Even those schools with no purpose-built theatres or dedicated music blocks see art staff having their creativity tested and ferreting out venues across their campuses to accommodate numerous concerts, performances, productions and exhibitions. Added to this is generally access to a liberal curriculum and subject packages that meet the needs of boys who have an interest in the arts. The arts are indeed significant in engaging and sustaining quality learning for boys. An education model that takes the specific learning needs of boys into account can only be a successful one.
It is vital that boys can see the inter-relationship between learning and real life.
In the arts, this is embodied in the making or performing of works, be it dramatic or musical, for audiences. Learning is further enhanced through emulation of professional practice in that student, particularly in the performing arts, take on roles and negotiate in collaboration projects – anyone who has been part of a student-directed play will testify to this!
The process may be bumpy with many ideas and egos in conflict. Fortunately, however, boys move quickly past conflict and the result is invariably harmonious and filled with enthusiasm. Furthermore, many boys’ schools use the arts as a means of exposing their youngsters to girls and thereby adding another facet to learning and real-life.
Boys generally respond well to explicit teaching and often prefer active methods of instruction.
The arts are a wonderful means for active participation and experiential learning to take place. (To be fair, the same really applies to the Sciences and other ‘doing’ subjects.) Furthermore, technical skills are developed in a structured way – allowing for the ‘boy brain’s’ analytical approach to problem-solving to be used. The onus here is, generally, on the teacher to ensure that tasks are not open-ended without clearly defined criteria: “Stage a play!” is a meaningless instruction compared to “Using the agreed-upon assessment rubric, create a five-minute production using Brechtian principles.”
Active engagement allows boys to learn better.
All arts require learning through physical engagement: the musician with his instrument, the artist with his brush and canvas and the actor with his space. The performing arts develop further the higher-order physical movement skills as one would imagine – not even taking the confidence that it may take to do this in front of an audience of his peers into account.
Boys respond well to competition.
The nature of the arts requires individuals to take risks, face challenges and compete with themselves and with each other. This creates a stimulating environment in which each boy strives to produce his best. Of course, the converse is also true in that collaboration builds team-skills: consider the teamwork it takes to play as an orchestra or to stage a play.
Every boy should be encouraged to participate in the arts. Independent schools are generally lucky in that they have the resources – human, financial and physical – to accommodate an arts programme.
The various pressures on public schools are certainly stretching their resources and the wits of the arts staff. The challenge then perhaps lays in greater funding from the Government for the arts in the whole. Every community needs artists and musicians and actors: imagine how much poorer the world would be if Beethoven had been forced to become a scientist, or if Renoir had become an accountant…
Gurian, M (2005) The Minds of Boys: Saving Our Sons from Falling Behind in School and Life. Jossey Bass. USA.
West, P. (2002) What is the Matter with Boys? Choice Books. Sydney.