color photo of painting materialsWhat kind of an arts program does your child’s school have?  Is it one where kids color in turkeys from identical worksheets?  Or, is it instead a rich program of expressive painting and sculpture, dramatics, dance, and music?  Since 2008, more than 80% of schools nationwide have experienced cuts to their budgets, and many of these cuts have taken place in the school arts’ programs.  But there are several good reasons to be concerned about this decline and to support the arts in schools.  Here are six of them:

  1.  Kids’ Hidden Abilities Can Shine Through.  A lot of kids in the schools have difficulty with typical school assignments that involve words and numbers, but they often shine if they’re able to express themselves through pictures, dramatics, music, sculpture, dance, or other artistic means.  A vital arts program in the schools allows more kids to have that ”gifted” experience of being seen by their parents and teachers in a positive light.
  2. The Arts Can Channel Students’ Pent-Up Energies in Positive Directions.  Students have never been under such stress as in today’s educational climate of accountability and high-stakes testing.  The arts can provide a variety of channels through which students can release some of that energy in positive ways, rather than directing their frustrated feelings toward other kids in bullying, or toward themselves in depression, anxiety, and disengagement from school.
  3. The Arts Provides Kids Diagnosed with ADHD with an Opportunity to Focus Their Behaviors in Creative Ways.  Think of the symptoms of ADHD as non-directed energy that interferes with a child’s home and school lives.  The arts provides a focus that can gather up all that chaotic energy and point it toward an absorbing project.  When I taught in an arts resource program many years ago, kids who would be causing their teachers all sorts of problems, would come into the arts room and immediately calm down as they settled into the art project we had for them that day (e.g. carpentry, mask making, painting etc.).  Think of the arts as educational Adderall!
  4. The Arts Celebrates Student Diversity.  An arts program that goes beyond (hopefully, well beyond) the cookie-cutter approach to art, provides students with an opportunity to express their individuality.  Taken together, an entire class can engage in an art project that at the same time reveals how different each of their products are, based upon their different cultures, life experiences, and ways of perceiving the world.
  5. The Arts Supports Academic Achievement.  Multiple studies have shown that the arts promote cognitive abilities that are instrumental in kids’ successes in school.  Research has shown, for example, that listening to and performing music improves spatial-temporal reasoning, and that classroom dramatics has a positive impact upon developing students’ verbal skills.
  6. The Arts Instill Positive Character Traits in Students.  Students who engage in artistic activities and performances have the opportunity to develop attitudes of aesthetic appreciation that can contribute to their positive roles as citizens once they reach adulthood.  Rather than simply regarding life in an instrumental way (doing something because they’ll get something out of it), the arts instill in students an appreciation for enduring values such as the good, the true, and the beautiful.

These arguments for strong arts programs in our schools should be taken up by parents when they meet with school administrators and school board members.  We’re losing an entire generation of kids with our current obsession with raising test scores.  The arts promise to redress this balance. Don’t we owe it to our kids to do the right thing and give them the gift of the arts as an integral part of their learning?

For more information on developing students’ aesthetic sensibilities in school and other important qualities for a balanced life, see my book If Einstein Ran the Schools: Revitalizing U.S. Education

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I’m the author of 20 books including my latest, a novel called Childless, which you can order from Amazon.

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