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  • Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

'Serious Subjects' vs. 'Frills'
May 9, 2010 - 4:25pm

My son's mid-semester report came last week. The news was that he's doing fine in everything but humanities and art. "What is going on with humanities?" I demanded. He explained, and his teacher later confirmed, that he had been unable to hand in his major project before the reports were issued because of a transmission issue I don't understand, but it's been straightened out now and his semester grade is likely to be high. "So I guess you'll forgive the art as long as I'm okay in the serious subjects," he said.

I agreed. He's never been good at drawing or painting, which is all his school offers. (He's a crack photographer, and in his more affluent, private elementary school, he excelled at ceramics and scupture--but two-dimensional representation that demands fine motor skills has always eluded him.) He does the required work, it just lacks whatever quality separates art from drek, and we've all come to accept this. He's a wonderful musician and songwriter, so it's not as though he had no creative or expresive outlets. And I'm not getting warning letters or urgent emails from the school, as I would if he were flunking math or Spanish. It's basically fine with everyone.

The incident made me think, though, about the different responses to perceived underperformance in a "serious" subject versus a "frill." Why is it okay with all of us that my son "just isn't any good at" art, or that my husband was designated a "listener" in music classes because his off-key voice detracted from choral singing? Why aren't there meetings and conferences focusing on how to reach students who struggle to produce art and music? Why, for that matter, was I not allowed to "just not be any good at" math and science, and to focus on my strengths in humanities and the arts? Would be be happier people, and would our society be stronger, if we all just did what we're good at? Or, if we agree that there is value in learning difficult and non-intuitive skills, and in exposure to and mastery of a broad spectrum of knowledge, shouldn't this apply across the board?

I don't have any answers, but would appreciate thoughts.


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