Education Update: Art Matters
I was perusing articles last week when several caught my eye. I tend to look for articles on the arts, their impact on education and emotional needs of children, especially in this “post Covid” period when there is so much written about learning loss, school attendance, and emotional fragility. Rarely have I found solutions that are as easy to implement or readily effective, except through the arts.
In Americans for the Arts, I came across the article
Investigating the Causal Effects of Arts Education.
This is an easy-to-read study of how the arts positively affect math and reading, as well as the social-emotional needs of students. Here is a short quote from the article: “As the first large-scale randomized control trial of arts learning in an authentic school setting, these findings provide strong evidence that the arts can produce meaningful impacts on students’ academic outcomes and social-emotional development. Education policymakers should consider these benefits when assessing the role of the arts in schools.”
Those of us who teach in the arts know from personal experience how the arts positively affect students. We know this from daily interactions with them and seeing the positive results in their emotions; we witness it in their joy as they “make art”. For some students, if there is an art program in their school, it is “the hook” that brings them through the school doors every day. For these students, academics are often secondary to the arts; the arts bring them emotional support, a vehicle for expression, and sheer joy. The arts encompass the visual arts, music, dance, theater, or drama (know any drama queens?), and the arts give them a way to express what they are learning in their academic courses. Some see the arts as possible careers, and this early exposure widens their perspective. Many realize that the arts make our world a much better place and want to be part of the transformation. They know that without the arts there would be no movies, plays, architectural design, innovation, etc. The arts enrich their lives and the lives of others.
Another article that highlights the importance of the arts is found in the74 Newsletter,
Arts Education Boosts School Engagement, Study Finds.
This article, written by Kevin Mahnken, is an expansion of the study published in the November 2022 Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Mahnken gives strong rationale for arts education in schools. He believes that because the arts benefit learning, they are indispensable. His quote is revealing…, “One of the paper’s co-authors said that its results showed that the arts are a kind of “secret sauce” in keeping young students interested and involved in school, particularly as schools try to lead a revival after years of lost, delayed, or incomplete learning. He added that arts instruction shouldn’t be cast aside in favor of core subjects like math and English.” The74 article explains how California is utilizing art studies to expand arts education in schools due to the positive benefits they have on student engagement and learning.
Another important benefit of the arts is that they allow students to demonstrate knowledge in different ways, ways that are often more suited to individual preferences. The creation of timelines, dioramas, reproductions, flow charts, google slides, etc., are prime examples of a melding of demonstrating knowledge with artistic expression and are often very satisfying for students. Much research has even shown that doodling and/or drawing while learning enhances memory and can make the learning more enjoyable. (We need to quit chastising students who doodle while learning, says this inveterate doodler:)
If you follow the news and social media, you undoubtedly are reading articles about the current emotional fragility of many of our students, but there are very few articles being published about firm, known solutions that can help with this problem.
It has been known for centuries that the arts provide a way for students to express their emotions and their thoughts, and do it in a non-conventional, non-confrontational, healing way. Art therapy is a recognized way to accomplish these goals, yet one doesn’t need to be a therapist to allow students to express/heal using the arts. In Ukraine, for example, the arts are being used to help children heal from the terrors of the war. The arts can be successfully used anywhere to promote healing.
Finally, we as parents, teachers, and policy makers need to fully acknowledge that every student learns differently. Each student has differing learning preferences, differing readiness, and differing expressive needs. The arts pay homage to these differences; they adapt to where the student is in his/her learning and expression. They allow for differentiation of learning within a classroom. They can be applied to and expressed in all areas of study. If you go to any school that values the arts, you will see higher attendance rates and more engaged and well-rounded students. You will see joy.
We want our students engaged in school and learning. We want emotionally healthy students. We want creative people entering the workforce. We cannot continue educating our children the way we were educated because times have changed. We know so much more about teaching and learning, and we must put that knowledge into practice. The arts MUST be an important and integrated part of our practice! We have too much to lose…
Dal Drummer, WATG Board Advisor