Art/Music, Learning, and Diversity

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I have always wanted to be a musician. I remember going to my choir class in kindergarten, and while most of my classmates grumbled at the thought, there were a few of us who felt like it was play time. Whenever I got to sing, play an instrument, and create something on my own or with my friends/classmates, I felt in my element; the combination of these naturally lead me to where I am today. As a kid, if you had asked me why I loved it so much, I might have simply answered something like, “Because it feels good”. I didn’t think too much about why it felt good to sing, or make, or watch/listen to something you created come to fruition, or collaborate with like minded people (team sports were great for me, too); in retrospect, however, it is clear as to why I clung to music:

1. It gave me a safe place to be, whether that was in my head or in another space when things in my personal world were less than ideal.

2. I learned empathy through collaboration, and as such, I began to sub-consciously understand how music can abstractly communicate intent.

3. I gained a work ethic by witnessing real results through my own doing. I realized that if I really cared about something, I had to put time, effort and care into its creation.

4. Pride. Maybe it is one of the deadliest of sins, but as a child, no matter what anyone said to me, I began to believe in myself and my capabilities. The things I made were wholly my own, and no amount of negative experiences could take that from me.

Even though I had an aptitude for music, I was still a terrible student in almost everything except for science, language and music. I wasn’t even that good at science, but I won every single science fair I ever participated in; I was curious and trusted that when I created something with my own two hands it stuck with me better than any recitation or repetitive exercise. Unfortunately, for a long time I was ashamed for not being like my classmates, which didn’t do much for my grades or my self-esteem. Luckily, high school was a turning point for me. I, unknowingly at the time, adapted what I learned about my own learning process through making things, which I then put it towards my academic course work. I ended up doing quite well.

I know that art programs are disappearing from schools around the country, or that the time dedicated to in-school art-making is being severely reduced in favor of science and math centered curriculums. But, I would like to bring to our attention that just as we are realizing that diversity in the work place not only increases productivity but also profit, diversity in a young person’s education similarly brings riches into their own lives. A decade later, I now know that I have a learning disability, or as I prefer to call it, “differently abled”; I would not have found the courage to work through my own challenges if I had not learned about myself through the arts.

Millennials get a lot of flack for being self-entitled, pseudo-hippies, but I think it is a testament to our generation that we are so readily willing to embrace and nurture our collective diversity. Because of this, I am optimistic that the arts will not fade into the background, but find a place on the pedestal with math and the sciences as an equally integral part of a curriculum that nurtures the variety of needs and interests in each of us.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Albert Einstein

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