The Role of Incorporation of Liberal Arts in Education

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Much of today’s society in regards to education has been predominantly focused on aspects that fall within the range of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. Though there is an undoubted reason for this - as much of our world is dominated by economics and monopolized by technology - leaving the necessary incorporation of liberal arts out of education will ultimately stunt the growth of our world. Liberal arts provide the world with a broader consciousness regarding further utilization and understanding of collaboration, creativity, and empathy.

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Collaboration and the skill-set of being able to effectively work in conjunction with others is a detail that practically every hiring director of any occupation will deem a beneficial quality. As for the integration of collaboration in high school, there are few experiences that teach the true meaning of working together more so than being involved in a high school theatre production does.

Heather Basarab, a Master’s of Science EducationMajor at Dominican University in California, centered her Master’s theses in December of 2012 around the idea of Building Collaboration Through Project-Based Theater Design. The purpose behind her thesis was to demonstrate the intense need for the incorporation of the arts in education, as liberal arts is inevitably a beneficial tool when it comes to growth and redeemable traits for the real world. The theatre department of the high school that Basarab followed for her study was working on their upcoming production of The Arabian Nights. As there are many pieces formed together to create the art of a theatrical performance, the company told Basarab that they value ‘many working as one.’ Basarab references the National Education Association’s “list of necessary 21st century skills as defined by businesses… creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, and communication.” In her conclusion, Basarab states her “findings indicate that the students developed a refined method for collaboration… as the arts creates opportunities for metacognitive awareness of collaborative skill”.

Creativity is not only one of the “four C’s” in the National Education Association’s top skills for businesses, but it also results from stimulation of the human brain hemispheres. Utilizing one’s split-brain encourages patterns of brain waves that result in aspects like “logical thinking, analysis of facts, visualization, imagination, and conceptualization”.

In Barclay Barrios’ Emerging, Yo-Yo Ma elaborates on this concept noting that humans have “dual neural pathways, one for critical thinking and one for empathetic thinking”. This finding proven by neurobiological studies says that the left and right brain hemispheres are utilized for different areas of thinking. For example, the right-brain hemisphere is responsible for things like innovation and creativity, whereas the left-brain is more responsible for aspects such as logic, science, and math. Psychology Today suggests most people preference one side of their brain over the other. Therefore, those more interested in the arts - rather than science and math - will be more practiced and advanced with their right-brain hemisphere, drastically aiding those students in finding their source of creativity. If there is no way to practice one’s creativity in educational outlets, creativity, and growth of innovation will be stunted. Undoubtedly, creativity leads to innovation and innovation leads to the promotion of a broader consciousness.As for the promotion of empathy, the arts establishes empathetic reasoning into the mind like virtually no other platform in education can achieve.

One of London’s most profound poet-playwrights in the 1800s, Oscar Wilde, stated that “he regards the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being”. The entirety of empathy is encompassed in what it means to understand and share feeling with other human beings.

In my experience, art of all forms brings people together in a way that few phenomenons can. For my high school’s 2018 University Interscholastic League One-Act Play, my directors chose Wit by MargaretEdson. In this Pulitzer Prize winning play, Dr. Vivian Bearing, a professor of seventeenth century poetry specializing in the holy sonnets of John Donne, is diagnosed with advanced metastatic ovarian cancer at fifty years old. Throughout the play, the audience is told the story of her life byscenes reverting back and forth between her childhood, reflecting on how she lived her life and longing for a kinder heart throughout before she passes away at the end of the play. Inevitably, some experiences are universal. Almost every person in the world knows or has known someone whose been affected by the devastation that is the cancer epidemic. Because of empathy, my high school’s play had people running out of the theatre crying when the play concluded. I proudly portrayed Dr. Vivian Bearing and so gratefully won Best Actress four times in a row for the UIL One-Act Play contests due to my “extreme empathetic portrayal” of the character, as deemed by the UIL Texas judges.

An unintended consequence I experienced throughout my portrayal of Vivian in Wit was the incredible connections I created with people I’d never met before. At one contest, two girls came up to me during the awards ceremony and told me that my performance made them cry. One of them had lost their own mother to cancer, and she said the production made her understand the profound feelings she’s felt, and that she isn’t alone. The arts connect people to one another as they “help us cope with issues by engaging… the deep emotions of intimate loss involved and retelling over and over again the story of the human condition and its limits”.

Art enables the promotion of a broader consciousness in our world in that it provides no limitations as to what it means to be a human and have the human experience. Art promotes the ideas of collaboration, creativity, and empathy which are some of the most valuable and redeemable qualities that anyone can possess. These qualities cannot be taught, but are rather accumulated by experiences. Without the incorporation of arts in education, a broader consciousness will be lost to the world. Incorporation of these accumulated experiences will inevitably lead to the promotion of a broader consciousness, as “the arts teach us that there is something that connects us all and is bigger than each of us”.

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