in A schools complain, you can be sure it is worse in the B and C schools.

    • Carol A.

      I agree that this is a problem. But it is possible to get a more personalized education by establishing relationships with teachers and professors and by engaging in extracurricular activities related to one’s favorite subjects.

  7. Lauren Porelli

    I reckon that in our current society, the sciences will always win out over the arts. More importance is placed on them and this is an inherent cultural thing that I doubt will change soon. Of course, my comment is a generalisa­tion but in my mind, it holds true. Personally­, I’m more of an arts person.

    • John Mark

      Science does seems to outdo the arts, however, I think those that put the two areas together will find greater success and happiness.

    • Kath

      These preferences change regularly. The age, or epoch, we’re in now favours the sciences, but that’s not to say that won’t change in a few decades.

      • Dennis Meyer

        I think there are many students tired of being cogs, are moving towards the Arts.

  8. Cathy Rubin

    Doug: I really like your Bottom line: Successful nations see these three goals as a three legged stool that needs three legs of equal size to function properly. I would only add that in the technology revolution (will it ever end?) essential to factor in 21st century skills?

  9. The Global Search for Education: More Arts Please | International Education News | Renascence School International | Panama City | private preschool, elementary school, middle school

    [...] physical skills, hand eye coordination, aesthetic sensibilities, ideas you need to absorb. “(more)    Comments (0) Go to main news [...]

  10. Cathy Rubin

    Hi Boots Clearance – Thanks for your support – I try to communicate the voices of each thought leader as best I can. Over to you.

  11. Adam Rawson

    I believe that kids have become disillusioned by college apps, standardized tests, brown nosers and know it alls.
    The arts, which are so much more candid forms of effort, are growing in esteem.

  12. Cathy Rubin

    Eric Schmidt Google Chairman covers it all I think?:

  13. michael jon

    To lose our culture is to lose our memory, and I would say, our humanity.

  14. Cathy Rubin

    The study of choreography taught me nearly everything I know about being an entrepreneur – so sorry to be abstract – I’ll write the paper when I have time…..

  15. Adam Rawson

    It appears to be the case. And everyone will speak english by the year 2030.

  16. Dennis Meyer

    China needs citizens with advanced degrees. Glad that they may promote education more heavily in China.

  17. Carol A.

    I think we are also promoting US educations to Chinese nationals. In return, we should get reciprocal action by Chinese educators and government. US students need to become more knowledgable about and experienced in the Chinese world. It would be a good trade.

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August 23rd, 2011

C.M. Rubin Contributor

Filed Under

assessment in the arts C. M. Rubin connections between the Arts and Sciences education reform global education Harry M. Rubin No Child Left Behind Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative Sir Ken Robinson Standardized Tests The Arts in Education The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything The Global Search for Education The Real Alice In Wonderland Book

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