We know, as proven in various tragedies that have taken place involving young people, that our schools are not always providing a sense of family for our marginalized kids. The arts often is the arena in which they find their voice, find their sense of purpose, find a family, and find their pride.
While sports can be a great avenue for some kids to establish their sense of self-worth. It can help them find friends, learn teamwork and gain pride in themselves and their community. However, many many kids don’t fit into the sports realm. They may not be inclined to challenging physical activity. They may not excel, leaving them to feel outcast, ignored, unaccepted, or demeaned. Kids can be cruel. The team may ridicule the kids who aren’t high achievers in the sport. In these cases the result of their participation can have the exact inverse result of what involvement was meant to accomplish; that of inclusion, community, achievement.
Churches, synagogues and other religious organizations also are intended to build community, teach life lessons and support the members. But in many cases, kids don’t identify with the beliefs of the group or haven’t made up their own mind as to what faith, if any, they wish to adopt. The result can be feelings of disconnection and alienation as they are forced to pretend to feel part of the group while underneath they feel more and more alone.
In many communities, sports and church and school are the only places kids can identify to be part of a community. When they don’t find that community there, they may feel lost, misunderstood, isolated. The arts can fill this void.
Arts programs used to be plentiful in our public schools. Classes and extra-curricular programs in art, music, drama, choir, along with shop classes and more provided places for kids to experiment and express themselves. Art is individual. No one creates the same way or the same thing. So there is no standardization. There’s no exact correct answer. Self-expression of the individual is part of the endeavor and generally supported and praised. So their sense of accomplishment relies on their own creative work and dedication. While they all express themselves individually in these cases, they are doing it along with others in a collective way, providing the community they often desperately need. They find their unique voice.
Additionally, many students are learning English as their second language. Where the language barrier may make learning standard curriculum more challenging, and standardized testing more difficult, putting them at a disadvantage that can also lead to lower self-esteem, the arts are universal in their success in the form of self-expression. It creates a level playing field for all involved and even praises their individuality.
So if you have kids yourself, or young extended family or friends who are considering participating in the arts, find ways to encourage them and support them. For a birthday give them art supplies. Let them try different things and experiment. If they find their passion in something help them to develop it, and don’t chastise them if they change their mind a number of times. Every child is different and only through trying will they know if they enjoy a certain art form. Also, communicate with school officials your feelings toward the need for arts programs in our schools.
I was a very shy child. All through school I was petrified of having to get up in front of the class to do anything. I had a teacher who recognized this and took the time to ask me if I’d ever considered trying drama. That one conversation was enough. She showed an interest in me. That was all it took. I decided to sign up for her drama class, ended up trying out for the school play, and my mother was shocked and amazed on opening night to see her shy son up on stage in front of hundreds of people. She forever after was my biggest fan. I’d found something that suited me and that I could be passionate about, as well as a community to be a part of. It brought me out of my shell, developed my confidence and self-esteem and completely changed my life.
Every child has a creative streak somewhere inside of them. It may be working with wood, or on cars, or with a paintbrush or an instrument. Help them find it. Support it. Nurture it. They will be better for it.
Patrick Spike is the Theatre Community Liaison, system expert, and one of the original architects of the Arts People software system, with over 30 years in performing arts creation and administration. www.patrickspike.com