Siloing the Arts at a Young Age

A few days ago, I wrote, “To encourage [students] to be truly creative, we, as educators, need to give our students room to play, to explore, to experiment, and to cross traditional disciplinary boundaries.  Unless we do, we fail them.”  I learned this week that disciplinary siloing starts early. On Friday, my son, who starts high school next fall, came home with a publication called “Student Guide to Career Pathways.”  This guide is designed to help students, their parents, and their guidance counselors map out the best courses to take in high school to lead toward the most appropriate “career pathway” for the student.  I don’t doubt that years of research led to this document (but years of research has led to other ill-conceived education tools).   After completing various questionnaires and self-assessments, each student is given one of six guides to the following pathways: arts, communications, and humanities; business systems; engineering and industrial systems; health services; natural resources; and social and human services.  The student can’t bring home two pathway guides – they can only pick one – making it seem that if you choose the natural resources pathway (forestry, horticulture, et al.) you can’t also be interested in arts, communications and humanities (“do you like to write or draw?” “Do your friends tell you that you are imaginative and creative?”)

My son likes to take things apart so he ended up bringing home the guide to the “Engineering and Industrial Systems” pathway. But, my son has also played piano for six years, French horn for three (and he’s pretty good), started an a cappella group with four classmates, and tests ten percentile points higher on language than on math on standardized tests. He’s thirteen years old.  I don’t want him – or any bright, engaged teenager – to be forced to choose to sequester the arts as an “extra” curricular activity if he’s interested in gizmos.   When I asked him why he answered some of the questions the way he did, he responded, “I wrote what they wanted me to…they don’t want you to do two.”

The productive citizen of the future will need to manage ambiguity, change, and multiple pathways.  Yet, at this young age, my son is being directed to choose one, rather than integrate many…what a shame.

About lindaessig

Linda Essig is Dean of the College of Arts & Letters at Cal State LA and principal/owner of Creative Infrastructure LLC. The opinions expressed on creativeinfrastructure are her own and not those of Cal State LA. You can follow her on twitter @LindaInPhoenix.
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