As my daughter sits her SATS my thoughts go to the value of education… her retention of maths, English grammar, spellings, etc are tested; at secondary school she will be tested again and again, being primed for more exams before she has had time to really try out the range of subjects on offer. I have told her, as a good parent does, “Do your best and that is all I can ask,” but she places herself under stress, wanting to do well to please her teachers: “Miss X will be really cross if I don’t do well though!” Our kids are pushed to succeed in core subjects so that they are successful in life and, of course, these are important, but we all know that it takes more than maths and English qualifications to be successful.
I’m sure we could all name some of the wealthiest and most successful entrepreneurs in the world who have little or no qualifications at all. The thing they all have in common is that they are great communicators who can read people, who can understand what others need and present ideas in a compelling and persuasive way. They also enjoy what they do and are happy.
So I’m jumping on the band wagon to wave the flag for drama in schools: we need to teach our kids how to read, how to write, how to calculate but also how to communicate, how to socialise, negotiate and work with others. But now I am going to be a bit controversial and this might get a few people’s backs up… stop teaching kids texts. They don’t need to know Shakespeare, they don’t need to learn lines or analyse a play script. Don’t get me wrong, there is immense value in all those things and kids should have the option to do them (hey, I regularly run text linked workshops and I love doing them and hope to continue, but there is more to theatre than play study).
Stop the pressure!
If we are talking about a mass education for every child and appreciating the true value of learning through theatre we should make drama education in schools about real life – and not disguised real life – but real life where the context is crystal clear so that everyone can see the merits of the study: role plays, social situations, negotiations, problem solving, discussion, debates, team work, leadership, family strife, emotional intelligence, relationships, romance, reading non-verbal language, understanding subtext: the nuance, intonation, true meaning. If we start doing this, drama becomes an essential core subject on every curriculum. No one can suggest it is just for those who want to be actors or have a ‘creative’ career. Exam boards need to stop testing kids under exam pressure, stop insisting they interpret a text they have no real life context for and start equipping them with life skills. I guess what I am saying is the Personal Social Health Education and Drama need to merge: Life Skills perhaps?
Lift the Mask
I teach through masks and you could say that masks take people right out of reality, so why use them? Well, that is the dichotomy of the mask – it hides, yet also reveals; it helps us learn about others and in turn ourselves. We all wear them, just not everyone can lift them.
From the moment we start to build our own social circle separate to our parents, at the age of 4 or 5, we start to create masks: the one for our friends, the one for teachers, the one for our parents. We build these up throughout our teenage years and for some people this goes on through many more years. For some, the masks are so thickly layered they become impossible to strip away. Some don actual masks – make-up, wigs, hair colour, tattoos, piercings – to create a persona to project. How long it takes though to have the confidence to strip those masks away and stand their ‘naked’ as you before everyone. It is one of the biggest struggles we face in life – learning to be comfortable in our own skin.
Learning with masks is a way to stride over these personal barriers and to step up with a confidence we didn’t know we had, say the things we have always wanted to say and interact in a way that maybe scared us previously. I have personally witnessed the immense power of using masks to overcome personal difficulties – children with autism who have never looked anyone in the eye, who put on a mask and hold a parents gaze for the first time; individuals who are shy and afraid to speak, donning a mask and finding a voice they never knew they had. Once we experience these moments and have unlocked ourselves, there is then the potential to unlock them further and begin to lift the masks.
What is the true value of learning through theatre then?
- develop self confidence
- learn how you can communicate effectively – to convey information, to persuade, to negotiate, to sell, to engage
- learn how to socialise and understand others effectively – even when they don’t have the words for the feeling
- develop self-respect – know who you are and be comfortable with that
How will we make sure future generations are healthy, happy and successful?
- stop putting kids under stress to achieve
- teach them about good nutrition and how to remove processed food from their diet completely
- teach them to respect and protect the people and the planet
- teach them to communicate effectively and work with others to achieve their dreams
- teach them self-respect and show them happiness.
I believe drama must become a core subject in every school – not because I feel we need to prepare young people for our creative industries, but because every young person needs to learn to how socialise effectively, how to communicate and how to have self-respect.