Friday, April 27, 2012

Arts Education: What's Going To Happen Without It?

In the United States, education is a big point of focus when it comes to communities, cities, counties, states, and higher level politics.  Every class within a child’s education is funded on the federal, state, and local levels. Under current circumstances, state governments have the power to establish which classes should be mandatory for students in public schools.  Many states encourage the participation in the arts by young students; where in some states, it is a requirement of graduation.  With a decrease in funding for certain districts, studies have been conducted and surveys taken to help preserve arts education.  A growing body of research suggests that performing arts offer students a valuable way to grow mentally, socially, and emotionally. 

All of this brings about the concern of arts education in schools.  This issue is part of a larger debate over U.S funding.  Arts education faces serious challenges.  The value of the arts is being recognized like never before.  Some educators have the standpoint that arts education is insufficiently funded, where others argue that arts are not a high educational priority and that funds should be put elsewhere for other departments of academics. 

Between the 1980’s and 1990’s, funding began to decrease for the arts in public schools.  And many schools were forced to minimize the number and variety of art classes offered to students.  Although legislations were passed to increase federal funding, levels are still below those of the 1970’s.  Though access to arts education began to decline in 1980, relentless efforts were put forth to find connections between intelligence levels and the arts. By 1990, arts were recognized as core subjects as research on intelligence connections picked up.  In 1993, researchers identified the “Mozart Effect”—possibly the most famous study. And it’s still being debated.  In the experiment, college students performed better on a test for spatial reasoning after listening to a Mozart sonata for 10 minutes. (Baker)  Ever since 2000, arts have been confirmed as core subjects, but are being threatened by budget cuts. That was 12 years ago--grades K-12.  One “cycle” of kids—one generation—benefited from the arts as core subjects.  That cycle of kids have come and gone.  So, what about your children who are currently in school? Where are their benefits?  Considering these restrictions, some people feel that the federal government should take a larger stand in deciding how state governments fund arts education. 

If there is no control on these budget cuts, over time, performing arts will be extinct in public schools.  Dance, drama, singing, films, TV, music are all performing arts. So, if there are no more arts, isn’t it safe to say there will be no entertainment industry?  Of course, there is the statement that many famous music artists and actors don’t even go to school or study in performing arts.  That’s correct, but first, we’ll imagine that your child has that same outlook.  He dreams of being the next Robert Downey Jr.—he didn’t study theater or film production. Your child ends up having the mind set of “oh, well Robert Downey didn’t need school to become famous, neither do I.”  It may start encouraging students to drop out of school if they don’t feel they gain benefits or necessary tools to pursue their ambitions.  A lot of kids learn to play musical instruments or study visual effects within clubs in school.  If the opportunities aren’t there for them, there will be less people in the world doing it. Those are only a couple possibilities.  So, let’s think in terms of our culture.  If your children aren’t learning about the arts or the history, who will be left to appreciate the arts’ values?

What is the relationship between art and culture?  They have a very close relationship.  We can say culture is the soil, but art is the tree that grows from it.  So culture is surely bigger than art, but there is no denying the two have a mutually beneficial relationship.  Art can push culture forward, enhance it, and change it.  They both belong to a big context, but there’s no separating the two.  Culture and Art are two things you need on an emotional level—art is the offspring of culture. It’s the most sensitive part in culture, because art is the most dynamic and the most pioneering. It sounds reasonable, but it’s hard to depict.  Actually, contemporary art is a channel of culture. Culture is continuous, evolving, and changing all the time; it’s influenced by a lot of factors—performing arts is one of those factors.

 “All of the research shows the arts advance academic excellence, but providing arts education isn’t exactly easy for schools to do. It comes down to money.” The principal of Mount Rainier Elementary School in Maryland has been passionate and committed to the arts, and without grants that she raises from government sources, her students would lack almost all arts instruction. (Baker)

Arts education has been declining for more than two decades because of diminishing budgets and, now, because of stricter testing directives issued by the government.  It has been considered that districts will keep pulling funds from the arts and focus more on subjects included in standardized tests.  Legislations have created stable links between education funding and standardized testing, but the arts aren’t included in most tests. (Flynn)  Well, if you’re a parent, and you want your child to succeed, then you might agree.  More focus should be put on academics for testing because high test scores equal a successful child.  What you really should ask is this: does participation in performing arts improve academics? Yes, there are a number of good things that come from having performing arts in schools—one being academic progress.

“Some researchers suggest high-quality education helps improve test scores and reduces tardiness and truancy, and even without such benefits, the arts are inherently good because they help children grow into creative, problem-solving adults with skills necessary for the 21st century economy.”  Other researchers are looking at how arts involvement might affect attendance, dropout and graduation rates. The arts are crucial because they are the subjects and activities that actually bring children to school. (Baker)

Where do the performing arts tie into standardized testing, you ask?  Schools are struggling to maintain arts; they’re faced with down spiraling budgets and government requirements to concentrate strictly on math a reading test scores.  Well, what if we found a link between performing arts and those specific test scores? “Research shows there are many direct benefits from all of the art forms in direct ways.  In music we see a lot of connection between studying keyboards and understanding mathematic concepts.  We see drama as a way to help early readers develop their comprehension.”  When reading a script, students have an opportunity to act out a story; they gain a better understanding of what it is they’re reading. (Baker) So, why not encourage the arts if they can help enhance a child’s understanding of the two subjects that the government says are most important?  

Reading and math are undeniably important and they provide basic skills, but they hardly touch the entirety of the curriculum.  Another question has crept up into the mind of skeptics. “Is it simply that smart people are drawn to ‘do’ art—to study and perform music, dance, drama—or does early arts training cause changes in the brain that enhance other important aspects of  cognition?”  Of course, with this question floating around, researchers had to jump the gun and experiment. E. Glenn Schellenberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Toronto conducted an experimental study.  Schellenberg administered IQ tests to 144 six year-olds before they entered the first grade. In the coming year, those children were randomly assigned to one of four groups for 36 weeks.  Two groups received after-school music instruction—keyboard or vocal.  One received drama instruction, and one had no performing arts class.  After the 36 weeks, the children’s IQ’s were retested. The group with music instruction had a greater increase in IQ than the other two groups, and the drama group had better adaptive social skills. (Baker) Those are the skills that enhance effective communication between people.  Among children, these skills are based on peer interactions in the context of sensory-motor and language-based communication.

If performing arts help enhance a child’s learning ability so much, how come we don’t hear about it more often?  “‘There’s very little national-level research on the status and condition of arts education,’ says Narric W. Rome, senior director for federal affairs and arts education at Americans for the Arts—an advocacy based in Washington.” (Baker) The last survey on access to arts education came out in 2002, and a new survey is expected this month, but even that won’t include key information like how many students even have access to arts. However, researchers still manage to gain information and evidence that backs arts education in schools. “According to Shirley Brice Heath, researcher at the Stanford University and Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, arts education has an enormous impact on the lives of children.” (Adam, McMahon)  We rarely hear about all the benefits that could come from the arts because, in fact, schools are not required to report the status of their arts education to the federal government. Although the arts are seen as very important to a student, data is hard to come by. 

      There are many aspects and skills that can be obtained by being a part of performing arts—a series of traits that could actually benefit students in the long run outside of school.  For a moment, let’s not focus on academics or what comprehension skills can be learned, but let’s think about attributes that could turn your son or daughter into a well-rounded human being.  How much can the arts actually do for your child?  I’ll admit; it’s too practical to say that test scores will grow if you participate in performing arts.  “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.” (Eisner qtd. in Baker) With skills like that, opportunities are endless.  Just think if your child grows to have multiple solutions for exhausting situations.  He would have many different outlooks with numerous points of view. You could have the satisfaction of knowing that he didn’t develop a closed mind; he wouldn’t be one-sided, and he could relate to many different people of diversity.  And he could get a better understanding of where they’re coming from with every angle and perception they have.  

With performing arts, there are so many benefits; students learn in depth and stick to their skills—their passions.  Advocates claim that the arts can require discipline and set a high bar for excellence. If students take a math test and get an 85 percent, they think they did quite well. If they go to a band concert and play 85 percent of the notes correctly, they don’t think they did so well. (Baker)  Now, how could that help your child if we’re encouraging students to be more stressed and put more pressure on themselves? Actually, I was going more for the striving for excellence part.  They will always be working towards perfection.  In the long run, that would be very beneficial to your child. There would always be more motivation, and more of a drive.  He would always be bettering himself and his performance—in the workforce or in his personal life, striving for the best for him and his family.  And I’m sure at one point or another, you’ve all told your children to do the absolute best they can in everything they do.  Well, this is a perfect opportunity for that.  With the arts in schools, we give kids something to look forward to—something they want to succeed in.  What better way to excel than in something they love? 

Overall, children enjoy participating in performing arts, and as a parent, I know you enjoy seeing your child doing something that makes him happy.  It’s probably one of the biggest things going right now on the art’s defense.  There is a strong emotional tie in the learning, and that makes it fun and satisfying.  Being engaged is crucial to the learning process. The arts provide motivation and determination, which are key to any successful student.  Those are traits that will be carried on through every grade, every performance, and it will follow students into adulthood.  It’s important for a child to be open-minded in everything he does, and it is up to the parent to encourage that.  Your child will be at an advantage if he is able to communicate with and connect with people on multiple levels, emotionally, socially, and mentally.  In school, the arts introduce these traits to kids at young ages.  Doors will be unlocked for whoever has the opportunity to take any type of performing arts class.  Aspirations are discovered, and later pursued.  Truly successful people in life aren’t born into it.  They work for it.  And if given the chance, they succeed.  Arts education is a great way for your child to find out early on that he can be successful, prepared, confident, motivated, and enthusiastic in all aspect of life just by doing something he loves.

Works Cited

Baker, Beth. "Arts Education." CQ Researcher 16 Mar. 2012: 253-76. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.
-- Eisner, Elliot. The Arts and te Creation of Mind. N.p.: n.p., (2002). 70-92. Web. 24 Apr. 2012.

Flynn. "Arts & Music In Public Schools: An Overview." Points Of View: Arts & Music In Public Schools (2011): 1. Points of View Reference Center. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.

Ford, Adam, and Maureen McMahon. "Point: The Arts Are A Vital Part Of Education." Points Of View: Arts & Music In Public Schools (2011): 2. Points of View Reference Center. Web. 13 Apr. 2012.