It has often been debated in recent years whether the value of including the arts in school curriculum is beneficial or simply a waste of money. Research and Evidence supports the inclusion of the arts in the education system.
Here are some findings from several articles that clearly point out the inarguable benefits of the inclusion of the arts for all students.
One of the most important reasons that the arts should be included in school curriculum is as Sylwester points out, “...they cognitively stimulate both those who do them and those who observe them." This means that everyone can benefit from the inclusion of the arts, not just those who are actively participating in them. In what ways do the arts cognitively stimulate?
Hetland explores some of these benefits as he observes that the arts “...teach habits of high-order thinking that help students develop capacities to recognize the hidden roots of problems, make careful choices in ambiguous circumstances and seek and synthesize the resources necessary to solve problems in novel ways."
Rainey expands on this when he states “through the arts, students learn discipline and teamwork. They expand their knowledge of every subject area, from language arts to math and science. They also build self-esteem." Eger also agrees with these sentiments and takes it a step further when he states “research shows that learners can reach higher levels of achievement through their engagement with the arts. In addition, learning in and through the arts can help level the playing field for disadvantaged youth."
Many Great Achievers were Artists
If these reasons are not compelling enough to support the inclusion of the arts in school curriculum, and examination of some of the great achievers from the past can demonstrate the importance of this cause. For example, as Eger points out, “...nearly all of the great inventors and scientists were also musicians, artists, writers, and poets." Some of the specific examples included in this article are, “Galileo was a poet and literary critic. Einstein was a passionate students of the violin. And Samuel Morse, the father of telecommunications and inventor of the telegraph, was a portrait painter.
Albert Schweitzer, the humanitarian and medical doctor, was a world class organist and Bach expert." What parent would not want their children to be exposed to the sources of inspiration that influenced these great men who have had such a tremendous influence on our society today? By removing the arts from school curriculum, we are limiting our children in the level of greatness that they could achieve. Rainey also states that inclusion of the arts is “...an essential step as we seek to shape our students into well rounded, thoughtful individuals who are making history, not just reciting it."
Cost vs. Benefit
Although few would argue that there are benefits to children being exposed to the arts after reviewing the above facts, some would still argue that the cost is too high. They would say that children should be exposed to the arts, but that it should be the parents' responsibility, not the school's. In response to this, Sylwester observes, “...it shouldn't depend entirely on parental ability to finance private lessons if our entire culture benefits from the abilities."
Thinking back to what Eger said regarding the arts leveling the playing field for disadvantaged youth, it is important to keep in mind that this benefit would be removed if the responsibility for exposure to the arts were left entirely to the parents. It is obvious that the parents of those youth who are considered disadvantaged, would not have the means to provide their children with exposure to the arts. Is it not our responsibility, as a society, to ensure that all of our youth are given the opportunity to reach the highest level of success possible?
It is clear from examining the benefits of the inclusion of the arts, that we as a society would be negligent if we did not include it as an element of our school curriculum. The benefits of the arts are not limited to a certain type of person, but rather, are beneficial to all students, regardless of their circumstances. In addition to the benefits for those who are actually doing the arts, there are benefits for those observing them as well.
It is clear that society as a whole will benefit from the inclusion of the arts in school curriculum, and as such, we must make this a priority. Rainey sums it all up when she quotes Pablo Picasso “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up."
Eger, J. (2008, March). The Arts in Contemporary Education.
Hetland, L. (2008, March). Basically, Arts are Basic.
Rainey, S. (2008, March). The Whole Picture : Arts Reside in Riverside School.
Sylwester, R. (1998, November). Art for the Brain's Sake. Educational Leadership 56 (3), 31-35.