Conservative ‘thinking’ on cultural learning
The Guardian has reported the Conservative Party manifesto on the arts, including arts education. This is important because we still seem to assume that the Tories will be our masters in a few months. I want to return to two topics in more depth in future posts:
One is the issue of private and corporate funding of culture (whether there is scope for it to increase, how ethical it is, how effective it is at ensuring equal opportunities and sustainable approaches to cultural commissioning).
The other issue I’ll return to is the division between arts and heritage (that there is far more attention given to defending the arts, reducing potential for collaboration and administrative savings across the cultural sector).
Though very important, ‘the arts’ is just one aspect of the cultural sector but it is used as a synecdoche for it. This synecdochic quibble is similar to the issue I’m drawing out in more detail here, which is about the Tory manifesto for arts education. The very notion of a manifesto for ‘arts education’ is a decade out of date, as we are now thankfully moving towards a situation where:
- ACE and MLA are collaborating much more to share resources, research and guidance
- DCMS and DCSF collaborate to co-ordinate the Cultural Offer
- The emergence of the Cultural Learning Alliance (new website to be launched in March) is leading the vanguard of a new integrated movement
This integration encompasses literature development in the libraries sector, creative science in Science Centres and Museums, creative practitioners working in cultural and environmental heritage, archives being used to inspire young people’s creativity, positive activities which combine sport and the arts, and so much more.
So, it’s really very frustrating to see the extreme simplicity, yet confused thinking, evident in their arts education manifesto which will be:
“used to promote three aims: that every child will have the opportunity to learn a musical instrument; that every child has the chance to learn to sing; that every child is able to receive a solid cultural education”.
Now, I’m known for having a bit of ferret-like mind when it comes to rooting out categorical inconsistencies, but a 5 year old with not much more experience than sorting apples from lego pieces will see what I mean. Imagine if this was a manifesto for child wellbeing or health education: It would be the equivalent of 1) Every child has a chance to play football 2) Every child has a chance to develop handball skills 3) Every child receives a solid health and wellbeing education.
Learning an instrument and learning to sing are in the same micro-category, because singing is learning an instrument. It’s wasting two goals out of three. Music is only one discipline of the arts, which is only one aspect of culture. Then there is a huge leap to the general category of ‘cultural education’, though they must be thinking of something more specific than that, which can only imply that they are thinking of it as ‘every child should be tutored in the big story of the best that has been said and done in the arts’.
They have wasted an opportunity to define a really visionary statement about what kind of cultural learning is needed in the 2010′s and beyond. If you could make a list of three goals, what would they be?
Update: I’ve just been sent this Times article on Gove’s plans to rewrite the curriculum. Extremely worrying indeed.