Art Education, America’s Lost Love
When I was in elementary school, not to terribly long ago, we had art classes once a month or so if we were lucky. Usually taking place in the cafeteria or library for about an hour where we glued paper and cardboard together and colored with markers to our little heart’s content. As for music, we had a teacher who came around and taught us old west songs on his guitar or showed us different music instruments every now and then. I never could quite figure out the schedule either of them, for it seemed to be little more than ‘whenever we feel like it’. We did have a choir at one time, though we met sporadically through the years I was there and had at most one concert. It’s obvious that my old school’s value in art and music education at that time was on the same level as recess as an educational experience. When looking at that sort of background it may seem odd when you learn that I am now going to college to learn more about art and to become an art teacher.
It would be an understatement to say that I think art and music education is important to our children’s development. The lack of art programs in my school as a child about stole away my own personal creativity, and when I was in middle school years later to use my critical thinking skills to asses a short story for a grade I was sorely lacking in the skills needed to even understand what was being asked of me. I’m not the only one who has made this connection between art classes and critical thinking either. Anna Reyner, an art therapist, gives many examples on how art can be used to develop critical thinking and even how to reinforce other subjects such as math and reading in her article Art Influences Learning. Children simply remember things better if they do something to enforce what they’re being told. In fact it seems that people in general learn better by doing something rather than listening to what happens. For example, if you think back to 8th grade biology when you were learning the parts of a cell and the teacher asked you to draw the parts or to make a model with all the parts labeled. Compare that to when you were learning the periodic table. The elements, for me at least, were much more difficult to learn than where the nucleus was because when the teacher asked what element had atomic number x there was no experience to back up the information.
Though reinforcement of other subjects is not the only reason art classes are important to our schools and should be saved from the dangers of budget cuts. Art classes in themselves teach creativity and critical thinking, which is something our schools these days are often forgetting to teach. Even the best of students these days have forgotten how to ask why things around them are the way they are, an important quality that most high paying careers are looking for in their employees. Even problems like graduation rates are connected to the value a school places on art education.
The New York Department of Education did a study a few years ago connecting schools with higher graduation rates with the quality of their art education programs. They placed schools in three different groups based on graduation rate and then looked at the quality of their arts program based on if they had art classrooms, certified art teachers, if the rooms were properly equipped, and how many schools had art and culture partnerships. They found that high schools in the top third of graduation rates had 40% more certified art teachers, 40% more classrooms dedicated to the arts, 40% with better equipment, and 25% had partnerships with art and culture organizations. So it seems that schools with higher graduation rates have a higher value for art education than those with lower graduation rates. Though whether the results mean that the art programs make the schools with higher graduation rates better, or if the schools are already better and can afford art programs is something left open to the reader’s imagination. Through my own personal experience though, I’m leaning toward the former.
My sophomore year my school district finally started to change their attitude toward the arts. We got a whole new wing added to the school with what I would call my safe haven for the last few years of my high school years. We got an art room, completely stocked with all the paint and prisma color pencils I would use, and they finally got the band a tuba that wasn’t being held together with duck tape. That year I regained my creativity, as did many of my classmates. We got a new art teacher who was dedicated to his craft and even started our school’s first art club. That year, with the threat of it all being taken away if we did poorly on the standardized tests, our school got the best scores it had gotten in over ten years.
You can search the internet for hours upon ends and come up with a thousand proposed ways our schools can be improved, to finally make school stop sucking. Really all we need is a little creativity and imagination to bring back the love of learning we lost throughout the years.