Last week, I went to two events that reignited my belief that the answers to America’s education problems don’t just lie in getting more students to excel at math and science. The first was a book party in Pacific Palisades for the Dutch cultural philosopher, Rob Riemen who has recently published a long essay entitled, Nobility of Spirit. The setting of the party was quite appropriate because Riemen writes a lot about Thomas Mann, who fled to the Palisades to escape the Nazis. Mann worried about the responsibility of the artist and the intellectual in preserving notions of beauty and truth. Riemen is equally concerned that in our current obsession with the Global War on Terror, we are neglecting the life affirming role of art and culture in building human dignity and freedom. He feels we must be willing to draw on the well of Spinoza, Socrates and the classics to heal the wounds of the present.
The next night I went to Ian Master’s lecture series at the Hammer Museum, where Sir Ken Robinson held forth on the state of today’s public schools, drawing on his book Out of Our Minds:Learning to be Creative. Robinson’s main thesis follows the lines of our esteemed colleague Hugo–that K-12 Education, built on the industrial model, completely suppresses creativity in our students. While noting that both Paul McCartney and George Harrison both were dismissed from their middle school music class for being “without talent”, he feels that only by bringing art, music and acting back into the core K-12 curriculum will we find a way to engage young minds that may not be engaged by math and science.
I understand we will need a lot more engineers and scientists in the next few years, but in our rush to remake our school system, we cannot forget that it is art and the humanities that teach us how to creatively live our lives to the fullest.