There is a hierarchy of subjects within the educational system. At the top (of the most value?) We have mathematics and English (literacy). Then we have the other core subjects of science and history. Then there is the low foster child of second language learning, which is often tossed to the wayside. And then we have the peripheral courses – art and physical education.
How did this hierarchy come to be? Our current educational model is based on that of the industrial revolution. The initial purpose of public education was to take street kids and turn them into productive workers. They needed to be able to calculate and to communicate – math and English. This system was then influenced by the ideal of the "Classical" education, which incorporated history and science as subjects of value. Because of the strenuous work that people did purely to live and survive in those times, physical education was never needed. Second language education and art were considered leisure time activities of the wealthy. They had a value as past-times but never as serious subjects.
If we still believe that the purpose of education is to produce productive workers, we still need to examine the changes that have occurred in our society. We no longer do much physical labor so it is increasingly important that children are given an opportunity to get physical exercise each day. We also need to know another language in order to compete in our increasing global economy. We also need to be innovative and creative both as individuals in order to compete for limited jobs and as a nation to compete on the global market.
Innovation? Creativity? Are not those just other words for being artistic? Art is not just about painting and dancing. Art is about expressing and exploring the world through creativity and imagination. Art is about the soul and character of a society. Everyone will get the same answer for a math problem but no two people will see something the same way. Will understand things the same. Will come up with the same answer to a complex, human problem. This is the value of art. If we see people as individuals then we must nurture that individuality. We must teach "out of the box" thinking. We must nurture imagination and give voice to visions. Then our children will certainly succeed both as fulfilled individuals and as productive members of society.
When we do not value creativity, we begin to see all people as the same. We seek to suppress what is unique and just churn out copies of the "perfect, working automaton" destined to fail in this rapidly changing and increasingly exciting world of opportunity that awaits our children. Mathematics and literacy are building blocks but art is the design and vision needed to make value. Art as an essential part of the curriculum is needed now more than ever.