Why the arts matter

This weekend was my 4 year-old daughter's first dance recital. She performed two numbers with her fellow 3-5 year-old buddies in her beautiful blue and green sparkly dress, her teenage teacher gracefully demonstrating the choreography at the very front of the stage for the little girls to follow. Some dancers followed well. Some had poise. Some hammed it up for the audience. Others were consistently on the wrong foot, or staring off into space, or completely doing their own thing for a bit. 

I loved EVERY MINUTE of their performance -- and of every performance I saw at the junior recital from those dancers aged 3-9. And it had a LOT less to do with the perfection of the final performance, and a LOT more to do with the journey I know each of those children took over the course of the year. 

They learned about tenacity. About working towards a goal. About coordination and cooperation within a group. They learned about becoming part of something much bigger than themselves. About how when you fall down or your shoe flies off or someone accidentally takes your prop during performance, you keep going with a smile on your face. They learned the joy of their young bodies in motion. They learned about leadership and peer modeling from the older dancers, each and every one of whom I wanted to hug and congratulate and thank for being such a good example to my daughter. 

This is kind of learning that you simply cannot get by teaching to a test. Ever. The multi-age, peer modeled approach that is found in dance schools, in youth bands and orchestras and choirs, in youth theater organizations -- the selfsame model that is being slowly squeezed out of public school classrooms in the name of "serious education" in STEM -- if we allow that model to vanish from our public schools, or to become a luxury only the wealthy can afford, we will unintentionally cripple the next generation. There ARE no worksheets, no scan-tron tests that can capture this kind of teaching and learning. You cannot put a price on the sense of achievement, self-worth, and pride that a child radiates after he or she has finished a good performance. The change in their confidence is almost tanglble. They GLOW. 

And let's face it -- real life looks a whole lot less like a standardized test, and a whole lot more like the performance on the stage: sometimes we nail it, and sometimes we fumble, but either way, the show MUST go on. The more we can give our children life skills like resilience, tenacity, and teamwork, the better off they will be when they leave the schoolroom and step onto the world stage.