The paradox of arts today

By Al-Amin Kheraj. Al-Amin works with a Tanzanian online classifieds platform and is from Dar-Es-Salaam, Tanzania. *Shortlisted!*

Rajabu admired the Tuesday evening hustle at Posta. He was seated in the bus heading towards his university, and today he was glad he could sit by a window.

People were crossing the road amidst buses, private vehicles and motorcycles in a dizzying frenzy, many heading home after a busy day at work in town. Rajabu smiled at how many accidents looked like they were about to happen, yet never did.

Around him he could hear the engine of his bus, its conductor yelling – or selling, depending on how you see it – destinations; music from the earphones of the girl sitting next to him; many motors of many vehicles outside; the murmur of sellers everywhere making creative pitches; break screeches; honks; an argument between two drivers across the road.

Rajabu was pretty sure there were more sounds, but they all got lost in the louder sounds.

The sounds were accompanied by many colors, mostly from people’s clothing. And Rajabu could smell the dust tumbling around.

“We need more color to our buildings,” he thought, squinting at a new pink building that had opened up next to a series of white buildings.

He was heading to an architecture class, and noted a question down in his sketchbook. It might be a good time to bring it up. He thought about what colors seemed to associate with happy feelings, and which ones did not… and noted the colors down on the way to campus.

As Rajabu got off his bus and began walking to his 7pm class, he heard a strange proclamation from a small gathering nearby on the road.

“There is no paradox. The arts are only of calculable worth in what it means to be human.”

Rajabu stopped, and quickly thought about how much time he had before class.

“… To be human is to be alike.”

He had 13 minutes. But, 7 minutes to walk to the classroom. So, he had 6 minutes. He quickly hopped to where the group was and found an old man sitting in front of a group of students, and he listened.

“We explore creation as we sense it, but there is no known example of a creature in the world that has the mind of a human. For some, it is the ability to choose destiny, to forge past what is right versus what is wrong. For others, it is the ability to love, to care for another in the most unique of ways. But, we cannot fathom a uniform definition of humanity except in the face of each other. To be human is to be the same as one another.”

Rajabu glanced at his phone. 3 minutes left. The old man was small, sitting on a chair with his back to the campus wall. His diction was clear, like Rajabu’s great grandfather. Rajabu knew the English those men spoke was immaculate and came from a very systematic and colonial education. He had never seen this old man.

“To learn, therefore, is to learn how to be the same. We face more risk in exploring our differences than in focusing on our similarities. This requires mathematical precision in the way we create education systems. But while mathematics is the purest of the sciences, it is abstract, and assumes conditions that we do not always have control over. For instance, we cannot control how students will react emotionally to what is taught, nor can we control their ability. So, we control what we can in order to stabilize learning environments around common principles. These include controlling classrooms, reading materials, exploration areas and progression from one level to another.”

1 minute left. Rajabu looked around quickly and didn’t notice any of his classmates.

“Considering then what it is to be human, and what it is to learn: In terms of “the arts”, i.e.: liberal arts; culture; language: these are good entertainment, but not essential to our race’s longevity. What will count are standards, systemization, and logical processes that can be counted.”

Rajabu frowned. He had flash memories in his mind of comments in his school reports and from his parents when he was younger. He had always been great at English and Swahili.

“In terms of “art”, i.e.: visual media; literature; music, these are distractions that fuel a harmful imagination of the other. What will count are frequent production of the same media to maintain universal perspective.”

Rajabu thought about his sketchbook.

“We now arrive at the question, what then is the role of the arts in education? It has an important one: To ensure sameness. Considering the appeal of the arts to human emotion, and the power of this appeal to change behavior, it is in the interest of education to leverage the appeal to guide thought into sameness. Sameness ensures we can standardize; it promotes a singular perspective; and reduces the risk of division.”

Rajabu grabbed his phone. He was 4 minutes late. As he ran towards his class, he couldn’t help wanting to stay – and he was sure that he didn’t like what he was hearing, but he had never heard a more serious lesson on the risks of his vision of a colorful Dar-es-Salaam.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletter!