With budget cuts happening in schools across the country, many arts programs such as theater, music and visual arts, are being scaled back or eliminated, seen as less important than other subjects.
There are no national tests to determine and rank a student’s ability to paint, for example, so school districts feel that arts programs aren’t helpful in creating better ranking for schools. Cutting corners by getting rid of the arts is a mistake, though. Even in a system where success in more pragmatic subjects is valued exclusively, the arts are an invaluable part of education.
The value of incorporating learning activities that children enjoy in their schooling cannot be overestimated. Many children look forward to school simply because they enjoy the arts.
Kids love “hands on” learning. Especially for students who struggle to learn in a highly structured scenario with a lot of rules, the arts give them a way to express themselves in an immediately satisfying way, and foster confidence.
Since there isn’t an official scale for judging creativity and expression, like in mathematics and other subjects, kids get to feel good about what they’re creating, without being scored or compared to other students.
Art is a language that speaks to everyone, across all cultural barriers, historical times and geographical divides. It gives a child an opportunity to be exposed to different places, customs and people, and creates tolerance for ways of life different from their own.
Many studies, such as the one conducted by James S. Caterall, professor of education at the University of California, show that students who participate in school art programs score better on tests.
Whether this is because good students tend to take on artistic pursuits, or because listening to music actually improves a child’s ability to do math, the connection between the arts and test scores cannot be ignored.
Students who take music appreciation or history score about 63 points higher on the verbal portion of the SATs and 41 points higher on the math portion.
Whether they’re practicing for a school play, working through a difficult piece of music or creating a painting from a blank canvas, students learn the step by step process of beginning and working through problems in an arena where perseverance isn’t so tedious.
If they can learn to stick with projects they enjoy, getting to the final moment of achievement and reward, that planning and executing will carry over into other aspects of their lives.
Playing an instrument in the band, for example, or acting in a play, allows a student to understand that people have individual strengths and abilities, and when their abilities are combined, they can make something amazing. This understanding is important in their future lives as part of the work force and productive, socially aware members of society.
For example, a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the University of Pittsburgh, showed that children from minority and underprivileged communities are given voices through art to express their concerns and needs.
The participants were children aged 8-15, and they created paintings and drawings to share their perceptions of violence and safety in their communities. Together, they put together an art exhibit that was displayed publically in their cities, informing the public about the every-day lives of these children, what their fears and concerns were, and what their hopes were for the future.
Interesting architecture, pretty landscaping, public art exhibits, even colorful interior design are all examples of how we use art to make our lives more tolerable and comfortable.
People are happier when they are surrounded by beautiful things. Teaching children to contribute to the beauty in the world should be appreciated, as is.
While there is extensive research about how art improves a child’s ability to do math, it isn’t the only reason art should be appreciated. When a child utilizes their imagination and abilities to create something colorful and expressive, they have improved themselves and the world around them.
Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, said, “I firmly believe that when a school delivers the complete education to which every child is entitled – an education that very much includes the arts, the whole child blossoms.”