4 February 2019

The Arts - great for the brain, the soul and personal wellbeing

We are not far away now from entering the part of the year where an education of a boy, and the success of his school, comes down to being measured by a single measure which we all know as an ATAR. Before we become engulfed by this annual feeding frenzy, it would be remiss of me not to reflect on the celebrations last week at Scotch; a week that clearly highlighted just what a comprehensive offering can do for boys, especially given that it was Arts Week for our community. Our slogan sent a powerful message for Arts Week:

"Arts Week - it's all about the right brain"

Last week provided an exposé of our multi-talented boys from across the whole College. Whether it was in fine art, drama, film, graphic design, photography or music, our boys showcased just how important it is to pursue something from the Arts; not just for academic reasons, but also for the development of life long skills and their personal wellbeing.

Interestingly last week's Senior School Chapel focused on RUOK. Having an outlet in some form of the Arts has shown to have a very positive effect on anxiety and depression in adolescents and adults. In a world that puts so much pressure on econometric success, it is critical that we pursue things for the betterment of the heart and soul.

One of the greatest challenges I find as an educator is changing what appear to be very entrenched choices and beliefs when it comes to subject selection in schools; this is especially the case in Senior Schools when it becomes even more pronounced in the final two years of school. In my 34 years of working in education, not to mention my own schooling, we still appear to have a limited view on choosing an Arts related subject. While the subject choices and opportunities have definitely expanded over time, our attitude to the pursuit of the Arts appears to be very similar. While the old 'core subjects' may have changed their names, little has changed when one looks at the subjects that students choose at Year 11 and 12. We all have a critical role to play in ensuring that our boys pursue a balanced course of study.

You do not have to be working in education to realise that a lot of the current government policy focus and rhetoric surrounds Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM). This is a good thing and as a College we are currently redesigning what we offer in these areas to ensure our boys graduate having received sufficient and relevant exposure to STEM. However, there is an inherent danger that the role of the Arts may be lost in this debate.

Mitchell B Reiss, President and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, was asked to reflect on the question below. Barbara Prey in the Huffington Post, Nov 9 2014, records his response:

What are your thoughts on STEM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Math) vs STEAM (inserting the Arts)?

We need both. And ideally, we need STEM grads who have integrated the arts into their scientific studies and artists who understand the sciences. This is one reason why we are promoting greater interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary teaching and learning; it is a complex world and we need to understand the interconnections between and among science, the arts and humanities.

For example, Steve Jobs loved to talk about the intersection of technology and the humanities, which include the arts. In 2010, while introducing the iPad, he said "It's in Apple's DNA that technology alone is not enough. It's technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields the results that make our hearts sing."

Throughout history, our greatest inventors and scientists have merged scientific knowledge and discovery with artistic creativity. For example Albert Einstein studied piano and violin as a child and, when he was an adult, music helped him think things through. When he was having trouble with a scientific theory, he would strike a few chords on the piano or pick up the violin and play, and that would often free up a constructive thought or solution. He stressed the importance of the creative mind, once saying, "I'm enough of an artist to draw freely on my imagination, which I think is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."

I do not believe the answer is to add the letter 'A' to STEM, which appears to be proposed by some educators. The Arts must be able to stand alone and viewed as a priority in its own right.

Thanks to all of our staff, students and parents who did so much to make Arts Week another very special time at Scotch.

To finish off on the topic of balance and opportunity, I would like to congratulate both our JPSSA and PSA Athletic teams for the way they represented our College with distinction last week. As we now all know our PSA team won their fifth title in six years - an amazing achievement. In particular I would like to thank and acknowledge our Year 12s who represented their College for the last time.

To all of our other athletes, staff, parents and many other supporters, thanks for making last week another one of personal achievement and collective celebration.

The celebration of Arts Week, coupled with our PSA success reinforces that culture wins out every time. Now more than ever, it is important to remember that not everything that can be measured is worth measuring or for that matter important. Sometimes the things that really make a great school are the hardest to measure or not valued by those who choose to profess they have measured what makes a great school.

Our job is to reinforce what really matters for our boys and our community.

Have a great fortnight

Dr Alec O'Connell