What do you want to do when you grow up? Create?

On the front page of today’s Sydney Morning Herald, there’s an article by Rachel Browne on a survey of 6200 children aged between 10 and 12 in 47 countries asking them what they want to do when they grow up. Cathy Wilcox’s cartoon gives the gist of the article – two white children are chatting: ‘Lots of kids in developing countries want to be doctors’ says one, and the other replies, ‘They don’t have the luxury of squandering their education on a sporting career!’

You have to read to the seventh paragraph to discover that, while ‘professional athlete is the highest ranked career choice for Australian children’, the second rank is ‘entertainer and professional artist or creative professional’. The latter is immediately dismissed by someone associated with the study as ‘probably influenced by popular TV shows’. Lisa Power’s article in the Telegraph, presumably based on the same press release, includes a table that seems to indicate that Rachel Browne got it wrong:

If you combine ‘Entertainer’ with ‘Artist/creative professional’ you get 26%. What’s that? More Australian children want a career in entertainment and the arts than in sport. But that doesn’t fit the media narrative, so let’s bury it.

Has it occurred to anyone else that our governments are willing to back young people’s sporting aspirations with millions of dollars, but leave their artistic aspirations unresourced so that for most of them it remains an unrealistic dream? It’s not just that winning gold at the Olympics is seen by the press and politicians as more important and newsworthy than making things ‘with which the soul of any witnessing human being can resonate and conceivably find comfort, catharsis, awakening, provocation, solidarity, beauty and, perhaps, enlightenment,’ as Clare Strahan put it recently on the Overland blog. Young people’s desires to do the latter must also be trivialised and marginalised. The current precipitate withdrawal of funding from fine arts education in TAFE is symptomatic. So is the Sydney Morning Herald‘s almost total silence about the cuts.

And now a quick sonnet:

Sonnet 8: To children who responded to a survey
We ask you what you want to do
and what you fear. It’s no surprise
if drought, rape, kidnap threaten you
you don’t desire a glittering prize
but want to build the general good,
to teach or heal. And in a land
where gold and silver most command
acclaim, of course it’s understood
your heart goes bling! Celebrity
can look like meaning when you’re ten.
The headlines mock you: Sport! again!
Oh child! child! We’ve corrupted thee!
They don’t hear that your brave young heart,
wants to make, give, create art.

6 responses to “What do you want to do when you grow up? Create?

  1. Over many years teaching thousands of young people in Japan – tertiary and middle/high school – and asking my students about their “dream” (much gentle societal pressure about finding one’s dream or passion for the future) minimal responses were towards the entertainment/sporting life – only three who ever responded “to be rich” – but most were about following a path into engineering or the medical field or teaching! And the rational for these was always in terms of helping others! Your sonnet says it all for contemporary Australian society as revealed in this survey – the cult of celebrity, gambling, sport ad infinitum! One can only hope that the children interviewed were no older than 10 or 11 – that by age 17, 18 the kicking in of maturity brings an understanding of the shallowness of the “bling” (a word I had never heard till coming back to Australia – as shallow in verbal history as the sparkle itself which dies when the lights go out)!


    • Hi Jim. Yes, the age range was 10 to 12. What impressed me, though, was the number who wanted to be a ‘creative professional’ or ‘artist’, which doesn’t necessarily have the same feel, but certainly can be read as having something of what some people would call the spiritual about it.


  2. Checking the SMH article I see that the children were indeed only 10~12 years of age. I have a little more confidence now that with developing age they will reject that shallowness in favour of more significant hopes and dreams for their pathways into active contributive working lives! With an appreciation for creative craft and artistic aesthetic pursuit, too – if the schools foreground such options/chances – of course! Listen up Barry O’F!


  3. Oops, Jim! I posted my reply to your first comment before your second arrived. I like you ‘if’ clause – it’s what I was trying to get to in the sonnet but didn’t quite make.


  4. I read to the end before ‘liking’ this, Jonathan. Somewhere there must be a default ‘autolike’ setting for bloggers’ computers, but I don’t know how to use it.

    Perhaps we could set a trap for the autolikers by starting out with an innocuous-looking post that turns ugly, racist and misogynist halfway through. They we could out, name and shame the likers.

    Will you write it or should I do it?

    I’m an avid consumer of, and participant in, both sport and the yarts. I hope it doesn’t come down to a competition between them for funding, though the amounts spent on elite sports (as opposed to providing sport facilities and opportunities at grassroots level) seem to me to be way out of proportion to their benefits to our society.


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