Pros To Getting Your Daughter Involved In The Arts~

The study of arts is not a frill, but rather essential to a good education. The arts help people develop the capacity for creative thinking, problem solving, and cooperating—all skills they need in the postindustrial world. I have also seen the ways in which artistic training and expression are uniquely valuable to school-age girls. 

Music, dance, and other arts are focused on developing one’s individual voice and standing on one’s own authority. This is perhaps the greatest value of the arts for girls and women. Intensive study of the arts means that you must establish your own voice. You can’t retreat to the back of the class. Classroom studies find that when something goes wrong—say, a student flunks a test— boys blame the environment while girls blame themselves. This is simply not an acceptable stance for an aspiring artist. Intensive study of any art requires a girl to step up, speak out, and act out. 

In the arts, an expectation of excellence is not gender-specific. You don’t expect more of a male violinist than a female one. In the tradition of artistic training, the focus is on results, and the standard of excellence is universal. At my school, students are categorized by their major, rather than by their gender, age, or ethnicity. Students are dancers, writers, or musicians, rather than girl or boy, black or white, freshman or senior. This gives all students a strong sense of identity that is essentially gender-free. If students don’t speak up and don’t act, they don’t progress. This environment creates much less interest in the differences that preoccupy people elsewhere. In a classical music ensemble, for example, you might have a ninth grader, a twelfth grader, a couple of tenth graders, a boy, a girl, an Asian-American, and several European- Americans. None of these categories matter when you’re making music. What matters is what you’re doing, saying, how it’s working. This culture of judging people on the quality of their work can be cultivated at any school. 

If you are committed to the arts, you can give girls the opportunity to experience themselves as competent performers. The girls at my school talk about how the arts help them develop a sense of themselves, who they are, where they stand, and what they can do. They have a focus, intensity, and discipline in their art; they really love what they’re doing. They’re asked constantly to look into themselves as sources of creation. This is a language girls don’t usually speak in this culture. In the arts, it’s a language that goes beyond words. I watch a girl who is lead violinist in a quartet. She’ll play full out and aggressively, not scanning the environment to see if anybody likes her, or wondering if she should talk or not.

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