Feed Your Head: Try the Arts!
Hopefully some of the stuff you’ve read in this blog will provide you with answers to many of the questions that you might have about education. I also hope that they will raise many questions that will lead you to great conversations and further debates and hopefully more answers and then still more questions that you haven’t even thought about yet. That’s how the process works! And it all gets done in the brain and hence, my advocacy for helmets. We must protect the head, but protection is not just about what goes on the outside to keep the inside intact and secure. It’s also about what we input or feed that most marvelous collaboration of neurons and synapses and dark gray matter, to keep it going and running smoothly like a fine tuned well oiled…thinking machine.
I’m sure All of us would agree that if you want to keep your body in shape you need to exercise regularly, so then wouldn’t it make perfectly good sense that if you want to keep your mind in good shape you need to exercise your brain regularly? Of course it does! (My apologies for answering my own question for you but I promise you’re on your own from here on in)
One thing that I would often do in class would be to ask my students to raise their hands if they thought or suspected that their brains were broken. Usually (Never say always in a school) no one would raise their hand. In fact usually the students would feel insulted and would get angry with me for suggesting that something might be wrong with their brains.
“So then, I would continue, if your brains are fine and work just as well as everyone else’s why are you always complaining that you don’t understand this, or can’t remember that, or can’t figure out what to do, or this is too much reading, or that takes too much thinking? If you all believe that your brains work perfectly well then what’s your problem?” And of course they would each individually reply, “I dunno.”
Just like the person who lies around the house too often or stays in bed too long and then doesn’t want to get up and do something because they feel “tired”, many students have “tired” brains from a lack of use or stimulation. Certainly our brains are always “on” and taking care of the basic functions of day to day living but many of us simply don’t challenge or exercise our brains on a regular basis with higher order thinking and problem solving. Then when we are put into a situation like school where we are faced with higher order mental challenges and thinking situations many of us are more apt to simply say, “My brain is tired. It needs to stay in its bed and do its usual thing and not be bothered so please leave me alone.” Or rather we say, “I can’t do that or I don’t understand that or that makes no sense to me” We are just trying to get our brain back under the covers and turn off the alarm and go back to where it’s nice and warm and safe and comfortable that’s all. That’s why watching movies or television or videos and listening to music is so popular. The videos and the music do all of the work for our brains all we have to do is work our eyes and ears and we don’t even really have to work them, they work themselves don’t they?
Writing and reading and creating music take so much more effort because they require a much more active brain state. We have to think for ourselves and take our brains off automatic pilot and fly the brain ourselves. That’s more difficult. That’s work! And that is also brain exercise!
Little children love exercising their brains. Have you ever watched how little kids take everything in and how they are always eager to ask questions and learn new answers that create more questions for them, so much so that adults will try to wear them out by giving them so much to do or think about in the hopes that they will finally just overload and go to sleep so that they, the adults, can finally get some rest. When we are little we are very aware of how much we need to exercise both our body and our brain. They are developing, they need input…and lots of it!
Somewhere along the line we forget that and slow down and lead ourselves to believe that we need more rest than we do but it’s actually just the opposite of what we need. We now know that the brain is constantly developing and devising new ways to utilize and wire itself for its continued development. That is if we are using it! Just like our bodies need regular exercise in order to continue building muscle and functioning at peak performance, our brains need regular exercise to continue to develop and function at optimum levels.
We need to stay busy! We need to provide input. We need to keep thinking! Humans need to do and see and look and talk and sing and dance and read and write and draw and paint and create! And that’s where the arts come in. The arts are what distinguish us from other living creatures. Human Beings have the ability to use the brain to create that which would otherwise be useless to other animals so what function could the arts possibly serve?
They exercise our brain! They stimulate our thought processes and our ability to expand our thinking. While other animals’ brain’s mostly fill their days occupied with the maintenance and operation of everyday bodily functions our brains can actually engage in the very real immaculate conceptions of the thoughts, ideas and abstractions that only human beings, Homo sapiens, can create! It’s what we do…but also unfortunately what most of us often forget that we can do. That’s why the arts are so important and that’s why they should always be included, in one form or another, in our schools and our family lives and our everyday routines on a regular basis. To be truly well educated one must not only learn to appreciate the arts, but must have rich opportunities to actively participate in creative work. The arts are languages that all people, child and adult, speak, cutting through individual differences in culture, educational background, and ability and they can help our brains turn abstractions into concrete reality.
Study after study has shown that students who become involved in art and music or who had participated in acting, play production, music performance and appreciation, drama appreciation, and art history will score higher on aptitude and standardized tests and students with long-term arts study (four years or more) tend to score significantly higher on the SAT than those with less coursework in the arts. What this means is that one very simple, easy and even fun way to exercise our brains is by tapping into our natural childlike sense of artistic wonder throughout our lifetimes to help make them work more efficiently and productively and even more happily! How easy is that?!
So another way to protect your child’s head and your head too while you’re at it, is by feeding it properly. Don’t just cover it up with protective gear and keep it away from blunt force trauma, make sure it’s getting healthy and nutritious inputs too. So get with it and take your brains out for a ride!