Occasionally at some parent/teacher coffee or at the end of the school day I can trap some poor parent and make them listen to me about how great and important the arts are for their kid. Usually, they try to agree with me very quickly and get away from my increasingly zealous preaching.
Here’s a tune I’ve been whistling recently. The arts provide an important thing for our kids. They give them a safe place to fail. We fail a lot in the art-making process. It sort of comes with the territory. No one artist gets it right every time. Some get it right a lot but there is still plenty of “oops” in the background. If you are a collaborative artist – dancer, musician, actor – you have plenty of opportunity to fail in front of other people. Rehearsals are full of large and small failures, nearly all of them public.
The hardest coursework in my doctoral program focused almost exclusively on our failures. Honestly, that was an intense and rich learning experience. It highlights the best part of failure. Failure isn’t all bad – we learn from it in a way we do not and cannot learn from success. This is incredibly painful as a parent to think about my kids failing. Oy!
Sometimes I wonder what mother in her right mind would want her kids to fail. But I do, really. I want them to really blow it in a safe place. It will be so so hard and so so good for them. I would much rather they failed in music class or art class where they can and should bounce back. Because another brilliant part about the arts is that you fail and you go back for more. You try again. You take what you learned and you try again.
The thing that kills me about this in our historical moment is that under NCLB it is not ok for a child, a school, a teacher, a district, an administrator to fail. Because failure has become a punishable offense in American public education today. We are seeing a system that is short-changing children to avoid failure. And, of course, when we avoid failure we avoid risk. And when we avoid risk, well, all creativity and imagination gets flushed down the toilet.
So here is to the value of falling on our faces. Thank goodness we have arts teachers and artists and arts lovers and arts smart parents to pick us back up again.