Arts Education and Bullying
Alright - if we had mandatory arts education we would have far less bullying. I honestly think this is true. There's been a lot of press abut bullying recently - and I'm glad there is. Bullying is a topic that has emerged in nearly every middle and high school setting in the schools with which we have residency programs using the arts. I've dealt with bullying as a parent of an elementary school age child who has been bullied this year; and sadly, as a young child myself, I was relentlessly bullied when our family moved when I was in the 4th grade. I'll never forget it - and it very much shaped who I am today and how I perceive the world and my role in it.
Bullying is essentially about power - power over others. It takes many forms such as physical or verbal abuse, or targeted and relentless teasing. It lingers especially when nothing is done to stop it, and the consequences for the targeted individuals can be (and often are) devastating.
Power is something that we all naturally seek - whether it be power over others, power with others, or a need to feel empowered. It has something in common with musical performing - for a quality of performance is power. My dissertation uncovered the differences between playing music and performing. I became interested in the topic when my music students could play beautifully in rehearsals but then freeze on a stage. I interviewed professional musicians and asked them to tell me the differences they understood between playing and performing. All performers agreed - playing was the core of performing - so then the question became - why perform?
There were several reasons musicians decided to perform and one major reason was power - power over audience, power with other musicians, and it was self-empowering. Being on the stage - indeed "having the stage" is quite a powerful position to be in. You can make people feel things, move, dance, influence their moods. If you have an agenda, such as teaching about a culture through music, you have a captive audience. Feeling the power with other musicians as you turn notes into music is powerful. When playing with others, you can push each other to greater musical heights, improvise new ideas, and feel the joy of working closely to make great music. And, the act of performing itself is quite empowering. Watch a group of kids successfully perform a piece of music and you will have some insight into their sense of confidence, and achievement - as well as see their level of self esteem blossom.
Students need an outlet for feeling powerful - and if they aren't getting it in school or in extracurricular activities, it will and does find an outlet - most likely a negative outlet such as bullying. If the federal government really wants to reform education, then I believe a focus on reshaping what we "do" during the school day is ultimately far more important than an emphasis on "what" to learn.We need to get kids working together, learning about each other, and learning the skills associated with patience, respect, and tolerance. I know that arts are not the answer to bullying - but it is certainly part of the solution.