• nedmanningwriterac

NHSPA shows the way

As a former drama teacher at Newtown High School of the Performing Arts, you can imagine how my heart swelled with pride when one of the speakers at Sunday’s March in March in Melbourne offered up a shout out to the “Newtown kids”.  We all knew that meant the Year 9 students, who grilled Tony Abbott on the lawns of parliament house last Friday. Ironically I was standing next to an ex- Newtown “kid”. We were commenting on how proud we were of our old school. We suspected that few in the crowd of an estimated 30,000 Victorians knew much about Newtown High School of the Performing Arts.  

I suspect a couple of other people took particular notice of both the interview and it’s incredible impact. Some 350,000 hits on YouTube, analysis by sections of the international media, it’s been hard to ignore, even if some sections of our media not only ignored it but March in March as well. 

At the behest of the Federal Minister for Education, Christopher Pyne,  Kevin Donnelly and Ken Wiltshire are working away on their response to the national curriculum. They are looking at how the national curriculum can be re-jigged to enable us to raise our standards. Part of this discussion involves returning to the study of “core” subjects, presumably at the expense of subjects like drama, dance, music and art. In short a return to “readin’, writin’ & ‘rithmatic”. 

This is seen as the way to return us to the top of the international educational ladder. 

The assumption being, that arts subjects are in some way peripheral, or even a distraction, to good learning. Far from being peripheral, they are fundamental. They not only require a very high level of discipline, they also encourage a world view. A capacity to look outside yourself. This is what attracts us to the arts. They are about challenging our assumptions.  What the questions posed to the Prime Minister by year 9 students from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts revealed was a maturity that was beyond their years. They revealed a breadth of vision and concern that suggested that, far from being the self obsessed gen Y that they are often characterised as being, they are keenly interested in the world around them. 

The Newtown students weren’t interested in being patted on the head. The wanted some answers to questions pertinent to their own lives. Like, why is a man in charge of women’s affairs? This isn’t a party political question. Nor is the question of gay marriage. Political parties have hamstrung their representatives so that many of them are afraid to say what they really feel about the question. But for a generation of Australians under 50 this is a no brainer. The response to the PM’s call for a “bloke’s question” was a striking example of how out of touch our politicians are. The idea that “blokes” and “sheila’s” occupy different universes is a very old fashioned one.

Then the “bloke” who asked the question asked the PM about our asylum seeker policy was promptly brushed aside as being, “young, enthusiastic and idealistic”.

Newtown High School of the Performing Arts is a selective performing arts high school in Sydney. Two thirds of the students are selected by audition whilst a third are drawn from the local area. This mix of audition and local kids has a positive effect on both groups. It keeps the audition kids grounded in reality while offering the opportunity to explore their potential in the performing arts to students drawn from the local area. 

It has the effect of creating an incredibly tolerant school community. There is little in the way of bullying at Newtown. Or racism. Or homophobia. Or sexism. 

There is something about the arts that encourages tolerance and understanding. The fact that Newtown places such an emphasis on the arts has a huge, positive, impact on the school community. 

Arts subjects are under threat from the review of the national curriculum. The belt is tightening in state budgets when it comes to funding arts education. 

There should be more schools like Newtown High School of the Performing Arts not less of them

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