It is to my eternal disgust that the budget for the arts is being continually cut and filed down, as they are not considered as useful, as “proper”, as other subjects, such as maths and science, by our ‘charming’ government. Also, less and less importance is being placed on learning English (as in literature and language), again, the focus being other subjects… It’s not a competition. Being able to do basic arithmetic, and being able to express yourself coherently via the medium of a pen or a paintbrush – it shouldn’t be a ‘one or the other’ situation, they are ALL equally important skills.
And whilst all of this is going on, Mr Osborne is quietly leeching money from the budgets of local libraries, along with other essential services. This is leading to mass library closures, and the people who are hit the hardest by this horrifying phenomenon, are children – especially children in families who maybe can’t afford to buy their own books. It has been shown that young people who have access to books both inside and outside of a school environment, do better academically, so surely shutting down such an invaluable resource as libraries, free and available to all, is effectively marginalizing children who have limited access to literature, whether it be through social or economic circumstance.
Also, various surveys carried out by the World Health Organisation show that literacy levels are crucially linked to improving social mobility and helping people escape out of poverty. This fact is made all the more pertinent when paired with statistics from the “National Literary Trust” – according to their own surveys, around 5.2 million adults in England can be considered as “functionally illiterate”, which, put into general context, means they possess only the literacy skills needed to get by in day to day life, and would most likely fail an English GCSE (although this measurement is merely to give an idea, since obviously an exam is not necessarily an accurate measurement of skill for all people), and in the minority of this demographic, around 1.7 million of these adults have reading and writing skills below those of the expected level of an eleven year old.
Nicky Morgan, as I’m sure many of you know, is the current Minister of Education. We rejoiced when Gove was kicked out (although he’s been assigned position of Secretary State for Justice, which can only have frightening repercussions), but it seems Morgan is no better. As well as continuing with forcing schools to transfer to academy status, which is a whole topic in itself, she is recurrently derogatory and dismissive when talking about the more creative and essay based subjects, encouraging only those deemed ‘vital in industry’. Morgan was even quoted as saying that choosing to study an art or humanities subject “could hold them (pupils) back for the rest of their lives”.
She, along with the other governmental honchos, is also cutting A-level ‘Creative Writing’, and as a student currently taking doing it at AS, I can wholeheartedly say that getting rid of this subject is shameful, and another form of repression.
Are they hoping that one day, people will simply lack the means to tell the “Powers that Be” that they are doing a horrendous job of it!?
They don’t want people who speak up, who speak out and make a fuss. People who can reach out and touch others with their message.
Throughout history, writers and artists have been doing just that – Oscar Wilde points out the flaws in the societal system of the nineteenth century and asserts that prisoners are merely victims of the state, in his devastatingly powerful “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. This was written, specifically in ballad format to communicate with the lower classes of the time, and other prisoners, who held the main readership.
In his play “An Inspector Calls”, J.B Priestley subtly promotes the importance of an interconnected caring society, and the struggle against the capitalist system with his socialist-view holding protagonist of the Inspector.
The one it would have been simply criminal to neglect mentioning is ‘1984’ by George Orwell, who uses his description of an oppressive, dystopian future to reflect the issues in the actual governmental system at that time.
More recently, I’ve been reading some of the work of a fabulous modern poet, Hollie McNish, whose writing is painfully honest, but brilliant. In her piece “Marketing Motherhood” she is making a direct comment on the commercialised nature of the capitalist society, a particularly potent stanza being:
They’ve turned death into a business deal and birth to opportunity
as a million parents just like me see the Mothercare brand
receive shopping lists for newborns handed out like birthing plans
as one hundred heavy bellies walk the aisles, bulging with advice
and tags are placed on everything and unborn babies priced.
My point is – writing, dancing, singing, painting, acting, music-ing – creation is the one of the most important forms of self-expression. And by making it socially shameful and “unrealistic” to pursue a career in the arts, by making it more and more difficult for people to engage with reading at a young age, by demoting things like English to a lesser academic importance, our government are tying our hands.
They are removing the tools to allow us to fully comprehend what is happening around us, under the guise of aid. They are snatching the rug of communication from under the feet of those who deserve to be heard. By doing this, they are isolating us – alone and unable to make ourselves heard and to communicate with the world, and to be communicated with.
But verbosely whinging about the situation, although it may be quite cathartic, will not change a mighty lot by itself. We need to stand up for our precious right to self-expression. We have to fight to have our say, in any incarnation, whether it be poem or painting, when the bureaucracy of the government tries to drown us out.
We need to spread the message of the true extent of the damage done by dismissing these subjects. We need to speak out for our libraries, our books and our community art classes.
There is power in creation and we need to use it.
By Tilly Wheatley