Was I wrong to let my daughter go to art school?

One morning in the spring of 8th grade, my daughter told me some news.

She was thinking of going to art school.

Suddenly I felt a shiver of déjà vu.

When I was in 8th grade, a decision was made that would change the trajectory of my life.

Like my peers, I was tasked with choosing an academic path. The one that would determine the curriculum I would navigate in high school.

And I chose an education centered on the arts. Because I wanted to go to the Ontario College of Art.

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Raising Young Craig

My parents at first seemed supportive.

I thought I had explained why this choice was the right one for me.

But the negotiations stalled when they realized that my arts option had only lasted four years.

Back then, a standard date was five years. And since my parents perceived any four-year course as inferior, my arts-centered upbringing was unequivocally dismissed.

“I have often wondered how my life would be different if I had been allowed to make my own choice.”

I felt disappointment in my gut.

I didn’t think I was the next Picasso, far from it. Until then, my pinnacle of artistic achievement was placing third in my 5th grade snow sculpting competition.

But I wanted to learn and had built up a pretty good portfolio to be accepted.

I have often wondered how my life would be different if I had been allowed to make my own choice.

Raising my daughter

When our daughter struggled with her decision to attend an arts-focused high school — as opposed to the big academic-focused high school a few blocks away — I tried not to bring up my past or regrets.

I admit it was not easy.

My wife and I are both creative, and as you’d expect, we were thrilled when she decided to bet her educational future on art school.

At the same time, we had nagging concerns: once she had made her choice formally, she was stuck.

She wouldn’t be allowed to go back to our neighborhood high school.

So I started to question the decision. What if she lost all interest in the arts? Would the doors be closed for future education and career options? Would an art school provide the discipline and academic rigor required to compete for a quality post-secondary education? Was she doomed to a precarious future as a “starving artist”?

Attending her new school’s open house helped put those worries to rest.

“I was thrilled to see how many of them were leaving to become doctors, lawyers, engineers and financial professionals.”

The place vibrated with an eclectic energy. Theater students performed the musical Revenge of a Blonde at what was, in our opinion, a quasi-professional level. The groups shook. The student tour guides shared their school’s artistic creativity with enthusiasm and confidence. Graphic arts and fine arts, photography, theatre, cinema and music were shared with style and panache.

What we found most surprising was the school’s emphasis on traditional academics.

Subjects such as math, science, languages, geography and history were taught by teachers who were passionate about inspiring young people with a desire to broaden their horizons beyond the arts. Even more reassuring was to check out the list of recent graduates on the school’s Instagram page.

I was thrilled to see how many of them were on their way to becoming doctors, lawyers, engineers, and finance professionals.

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My daughter is now in her second year and has recently been one of many designers creating original outfits for a seemingly endless stream of student models.

The energy, beats, performances and creativity exceeded my most enthusiastic expectations.

Watching these kids strut around, I realized I was experiencing something that transcended art.

I watched a diverse group of young people working together in synergy. They confidently displayed their unapologetic attitudes and styles.

And suddenly, I felt a wave of optimism wash over me.

“It was Canada at its best.”

This was Canada’s promise.

It was Canada at its best.

I know the immense responsibility a parent bears when a child has to make decisions that will impact the rest of their life.

But at that moment, I knew her decision was the right one for her. And I had no doubt that we as parents were right to allow him to do so.

Kayleen C. Rice