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UK politician causes uproar after discouraging arts education

Craig Clough | July 10, 2015

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Nicky Morgan

Nicky Morgan

Many teachers and educators simply want to motivate their students to chase their dreams, no matter what they are. Whether it is painting, writing, science or math, as long as the child is inspired and working hard, everything will work out in the end.

And then there is the view of Nicky Morgan, the United Kingdom’s secretary of state for education, who told students to put down the paintbrush and pickup a calculator, no matter what their dreams are. Morgan said recently during a speech that choosing arts or humanities as a focus can basically ruin a student’s life.

Morgan said that students used to be told that arts and humanities would offer career opportunities, but that “of course now we know that couldn’t be further from the truth, that the subjects that keep young people’s options open and unlock doors to all sorts of careers are the STEM subjects.”

To make sure her point was clear, she also said that “the subject that employers value most” is math and claimed that pupils who study math subjects to A level will earn 10 percent more over their lifetime. “These figures show us that too many young people are making choices aged 15 which will hold them back for the rest of their lives,” she added.

In her defense, Morgan was speaking at an event aimed at increasing students’ interest in STEM subjects, but in England — the land that gave the world William ShakespeareThe Beatles and Laurence Olivier — the comments have not exactly gone over smoothly.

The Stage reported that National Drama chair Patrice Baldwin condemned Morgan’s remarks as “myopic,” and Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, said downgrading the arts was “the wrong message.” The responses were among a chorus of leaders in the UK that spoke out against Morgan, a conservative serving in Prime Minister David Cameron‘s cabinet.

Some online comments from readers were also enlightening. One, from a reader of The Stage’s story, read, “Clearly she should have paid more attention in all those science and maths classes when they taught about politics or governance or history or education or writing or public speaking or self-awareness before pursuing a career as a public figure.”

Another said, “I’d like to see her wearing a dress designed by a mathematician.”

Taking a more academic approach, the Daily Mirror analyzed the resumes of the UK’s 22 cabinet ministers and found that just one had a STEM degree. Morgan herself studied law.

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