Nicky Morgan and the Arts: Why you gotta be so rude?

Tories have a long, rich tradition of bashing the arts, and they’re not about to give up now. When Thatcher came into office, her arts minister claimed there would be “no candle-end economies in the arts” before bringing in the first round of cuts to funding. Our previous educational secretary Michael Gove championed a two tier school exam system with an emphasis on the reduction of “soft subjects” like arts and music. It’s hard to believe that the government were able to find a replacement even more dangerous and incompetent, but it looks as though he’s been trumped. Enter Nicky Morgan, who claimed earlier this month that it was “nonsense to say ‘schools must teach gay rights.’” It should come to no surprise then that just as Morgan sees no worth in teaching young people to treat each other with basic respect that she certainly has no time for the arts.

This week Morgan warned that schoolchildren who focus too much on arts and humanities subjects are restricting their future career path. This came with the news that there has been an 80% rise in the number of students taking courses in arts and humanities between 2002 and 2012. She claimed that the belief that studying the arts and humanities can be useful for a variety of careers “couldn’t be further from the truth.” Morgan was speaking on behalf of “Your Life”, a campaign designed to encourage students to study Maths and Physics at A-level. With a condescending name like “Your Life”, you’re under the impression that choosing to study Philosophy could actually be fatal.

It’s worth noting that from an economic perspective Morgan is wrong. The UK’s creative industries are now worth £71.4 billion a year, with employment in the sector growing by 8% between 2011 and 2012, a rate much higher than the economy as a whole (0.7%). Whilst there’s a shortage of well-paid employment in general, there is nothing to suggest that job seekers will be restricted by their subject of choice. There are also roles in teaching, not-for-profit organisations, law, counselling, and social services (amongst others), all of which require skills gained from studying the arts and humanities.

But pointing out these kinds of statistics feels dirty, as it means complying with Conservative logic; that education is only valuable if it creates wealth. Part of the reason Morgan’s comments are so infuriating is because they prey on the vulnerabilities and fears of young people who desperately want to study arts and humanities but are put off by financial instability. I’ve heard prospective A-level students first hand worrying about their subject choices because they “don’t know what they’ll do with them.” It’s the perfect trap; if you make young people anxious enough about their prospects then they won’t have as much time to invest in independent thought, analytical skills, and development of their personal values- all of which are promoted in humanities and the arts. If we teach future generations the joy of embracing knowledge for knowledge’s sake, they’ll begin to question the systems in place that preach otherwise. When you look at it from that perspective, it’s no wonder that Conservatives find students of humanities and arts subjects so dangerous.

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