FREE SPEECH ZONE | Drums, Dancing & Drama Help Illustrate Value of Arts for Young People


What an unusual but remarkable trio – drums, drama and dancing.  I watched all three kinds of student performances last week in the space of 30 minutes.  Each received a lengthy ovation.  And I was struck by the incredible value of arts for young people.

First, there was a remarkable drum/dancing corps from Minnesota Transitions, an inner city Minneapolis charter public school.  They were remarkably synchronized, highly polished, visually dazzling.  The approximately 15 participants clearly were having a great time as they demonstrated that while each individual was very talented, together they could accomplish so much more.  They had learned to work together, and the results were stunning.

Then there was something I literally had never seen before – two young men reciting “The Challenge of the Light Brigade” as a verbal duet.  I’ve read and heard someone read this deeply moving poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.  But having it done as a duet gave it a power that I’ve never encountered.  Try it with a friend, a child, your husband, wife, or ….  Amazing!

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“Half a league, half a league, half a league onward…all in the valley of death rode the 600…theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die.”  It’s a deeply moving poem depicting a charge of British cavalry against Russians in 1854.

You can read it as a statement of courage, tragedy, or folly.  But two young men presenting the poem via alternating stanzas gave it remarkable intensity.  These students from the Academy of Sciences and Agriculture in Vadnais Heights did a most masterful job, in a most memorable manner.

Finally, a young woman from the Academy for Sciences and Agriculture danced and dazzled to a pop tune, “Son of a preacher man.”  She leaped, dipped, and twirled.   Incredibly expressive.

Each of these youngsters was extremely entertaining.  But in each case, so much more was going on.  These young people clearly had trained for many hours.  They had shown some of the most valuable qualities needed in life – practice, persistence, and dissatisfaction with effort until there is excellence.

You couldn’t measure any of these performances at the annual Minnesota Association of Charter Schools conference with a standardized test.  But the audience’s vigorous ovation for each showed they were deeply appreciated and admired.  The same is true in almost every student artistic presentation I’ve ever seen – whether district, charter, private or parochial school.

Think for a moment about how your favorite music.  For, me, it might by Johnny Cash, or Johnny Cash and June Carter, or Judy Collins,  or Aaron Copeland.   Our favorite music often stirs us in ways that nothing else can.

At best, the arts help us realize just how much humans can do.  The arts give us new insights and inspiration.  They move us. They astonish us.  They enrich us in ways that nothing else can.

The arts are not extra fluff.  They are basic to helping us understand ourselves, and each other.

Joe Nathan,  a former district public school teacher and administrator, directs the Center for School Change at Macalester College. He welcomes reactions, jnathan@macalester.eduThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .