“I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy.
“Our sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”
John Adams wrote this in a letter to his wife, Abigail, in 1780 in the middle of the American Revolution. He would later become the second president of the newly formed United States of America – a man sometimes forgotten as he served between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
A century and a half later, a psychologist named Abraham Maslow would touch on these ideas in a different, more clinical way.
In 1943, Maslow wrote a paper called “A Theory of Human Motivation.” He discussed the needs and desires of people. He later expanded on the idea with a book published in 1954 called “Motivation and Personality.”
In that book he introduced his hierarchy of needs pyramid.
The human needs on the bottom are the most basic physical needs like food, water and protection against the elements.
Once those needs are met, then the next level of needs can be addressed. These are basic psychological needs which are closely linked to the basic physical needs. Am I safe from the cold? Safe from something that would do me harm? Do I have fresh water and abundant food?
Then in the intermediate levels, a person has a desire to form friendships, fall in love, develop a sense of community. Then come self-esteem needs like earning prestige and a feeling of accomplishment.
At the top of the pyramid is self-actualization – things like achieving one’s potential and exploring creative avenues – and transcendence.
Our forefathers fought for freedom, then established their own government so that they could meet that basic need of protection. The government set up taxes to pay for other needs that no one person could fund alone.
Along the way, John Adams had a son, John Quincy Adams, who was pushed to study diplomacy and foreign languages. The son would become fluent in French, Dutch, Greek and Latin, while becoming familiar with German and Russian as well. All of this came before he ever enrolled at Harvard, where studied law in the days before the Constitution was even ratified.
Many would argue that John Quincy was the most educated of all U.S. presidents.
Like his father before him, John Quincy believed that there was more to establishing a country than passing laws. He worked with James Smithson to create the Smithsonian Institute. Thirty years before Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation, Adams spoke out against slavery on the floor of the House of Representatives.
At some point, the American people advanced enough to support artistic endeavors. Folks could study painting, poetry, music, pottery and those other pursuits that John Adams mentioned in 1780.
The crafts we produce become a much greater part of our culture than the government we implemented.
Yes, our style of democracy has spread around the globe, but perhaps our model wouldn’t have been as accepted if not for the way of life that also spread far and wide. Baseball, rock and roll and automobiles.
In the latter days of the USSR, Russians were in dire need of toilet paper and other essentials, but they also wanted to get their hands on some smuggled-in blue jeans and rock albums.
I get upset when educators talk about cutbacks for music and drama departments because they are less important than core classes.
The arts are important. It’s a career for those with the talent; it’s a pastime to those of us who enjoy the fruits of that labor.
How many people want to stay in on Saturday and watch a special on the Monroe Doctrine?
How many want to go to a club to dance or hit up a bar where a band is covering some Lynyrd Skynyrd songs? Go to the movies? How many tourists check out museums and art galleries?
Even if you stay in, you might be watching a movie from Redbox or binge-watching TV shows on Netfix.
I would put sports in this same category. They aren’t necessary to our lives, but many of us enjoy games – like the tens of millions who will tune in to the Super Bowl this weekend.
We have a psychological need for the arts, so we have to find ways to support the study of the arts in school.
I know it would be expensive to build, but one of the things this area needs is an auditorium for the county school system.
Mount Airy and Elkin have auditoriums, but the 19 campuses in the Surry County Schools don’t have one to share between them. That’s more than 8,400 students.
There is an industrial park near the intersection of U.S. 601 and the I-74 connector that hasn’t grown as hoped. What if the county were to set aside some of that land for a future, centralized auditorium?
I know, I’ve seen the summary of the 2013 Powell report with more than $100 million in building/renovation needs between the three school districts.
And I know that many of us are struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck.
Still, somehow we have to find a way to fulfill this need. And I think John Adams and Abraham Maslow would agree.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.