Why Teach Drama? A Defense of the Craft

If you are like me, you frequently find yourself trying to justify your existence as a Drama teacher. Teachers and parents often don't really understand what a classroom Drama teacher does, and they can question the importance of Drama class-especially since most classroom teachers feel pressured to get through a given curriculum in a given time, and Drama class necessarily shortens the classroom teacher's contact time. Those of us who work in Drama with and for Young People know instinctively that it is important, but we are not always easily able to communicate this understanding. Below is an essay I wrote in response to concerns in my school about the adding of Drama classes to the regular schedule. (You will probably feel that I've over-stressed the cross-curricular importance of Drama and under-stressed its intrinsic value as Art. But that's what the administration usually needs to hear. The purpose of this essay is to persuade non-artists of the value of Drama in an educational system that is-unfortunately, in my view-increasingly output-oriented.) Feel free to use all or part of this essay when you find yourself called upon to defend the teaching of Drama in schools. (For the record, it was quite effective for me.)


"The future of our nation depends on our ability to create-and to be creative. During the coming decades our most important national resources will be human resources. If our nation is to continue to meet the challenges of the future, today's schools need to develop creative leaders."

From Performing together: The Arts and Education, jointly published by The American Association of School Administrators, The Alliance for Education and The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1985.

"Tell me and I will forget.

Show me and I will remember.

Involve me and I will understand."

Chinese Proverb

Dramatic Arts education is an important means of stimulating CREATIVITY IN PROBLEM SOLVING. It can CHALLENGE STUDENTS' PERCEPTIONS about their world and about themselves. Dramatic exploration can provide students with an outlet for emotions, thoughts, and dreams that they might not otherwise have means to express. A student can, if only for a few moments, BECOME ANOTHER, explore a new role, try out and experiment with various personal choices and solutions to very real problems-problems from their own life, or problems faced by characters in literature or historical figures. This can happen in a SAFE ATMOSPHERE, where actions and consequences can be examined, discussed, and in a very real sense EXPERIENCED without the dangers and pitfalls that such experimentation would obviously lead to in the "real" world. This is perhaps the most important reason for Dramatic Arts in schools.

Still, there is far more that Drama can do. At the center of all Drama is COMMUNICATION. Like all the arts, Drama allows students to communicate with and understand others in new ways. Perhaps more than any other art form, Drama also provides training in the very PRACTICAL aspects of communication so necessary in today's increasingly information-centered world. Students who have participated in Dramatic activities are less likely to have difficulty SPEAKING IN PUBLIC, will be more PERSUASIVE in their communications, both written and oral, will be better able to put themselves into others' shoes and relate to them, and will have a more POSITIVE, CONFIDENT SELF IMAGE. Participation in Dramatic activity requires SELF CONTROL and DISCIPLINE that will serve the student well in all aspects of life. Students in Drama will learn to WORK TOGETHER, to cooperate, to find the best way for each member of a group to contribute, and to listen to and accept the viewpoints and contributions of others. NO ART FORM IS MORE TRULY COLLABORATIVE. Drama is an important tool for preparing students to live and work in a world that is increasingly TEAM-ORIENTED rather than hierarchical.

Drama also helps students develop TOLERANCE and EMPATHY. In order to play a role competently, an actor must be able to fully inhabit another's soul. An actor must be able to really understand how the world looks through another person's eyes. This does not mean he must agree with every character. An actor can play Hitler without becoming a Nazi. But he cannot play Hitler without understanding his point of view, without empathy. In today's increasingly polarized and intolerant culture, the ability to understand others' motives and choices is critical. Drama can help build responsible global citizens.

In addition to its intrinsic educational value, Drama can REINFORCE the rest of the school curriculum. Since communication and empathy are central to Drama, a student who has explored like in the Drama classroom will be better able to UNDERSTAND IDEAS in History and Current Events. He will be able to put himself into the shoes of figures in history and literature, to UNDERSTAND THE WAY HUMAN BEINGS INTERACT. The link between Dramatic Arts and subjects such as English, History, Social Studies, and related areas is obvious. The study of literature would be impossible without Drama. There are important periods of our collective literary history in which virtually all of the surviving literature is dramatic. More importantly, Drama can be used to promote ACTIVE LEARNING in any subject-to give students a KINESTHETIC and EMPATHETIC understanding as well as an intellectual understanding of a topic. Studies have shown again and again that this approach yields greater DEPTH OF UNDERSTANDING and a marked improvement in retention. I always strive to link my Drama lessons to topics and themes my students are studying in other subjects, or to important social questions. In this way Drama accomplishes several goals at once-ENRICHING students' school experience through Art as well as REINFORCING traditional academics.

Matt Buchanan

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