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  • Published on: 21st September 2019
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Art and education are treated as very different subjects, when in fact, they are both parts of the same whole. Art in itself is a valuable educational tool. The arts have the unique ability to tie different subjects together, supplementing them while also being subjects of their own. Despite the positive effects of the arts and their many real-world applications, they are often not treated as integral parts of education.

The arts are a unique of communication that allow people to express their thoughts and ideas, and understand others’ viewpoints and cultures. Artistic skill develops over time, just like any other, and holds a lot of educational value. Even from an early age, children process they deliberate decisions that are made in the process of creating a work of art. Because of the tangible nature of art, students are able to see the impact of their decisions, and “experience as no other subject will allow the range and importance of their own inquiry and their own ability to assess and direct that process.” (Davis) Important skills and lessons can be learned through art in a way unlike any other.

Being educated in an essential part of success later in life. Schools are meant to teach practical skills and ideas, helping students grow as individuals. School should be a place that promotes creativity and forward-thinking, but often times that isn’t the case. Education over the years has seen a shift away from creativity. There is a demand for “information-intensive schools”, while failing to recognize that art is everything, and takes considerable thought and knowledge. (Fowler)

The curriculum can be seen as the basis of education, providing a layout of the subjects and objectives that should be mastered as one progresses through school. The curriculum of the majority of schools in the United States favor core subjects: English, math, science, and social studies. Arts and language classes are usually electives. Core subject test scores are usually what determines whether a school is at risk or not, so they are understandably given a lot of emphasis. But the focus on these core subjects causes other subjects, which are just as important, to be overshadowed.

This overshadowing is seen even in elementary school, and a survey in 2006 by the Center on Education Policy found that since 2001, “44% of districts had increased instruction time in elementary school English language arts and math while decreasing time spent on other subjects.” Music and art were among the subjects that were reduced in instruction time, and by an average of 35%, or 57 minutes a week. Not only are arts classes being decreased in time, but they are lacking. In 2001, the California Board of Education set standards for visual arts, music, dance, and theater classes, detailing what students should know and be able to do. A statewide study in 2006 by SRI International discovered that “89 percent of K-12 schools failed to offer a standards-based course study in all four disciplines.” (Smith)

Much of the reason for the shift in curriculum priority is the emphasis on standardization. Standardization is regulating specific objectives that students are required to master to pass to the next grade. Students are tested to determine their understanding of the objectives, and teachers and schools are either rewarded or penalized based on the results. Test scores can determine which schools get extra resources and funding, and often for teachers, job security. Current education reform is “laden with ‘if-then’ rewards and a ‘carrots and sticks’ approach to motivation.” (Sheninger) With these approaches the goal of school becomes not to learn, but to be able to do well on standardized tests.

Not only do students not value the material they're expected to learn throughout school, the material in some cases holds little economic relevance. While having general knowledge is a good thing, memorization and test-taking skills are not proponents of forward-thinking and problem-solving skills. Youth unemployment is at record lows, leaving seventy-three million of the estimated 600 million people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four unemployed. The gap between what the economy needs and what schools teach is only getting larger. In 2008, IBM published a survey of the characteristics desired in potential employees. “The two priorities were adaptability to change and creativity in generating new ideas.” (Robinson) The arts are largely aligned with these qualities, with their main focus being creativity.

Standardization isn’t the only thing to blame for the disappearing arts classes. The amount of funding a school receives can determine the kinds of resources it has, the amount of staff, and what classes are offered to students. Schools having a dip in funding is no rare occurrence, and it is estimated that since 2008, more than eighty percent of schools nationwide have experienced cuts to their budgets. In some cases art programs are the first to be cut from school districts. Dance and theater classes have experienced the most devastating cuts. During the 1999-2000 school year, “20 percent of schools offered dance and theater classes, but in the 2009-10 school year, only 3 percent of schools allocated funds for dance classes, and only 4 percent taught theater.” (Metla) That is roughly an 80% decrease in availability.

As great as the arts are on their own, they can be integrated into core subjects in a number of ways. They can serve as a supplement for the material. Students may have a better understanding of a literary work by acting it out, and works of art will always give clues about the time period in which they were created. Using music to teach math, or dances to show scientific processes are only a couple examples of creative approaches to education. Children learn best by doing and creating, and are more engaged and retain the material. (Hicks)

There are arts integration programs in schools around the nation, that all have similar success stories. Ralph Burgard’s A+ project is one of these programs.  The project is in collaboration with the Kenan Institute in North Carolina. This project shows that a “collaboration of interdisciplinary teaching and daily arts instruction can improve the classroom learning environment and academic performance.” (Fowler) Art is infused throughout these schools to promote collaboration and leadership not just in each school individually, but to build strong relationships between A+ schools.  Sunset Park Elementary School, one of the 120 A+ schools, in Wilmington, North Carolina, has seen almost immediate change through the program. (Hicks) “The number of students suspended dropped from seventy the preceding year to only three in the first A+ year.” (Fowler)

When schools have effective arts programs, like the A+ project, there is a very noticeable change that happens not just in the students but in the entire school. Students are more active in school, and there is an increased motivation for learning and a greater trust between peers. The strong presence of the arts create a feeling of pride and comfort among students, not only in their school but the work they have put into creative projects and cultural events. Parents tend to be more involved and there is more support overall from the community. It is no surprise that when school becomes a more comfortable space students and teachers alike have an improved attitude and attendance. (Remer)

Not only does a strong presence of the arts affect students emotionally, but students that are involved in the arts are generally better off academically. According to a 10-year national study by Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University, youths that are involved in effective arts-based community programs in under-resourced communities, in comparison with a national sample of students were “four times more likely to win an academic award, eight times more more likely to receive a community service award, three times more likely to win a school attendance award, four times more likely to participate in a math of science fair, and likely to score higher on their SAT college admission test scores if they have been involved in more than 4 years of after-school arts study.” (The Importance of The Creative Arts for Children and Teens)  Another study published in  2007 by Christopher Johnson, a professor of music education and music therapy at the University of Kansas, showed that elementary school students that had effective music education programs scored about twenty-two percent higher in standardized math tests, compared to students with low-quality music programs. This was regardless of socioeconomic differences of the schools or districts. (Brown) Art on it's own has the ability to help students gain the skills to prosper academically.

The arts are typically not treated as an important part of education, but they are not at a total loss. Education as a whole can be revived over time through community involvement and support. Creating, funding, and integrating effective arts programs are the key to improving education for all students. When school staff, parents, and members of the community decide on specific goals, curriculum, and policies based on the community’s needs, there is a greater sense of responsibility for their students education. The arts hold relevance not only in schools, but throughout the community. Community arts programs and cultural events create environments that are beneficial to all and promote a connection between people and the world.

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