K-12 + The Arts = The Future of Innovation
By Alexander Ostroff
Technology has accelerated our society to hypervelocity. Public and private educational institutions have launched an unprecedented effort to make sure that every student does well in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). Makes perfect sense, these subjects give birth to all technology. Moreover, America must compete and when it comes to STEM our educational system is way down the list in comparison to other countries.
Educational funding is finite so administrators have been given (or have given themselves) the green light to make room for STEM. The bloodiest victims of this diamond encrusted chainsaw have been the arts. Private schools have a financial advantage, at least that’s the assumption. In reality many private K-12 institutions have followed the same blueprint; drastically defunding the arts in order to focus on STEM.
The reasoning seems logical enough: the future is based on STEM, the highest paying jobs will be in STEM, and therefore STEM should be the priority. Ironically, by eradicating the arts from K-12 we will destroy exactly what STEM hopes to achieve. Innovation.
Today we use advanced technology to build more advanced technology. The role of the human being in this process is increasingly that of feeder of information and data. The great innovators of the past had to create everything from scratch. The Wright brothers did not test aeronautical theories on a computer. Nicola Tesla, perhaps the greatest inventor in modern history, pushed his mental faculties to the edge and beyond. Einstein didn’t have an app to help him, only his brain and a piece of chalk. Edison had his mind wrapped around everything that came out of his lab. Entrepreneurs of the past were also innovators. John D. Rockefeller, Henry Ford and Andrew Carnegie are a few examples of self-made businessmen who built entire industries. All of these disrupters had countless disadvantages over the innovators of today and yet, relatively speaking, accomplished far more. In terms of innovation, the 18th to 20th centuries brought more changes to the world than at any other time in modern history. Why?
Neuroscience is revealing the powerful impact that the arts have on the developing brain, when neural connections are rapidly being generated. The arts offer not only expression and emotional well-being, they are deeply cognitive and develop critical thinking skills for the future. The arts enable us to really see and feel the human experience and explore different ways of thinking.
Innovators in the past were not distracted by the internet or mass media. Reading and the arts were the only form of entertainment, even for average people. It’s easy to assume that life was simpler back then and more time was available for the arts. On the contrary, every professional and personal activity required more time and effort. This magnifies the further back we go. For innovators the arts were not merely a form of entertainment, but also a means to relax, relieve stress and set the mind free.
The arts help develop the most important skill of them all: a powerful imagination.
We have become a society obsessed with the acquisition and regurgitation of information and data. Instead of teaching students how to use their brains to blaze new paths, our educational system is pushing standardized tests and rote memory; essentially transforming students into human hard drives.
Einstein once said: “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
From an early age Einstein was a dedicated violinist. Later in life he took up painting. Both of these activities were critical to his work in physics. Einstein himself said: “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are always artists as well."
The arts train the brain to develop the process of imagination and creativity. Given the opportunity to be unrestrainedly creative, a child will develop a way of thinking that is best suited for innovation, regardless of what profession they eventually go into.
The arts also play a critical role in battling the single greatest threat there is against humanity. Stress. Exposed to enough pressure, the most brilliant and capable person can be rendered dysfunctional. As the population increases and resources decrease, the fight for a “piece of the pie” is driving global stress levels off the charts.
Art Therapy has been scientifically proven to be extremely effective in reducing stress and enhancing well-being. Working on an art project takes your mind off of what’s stressing you. Studies have shown that focusing the conscious mind on a creative task offers the same health benefits as daily meditation.
We have a duty to teach our children about the value of freedom, and the importance of doing everything possible to preserve it. Exposing them to the arts at an early age is a critical first step. An enlightened, thinking society cannot be suppressed and controlled. Freedom must be felt and experienced by a young mind otherwise it will remain an amorphous concept.
The arts promote thinking. Seems a bit obvious? Not if we notice that thinking is rapidly being replaced by reacting. Government and the multinational corporations that employ it is thrilled that we are concerned about threats to our freedom of speech, because it takes our attention off the real threat—endangerment to our freedom to think. After all, speech comes from thought. It’s far easier to have psychiatry label daydreaming and creativity a mental disorder, to be chemically treated until rendered harmless. It’s far easier for the powers that be to defund and/or remove the arts from K-12. Once our natural human curiosity and desire for intellectual enlightenment is extinguished, they will no longer need to expand resources to keep us in the dark. We’ll be there without noticing it.
What does the future hold if educational institutions will continue to view the arts as a nuisance?
The theory of singularity predicts that one day artificial intelligence will supersede human intelligence. At that point the human mind will no longer be necessary or even relevant.
What makes this prediction frightening is the insufficient lack of fright it evokes. Perhaps society wants autonomy from itself. Contemptuous of the intangibility of the spiritual and chronically dissuaded from individuality, society will embrace singularity as means to free itself from introspection. Imagination will become a liability. Social discourse will be reduced to an exchange of data, instead of an exchange of ideas. We will emulate our masters by judging each other by numerical scores, instead of our unique traits and abilities—the very elements that built civilization in the first place. We will enter a super advanced version of the Dark Ages. A cynical and pessimistic view of the future? Well, it’s already happening.
We have the power to prevent this—as long as we choose to use this power. The arts train our minds to never accept a constricted consciousness as being a normal. The arts promote the very thing that makes us human. Individuality. If we lose that, we lose everything.