- Michael Fordham @mfordhamhistory
Music, art, drama and dance are all crucial parts of a child’s cultural heritage. All children should be doing at least one at GCSE.
A broad education and one that attempts to enrich students’ cultural capital. We narrow the curriculum far too early.
It’s the aesthetic dimension of human existence seeking meaning through artistic expression and which is culturally significant for all.
This was part of a twitter discussion set in motion by Michael Fordham advocating and no doubt elsewhere justifying the place of the arts in a broad and balanced curriculum to age 16.
I recall, somewhen about 1985 in my Basingstoke comprehensive school, the question being asked by a parent at a year 9 options evening: why don’t pupils continue their study of all subjects in years 10 and 11?
This question was asked in the public forum and alongside other parents who questioned the compulsory ‘aesthetic option’ requiring all pupils to study an arts subject post age 14. The next day teachers of art, ceramics, music, film and drama were called to a meeting with the head and deputy. We sensed that our highly prized aesthetics option was under threat. We went to the meeting armed with chapter and verse on the value of the arts. At the time There was no shortage of philosophical enquiry into aesthetic and artistic knowing and the uniqueness of this way of understanding the world. We presented the head and deputy with reasoned arguments supporting our place in the curriculum. We deployed the weight of intellectual authority with confidence and conviction.
The aesthetic option lived on and in end of course evaluations pupils expressed great satisfaction with the ways in which the uniqueness of the arts had enriched their lives. It was part of a comprehensive comprehensive school education, a result of progressive 1970s thinking reviving a liberal education and saving education from a lazy traditionalism.
Now, some thirty years later there is the EBacc and the arts are excluded and only a few enlightened liberal educators feel confident enough to sustain an argument for a post 14 aesthetic education. Some point to the compulsory nature of English and English Literature and all that is offered there in the cause of an aesthetic education. But many will have noticed a general shift in discourse towards a certain view of rigour, competence and functionality. The idea of an aesthetic dimension to education is now unheard of and long silenced to be replaced by myopic reductionist notions of knowledge.
You will notice that I am talking of the aesthetic dimension of human existence in preference to Michael Fordham’s focus on cultural heritage and Giles Fullard’s cultural capital.
I do this not to deny these things but to remind us that there is an existential component to education that challenges dominant ways of thinking about knowledge and the prevailing limited ways in which culture is construed.
Pupils between the age of 14 and 16 will be wanting to give meaning to their lives through artistic expression and aesthetic experience and there should be a broad range of options available across a school’s aesthetic offering.
Did you know that the first proposal from the DfE in respect to the formation of the new GCSE examination in music was that 80% of the marks should be allocated to a written paper and that the ABRSM graded theory exams were considered as a model?
Interestingly, in the final reckoning there is a component of the exam referred to as ‘knowledge’, not aesthetic knowledge, not the wonder of occurrent knowledge. personal knowledge or embodied knowledge but, you’ve got it, propositional knowledge.
Alas, our current political masters have a poor grasp of the order of things.