Much as it scares me to say it, my eldest daughter is already 15. This time next year we will have gone through the highs and lows of GCSE exams and results. (I hope there are more highs than lows!)
So, she’s already had to make choices about the subjects that she wants to study, and indeed her thoughts, and those of her friends are turning towards what to do after those exams next summer.
A few days ago, I had a fascinating conversation with one of her friends. This friend told me, “My mum told me I couldn’t do drama and dance for my GCSEs. I could do one but not both. Because they wouldn’t be useful when it came to finding a job. Because they’re not ‘proper’ subjects. I’d love to be a dancer but it’s too risky. Mum thinks I should be a teacher.”
When I dug deeper she explained, “My parents like nice things, like having a holiday every year. They think it’s important to get a good secure job that pays well so you can afford these things.”
Now I don’t know her parents, I don’t know their story and their experiences so it’s unfair and inappropriate to judge. And they have a point – financial independence is important. Being able to choose the lifestyle you want is important. Quality of life is important.
But I don’t think that gives us the right to choose for our children. Nor are we really qualified to do so.
The choice of subjects and their rationale was interesting. The kids study a set curriculum that covers maths, English, a second language, science and either history or geography. Then they got to choose three extra subjects to supplement those prescribed subjects. What they described to me was a hierarchy of subjects – where business studies and computer science are “more important and more valuable” than dance, or drama, or art. They rated logical, “traditional” subjects over creative thinking, expressive subjects. Which begs the question why? Well apparently, computer science or business studies give you the best chance of finding a job, whereas textiles or photography are “just hobbies.”
But the fascinating thing was the kids then went on, unprompted, to explain how dance teaches you about teamwork, about your body and how it works, how to use it, and above all, about being creative and finding new ways to express yourself. Drama teaches you about how to engage an audience, how to communicate effectively and persuasively. Photography teaches you about observation, spotting details, seeing things differently to everyone else, and the technicality of how to capture that. Textiles teaches you about the power of design as a communication tool, about how materials interact with each other. Media studies teaches us how to tell stories. They all teach you teamwork, planning and communication. Each one of them is a study in independent, innovative, creative thinking.
Teamwork, innovation, communication, planning, storytelling. Find me a business that doesn’t value those skills? They are highly prized, and in shorter supply than another business studies degree I’m sure.
We work with many clients who are comfortable with the concepts of strategy, critical thinking, analysis. Most are very capable, competent communicators. But few claim with any confidence to be creative, and indeed many are positively uncomfortable when we talk about the importance of creative thinking. That’s why they ask for our help – because they think it doesn’t come naturally (I happen to disagree but that’s another topic for another day)
Breaking through as an actor, or dancer is incredibly tough. Bankers, lawyers and accountants might earn more than photographers or seamstresses. But the skills and experience those subjects give us are invaluable in so many walks of life. And choosing to study them isn’t just about qualifications, it’s about developing invaluable life skills, spending time on the things you’re passionate about and following your own, individual path. So we shouldn’t be allowed to choose for our kids. Because as with many things, we don’t always know best.