What’s the difference between a robot and a sociopath, and what differentiates humans from machines? As I travel the world speaking with everyone from educators and psychologists, to city planners and street artists, it is frequently mentioned that the majority of social problems stem from an education system that behaves as its function is to download information into the brains of students. Human beings have emotions, and if we ignore this fundamental reality in our education systems, we are basically embracing a system that values sociopathy.
Bridging Education and Art Together (B.E.A.T) is an organization in New York City that understands and addresses this problem. By integrating academic subjects with various art forms, B.E.A.T imparts students with practical skills while cultivating social and emotional intelligence. A good example of this is B.E.A.T’s speech therapy through beat boxing class called Beat Rockers. For those unclear about what beat boxing is, it is a hip hop derived art form where a person imitates the sounds of musical instruments with their mouth. A good beat boxer can sound almost identical to a song being played on the radio.
On my recent trip to New York City, I had the opportunity to discuss the power of arts integration in education with three of B.E.A.T’s staff. World champion beat boxer and head instructor of Beat Rockers, Kaila Mullady, explained,
beat boxing is a complete connection to body, mind and soul. I feel it, I think it, I do it in a second.
She explains that beat boxing in front of others requires self-awareness and confidence, and spills over into other areas of students’ lives. This is especially evident with her students since Beat Rockers serves blind and mentally disabled students who generally lack the confidence to express their feelings. Kaila explained that, since the majority of her students are blind, and hearing is their most heightened sense, they immediately fall in love with beat boxing. In described the experience of watching this transformation happen, Kaila describes the experience as “beautiful to watch.”
Mark Martin, who is also a Beat Rockers instructor, describes speech therapy through beat boxing as slipping vegetables into a smoothie. Because of the universal appeal of music, students are immediately engaged, and in addition to coming away with a control of their voices, students learn about their emotional selves, allowing them to communicate with and connect with others,
when we talk, we sing to each other, empathize with each other, and learn to understand how you affect each other through sound.
No matter the environment, understanding one’s impact on others is key to developing any kind of healthy relationship, and empathy is an essential component. Society is effectively a web of relationships between a group of people living together, and the consequence of explicitly teaching empathy is obvious: solving social problems that stem from a lack of understanding of others.
Musician and intern, Richard Hauser, who recently spent the summer developing B.E.A.T’s curriculum guide for everyone from teachers to parents, explained B.E.A.T’s methods can be applied virtually anywhere and the philosophy is simple: to develop the whole student. He went on to say that the problem with traditional education methods is that it is less about individuality, inventiveness, and expression and more about conformity,
whatever you study, if you don’t have the desire to be creative and the ability to be creative and you’re not taught that being creative is of the utmost importance, you’re never going to create anything new.
By educating students to understand themselves, their peers, and their environment, students have the skills and knowledge to create innovations that improve not only their own situations, but the situations of people in their society. I want to thank everyone at B.E.A.T NYC for taking the time to talk with me about the wonderful work that they are doing. It is encouraging to see that organizations like B.E.A.T exist with teachers who see education as a tool for personal and social empowerment through the arts.