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What I Would Change About Arts Education in Canada

Posted: 06/28/2013 8:25 am

Leading up to Canada Day, the Huffington Post blog team asked prominent Canadians what they would change about one aspect of our country. We are publishing their answers in our series "What I'd Change About Canada" leading up to July 1. You can find the full series here.

Canada gets a lot of things right. In fact, we get most things right. And our education system is a good example of that. It's a big, varied, complex, multi-faceted system that faces ever-new pressures to satisfy the demands, whether of funding, curricula or social expectations, that are constantly made on it. Despite these pressures, as recent studies have shown, we're among the best in the world when it comes to educating our children.

But if I could change one thing about Canada, it would be to place a greater emphasis on the study and practice of arts education at every level. There is a widespread presumption that schools nowadays must focus almost exclusively on the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) if students are to be properly prepared to face the future and nobody can deny the importance of those areas of study to the vitality and prosperity of our society.

However, what is rarely mentioned in those presumptions is that countries that demonstrate high rates of accomplishment in STEM subjects are also the countries that place a high value on the study of the arts. For example, in Finland, a country that routinely tops the international education rankings, arts education is not marginalized but is an essential part of the overall educational fabric to which children are exposed. There are other elements at play in these results, of course; however, the lesson is that academic involvement with the arts, whether that means music, the visual arts, dance, creative writing or any other related discipline, is not simply a dispensable frill, but an integral aspect of the overall educational project and something from which everyone can benefit.

In Canada, however, despite many strong arts programs in existence, there is a tendency, especially when funding issues arise, to cut arts programs first despite their proven centrality to enhancing and improving the educational development of all students. Personally, this has always seemed like a terribly short-sighted and narrow understanding of what an education should be because the arts enrich everyone, whether or not one decides to make a life in the arts, as I have done. For what the arts teach goes beyond the specifics of the arts themselves, they foster empathy, imaginative responses to life, expressiveness, the discipline of learning a craft, the discovery of beauty and the lessons of striving again and again until you finally get something exactly right. And while these are all virtues in and of themselves, they also contribute to an individual's development in any field of activity.

The arts do something else too. In recognizing the individuality of every person and insisting that every individual has a voice that matters, the arts contribute crucially to the health of a truly democratic society. The arts, better than most academic disciplines, help to release those voices and encourage them to come forth, in all of the many and varied forms they take. As such, the arts are not just key to the joy and excitement of learning, but to the life of our culture in its most fundamental sense.

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  • Rosie Maclennan

    I want to change sport in this country to make it more accessible to our kids. I see too many Canadian kids not able to participate in sport; not afforded the chance to be a part of a team, be active or learn new skills. One of the biggest barriers is due to the rising costs of participating in sport.

  • Rose Reisman

    We have to take responsibility and understand our own triggers for eating these foods and why we continue to put them into our shopping carts. We have to read labels more carefully and understand the guidelines for a healthy diet, so we won't get lured into these traps. This is not impossible.

  • Danko Jones

    When I was asked to write about what I would change in Canada, I hemmed and hawed and scratched my head in total bemusement. I finally hyper-focussed on the fact that, although Canada boasts the longest coastline as the second largest country with ninth highest standard of living in the world, it also contains the highest amount of shitty drivers.

  • Noah Richler

    If I were able, I would change the map. There are a few options here, but for any of these we'd no longer be sitting on top of the United States and, as we are constantly told is the case, we'd not see ourselves as huddled along the border -- crouching almost.

  • Alyson Schafer

    This was a no-brainer for me because my whole life's work is dedicated to making ONE change to Canada. It's my mission statement: "To make parent education as acceptable and accessible as pre-natal classes." Taking a parenting class is responsible parenting. Isn't it a shame there is a stigma for improving one's self?

  • Richard Florida

    Though this might have a counterintuitive ring, Canada's mayors -- the people who are directly responsible for Canada's cities and the most accountable to their citizens -- should have the power to make decisions about local needs and infrastructure, and the ability to raise the money they need to carry out their plans.

  • Vikram Vij

    Since I came to Canada in 1989, it's been very important to me to spread the word of Indian cuisine to as many people as possible. I think it is gaining momentum, but attitudes towards ethnic food, and the boundaries around the way it is presented, still need to evolve.

  • Jully Black

    If I was handed a magic wand, I would erase all of the unsaid fear that a lot of the executives at radio stations, record companies, corporate brands, television and print media outlets have in promoting and celebrating our domestic R&B soul singers. I would urge them to passionately and freely support the artists of this genre in ways that are equal to the artists of other genres.

  • Karen Kain

    If I could change one thing about Canada, it would be to place a greater emphasis on the study and practice of arts education at every level. There is a widespread presumption that schools nowadays must focus almost exclusively on science, technology, engineering and mathematics if students are to be properly prepared to face the future.

  • Scott Vrooman

    Why does Canada still retain any connection to monarchy? In all of our recent indignation over the totally predicable abuse of power by unelected, unaccountable senators, we've overlooked an even sillier layer of law-making: royal assent.

  • Craig and Marc Kielburger

    This is what we would change about Canada: Compulsory volunteer hours as part of a holistic service learning model -- in every classroom in the country. Formal instruction should help students learn the root causes of whatever social deficit their volunteer hours help fill. Every school should be granted funding and the resources needed to adapt their own service-learning model.

  • Rose Reisman

    We have to take responsibility and understand our own triggers for eating these foods and why we continue to put them into our shopping carts. We have to read labels more carefully and understand the guidelines for a healthy diet, so we won't get lured into these traps. This is not impossible.

  • Robert Cohen

    Is being Canadian just some sort of patriotic "feeling"? Is it some intangible country specific pride? I set out to change what non-Canadians thought of us but it turned out I didn't know myself. Figuring it out has become a personal quest.

  • Jenn Grant

    Do you know how many beautiful indigenous children there are, right now, living under the poverty line in Canada? Half of all status First Nations children are living in poverty and that number goes up to more than 60% in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. For M├ętis, non-status and Inuit children the number living in poverty is still shockingly high at 27%.

  • Rick Hansen

    My goal has always been to build an even greater awareness of our need to move from a view that accessibility is just about getting in and out of buildings to a view of intentionally designing and creating fully inclusive communities, so that people with disabilities can fully participate.

 
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