Ask Dr. Blank: Why is education in the arts so important?

As budget cuts increasingly take center stage, the curriculum has steadily been narrowed to focus on the “basics” (i.e., reading and math). As part of this approach, some of the most interesting and appealing subjects such as music and art have been reduced or eliminated.

Far from being non-essential luxuries, the arts function as driving forces behind all other learning. The gains from having arts in education are widespread. A national report in 1999 titled Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning reported that:

The arts reach students not normally reached, in ways and methods not normally used.  (This leads to better student attendance and lower dropout rates.)

It changes the learning environment to one of discovery.  (This often re-ignites the love of learning in students tired of just being fed facts.)

Students connect with each other better.  (This often results in fewer fights, greater understanding of diversity, and greater peer support.)

The arts provide challenges to students of all levels.  (Each student can find his/her own level from basic to gifted)

Students learn to become sustained, self-directed learners.  (The student does not just become an outlet for stored facts from direct instruction, but seeks to extend instruction to higher levels of proficiency.)

The study of the fine arts positively impacts the learning of students of lower socioeconomic status as much or more than those of a higher socioeconomic status.  (Twenty-one percent of students of low socioeconomic status who had studied music scored higher in math versus just eleven percent of those who had not. By the senior year, these figures grew to 33 percent and 16 percent, respectively, suggesting a cumulative value to music education.)

The arts are central to what make us human. The arts cannot be learned through occasional or random exposure any more than math or science can. The advantages are phenomenal and we are making a grave error when we lessen or eliminate the arts from the school curriculum.

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