#TBT: Correlation and Causality

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim about arts education: Correlation and Causality.

A common mistake that humans make is to confuse correlation with causality.

For example, did you ever notice that baseball games get canceled right about the time people take out their umbrellas? From that, I could conclude that when people use umbrellas, it causes umpires to cancel baseball games.

Wrong. Rain causes both. Rain is “causal,” but umbrellas and baseball cancellations are “correlated.” They happen together, but they don’t necessarily cause each other.

This is what I think when I hear people talk about arts education. Arts education and arts consumption are correlated, in that people who’ve done something related to the arts in their formative years tend to show up later for shows.


"Audience, Wolcott," © 2010 River Arts, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

“Audience, Wolcott,” © 2010 River Arts, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives license.

Was it the education or the shows themselves that caused this? It’s quite likely to me that a parent who loves to see theater, dance, music, even sports is the real cause of the “education” in the first place.

And why would a parent be a fan of those forms? To me, there’s a great chance that a person is a fan in the first place not because of what they were forced to do in school, but because there was a show (or shows) that was so exciting, so compelling, so much fun that they just had to go see it, and just built a habit from there.

I can’t say I know this; but I can say that the thinking around education in arts never gets past the “correlation’” phase, and I’m not sure it’s not the other way around. In fact, one thing I can say for sure is that being excited and enthralled by something definitely makes people fans, both short and long term. Not everyone, perhaps, and there might be other factors, but it definitely works.

So how about that as an approach? The best “arts education” program is one that creates exciting content that everyone would like to see. Would be dying to see.

Imagine doing that for a generation. What do you suppose would be the result?

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