Where Art Thou?

By Chelle Cordero

May 29, 2019 5 min read

"The life of the arts, far from being an interruption, a distraction in the life of the nation, is very close to the center of a nation's purpose -- and it is the test of the quality of a nation's civilization." -- John F. Kennedy

Funding challenges are making arts courses scarce in some school districts. Priorities need to be set between the creative arts, gym, music, drama, and in the older grades shop, home economics, civics, Jr ROTC, agriculture and more. There is high emphasis on core programs like mathematics, English and language arts, science, and social studies. Since the 1990s, teacher accountability has been heavily rated by student test scores forcing teachers to "teach-to-test" and ignoring many of what they believe to be distractions.

In a few states, such as Pennsylvania, teachers are strongly encouraged to include arts and humanities subjects in their K-12 classrooms. However, minimum time requirements are left up to the individual districts. Arts and humanities are specified as the "study of dance, theatre, music, visual arts, language and literature, including forms of expression, historical and cultural context, critical and aesthetic judgment and production, performance or exhibition of work". There are mandated academic standards which need to be met in mathematics, reading, writing, speaking and listening. It's believed that incorporating the various arts into the core programming helps to fulfill "the human need to create (which) can be expressed kinesthetically, aurally, spatially or through interdisciplinary interpretation."

Maddie, a New York City schoolteacher, says, "In a perfect world, budget topics would be presented and taught to young children using a thematic approach. For example, a topic such as the rainforest would be extended via the art teacher with creating animals and habitat drawings. And in music, students would learn songs from the geographical region and learn about specific instruments of a given culture. In a school district without an arts budget, topics are taught in isolation across all components of a student's day." Maddie also points out that some students just naturally thrive in art and music, and without those classes, they miss out on developing their talents.

School districts and teachers who incorporate the arts into their daily lesson plans have found benefits which go way beyond standardized test results. Students who are allowed to use one or more forms of the arts to strengthen their learning are often able to comprehend and retain information -- for example encouraging children to create 3-D models of the planets helps them to visualize and understand the planets movements, their relationship to each other, and the effects caused by the seasons, gravitational pulls and other solar anomalies; students who participate in plays about historic events have more appreciation of decisions and how they affected our current lives. Arts integration in common core subjects offers several ways of processing information and may have positive effects on long-term memory.

A 1970s graduate of a specialized arts high school lamented students' reduced exposure of to all arts, as various forms of art build lifelong skills and careers. For instance, architects need to be able to visually "see" their creations in order to design buildings that will meet both space and use requirements. Problem-solving requires imagination, which can be nurtured through performing arts. Performing arts also help children develop social skills and learn how to collaborate.

Including various forms of art in the classroom adds excitement to students' learning process and can encourage teachers. Teachers who see art's positive impact on their students' comprehension will feel strengthened in their efforts and will continue to challenge these students to learn and experiment with their new knowledge. Arts integration helps motivate students and keep them fully engaged. Researchers have also found that many children with learning disabilities grasp class material more easily when they are allowed to use their creative expression to "make sense" of the information.

Classes that use the arts to reinforce subject matter can increase literacy as well as aid language development, math understanding and overall academic achievements.

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