I was lucky enough to attend a magnet arts elementary school. It fostered an unusual social hierarchy. One where:
The boys who could draw the best were hands down the most crush-worthy.
I wish this held true in the world at large. I'd love to hear a woman on a first date say:
"All this investment banking talk is snoozers...I don't give a shit that your dad has a vineyard. What's your favorite book? (And you can't say The Four Hour Work Week). What's the last song you heard that choked you up? Never mind. Here's a napkin. Draw me something awesome. If it blows me away...if it, at least, hints at an authentic, captivating, sliver of something in you, then, maybe I'll go home with you."
Creativity is empowering. That's why schools need to foster it. At our elementary school, our dance teacher Kat Brown taught us Jerome Robbin's thumb-snapping, air-punching choreography from West Side Story. When she hit the cassette deck, I had the right to express what was surging inside of me using the language of movement. Creativity is also a healthy way for kids to escape. When we painted whiskers on our faces and pounced around the stage as feral cats, it didn't matter what kind of crazy was happening at home, that my new stepbrothers were moving to Chicago. I was a cat. Cat's don't have to deal with custody battles. Macavity's not there...
Of course, the arts bled into our academic courses too, which meant we were more engaged. When we studied the American Revolution--Johnny Tremain, anybody?--I somehow convinced our English teacher Ms. Kelly to let us hold a Revolutionary Ball, kind of like a sock hop for Patriots. About forty kids stood in the cafeteria--in costume--in the middle of a school day, and I taught THE MINUET. God bless Ms. Kelly for encouraging it.
Many of us ended up back together again when we attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts. Students tap danced in the halls, lugged cellos up the stairs, spray painted in the parking lot. We were able to explore our art, which made us happier--or at the very least, less suicidal than we would have been at a traditional school. And it also made us more respectful of each other. We knew that everyone there had a talent. Something special. A spark. And there's not a more valuable gift you can give a teenager than permission to express that creative impulse.
Here's a TED Talks video of Creativity Expert Sir Ken Robinson pontificating on creativity and how some schools kill it.
My favorite quote:
If you're not prepared to be wrong, you will never come up with anything original.