When we think about the skills that will help our students keep the United States economically competitive, the fields of math and science usually come to mind first. Mastery in these subjects leads to new technologies and means of production, certainly, but do they give us everything we need for success? In an insightful opinion piece for the Christian Science Monitor, David Arzouman says no. Arzouman points to the paradox of specialization in education: on the one hand, it prepares students to play specific roles in the workforce, but on the other hand, it narrows their vision in troubling ways. The arts are a remedy for this. Art is all about how “elements must balance and synergize”; it reveals to young people “the surprising and far-reaching connections that put the world back together, that elicit the ‘aha’ response,” and thereby compensates for schools’ compartmentalized curricula. Art teaches us how to weave disparate threads into a harmonious whole.
Here at LCI, one of our ten “Capacities for Imaginative Learning”—which students develop through encounters with works of art and “original source” exemplars from other, non arts, disciplines—is “Making Connections.” Arzouman is right in step with this idea. He sees that the arts give people the conceptual tools to look across disciplines and see how things fit together in “the big picture”—a valuable skill set when one is trying to solve problems and innovate in the working world. So if economic competitiveness is our goal, math and science in schools gets us partway there, and when we add the arts, “[t]heir mix, although paradoxical, moves us closer to completeness.”