Why are educationists so afraid of cultural excellence?

We should lead children to appreciate the finest in literature, music and all the arts

Share
Related Topics

One of the (many) things wrong with our education system is
that we have, as a nation, come to fear quality and excellence.

We no longer seem to want to share with our children and young people the very finest cultural achievements.

Instead we regard opera, classical music, Shakespeare, Dickens and paintings which rely on symbolism and/or mythology and much more as “too difficult”. Or we say they’re obscure and, worse, irrelevant. The prevalent view is that these things, especially opera (partly because it’s expensive) are just for “toffs” so we don’t need to worry or insult our children with them.  

At the weekend British conductor Sir Antonio Pappano, said that the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, where he has been musical director for 10 years, now carries such a social stigma that Members of Parliament who buy tickets take steps to avoid being seen entering or leaving the building. Like adopting an estuary accent when you were brought up to speak RP, that’s an absurd example of inverted snobbery. No wonder the curriculum is so dumbed down if that’s the example set by people in the public eye.

Why can’t we celebrate that which is great with children rather than apologetically putting them off? Any teacher could familiarise children with, say, The Marriage of Figaro by playing recordings (all those fabulous tunes) sharing film and working on the story. You can appreciate opera without necessarily buying an expensive ticket. And for those who want to take children to see opera at first hand, almost every opera house has an enthusiastic education department and many of them stage events for children. School-based projects are quite usual and I know of several opera companies involving children in community operas this summer. The Royal Opera House which has a £25,787,886 Arts Council grant this year rising to £26,430.076 in 2014/15 has, rightly, an education department second to none and offers many opportunities to children and young people.  But they won’t be able to avail themselves of any of this without commitment from teachers and parents.

The same applies to some books. Why not enthusiastically lead children to some of the finest writing in English – which may take a bit of work to appreciate fully? Education is about opening doors. I love Michael Morpurgo and Jacqueline Wilson but many children will read these quite happily without a great deal of pushing. The educator’s job is to lead them towards reading experiences – Dickens or Austen, for example, which they might not otherwise discover for themselves. A lot of work has been done by theatre companies (led by the RSC and Shakespeare’s Globe) in recent years to open up Shakespeare to more young people but, in much of the country, many students are still missing out.

We owe it to young people to instil knowledge and love of the best. Other countries, which don’t poison their thinking with snobbery, seem to manage it. Pappano said in the same interview that when he conducted in Rome last year he was congratulated and invited to dinner by Mario Monti, the then prime minister of Italy. He has never dined with a member of the British cabinet because our politicians are afraid of accusations of elitism – and with an example like that it’s hardly surprising that the wrong messages filter down to children.

If you persist in fobbing children off with easy, “accessible” material – whether its easy pop music or simple reading material - then you trap them within the confines of their own existing cultural limitations rather than leading them to new discoveries – and that is profoundly anti-educational. It’s why I insisted on teaching Great Expectation to GCSE groups when other teachers were opting for Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, an easy-read young adult American novel which I reckoned 15 and 16 year olds could manage independently. And afterwards my group was very pleased that we’d done the Dickens.

We should be constantly raising the bar, not lowering it. And opera is a very good example.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Product Manager - (Product Marketing, Financial Services)

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager - Marke...

Recruitment Genius: External Relations Executive

£33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An External Relations Executive is requi...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer (PHP & Wordpress) - Central London

£25000 - £28000 per annum + 25 days holidays & pension: Ashdown Group: Web Dev...

Recruitment Genius: Production Operative - Unskilled & Skilled

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has arisen to jo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Daily catch-up: the old Palace of Westminster; Batman vs Superman; and more Greenery

John Rentoul
British Prime Minister Tony Blair (L) pictured shaking hands with Libyan leader Colonel Moamer Kadhafi on 25 March 2004.  

There's nothing wrong with Labour’s modernisers except how outdated they look

Mark Steel
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee