Painting a bigger picture of arts education

Painting a bigger picture of arts education

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By Jess Willard

The Write Team

When you think of the word “education,” subjects such as mathematics, reading, science, history and writing might be the first ones to pop in your head. However, fine arts should be considered as just as important as these core subjects; fine arts includes visual art like painting, music, dance and drama.

For starters, art provides an outlet for children much like physical education. It also provides them with the opportunity to express themselves as individuals. Speaking from personal experience, art was one of the sole reasons I found enjoyment in school, which provided me with the motivation I needed to get through it.

I was involved in both basic art and music classes from kindergarten through high school. With a troubled home life, school had to become my only sanctuary as a child, but I had difficulty focusing on subjects that I lacked interest in. Due to that inability to focus, the option to skip out on school entirely became more and more tantalizing. One thing kept me from doing so: the fine arts programs.

Later in my school years, I learned that in order to participate in theatre and music performances, I had to keep my grades up. This was one of the few incentives I had to do well. Unfortunately, I was not the only child who felt this way nor will I ever be alone in this thought.

Going beyond thinking about art classes as ways to keep children invested in their education, arts education has been linked to general academic success for students. This statement was outlined in a 2009 study conducted by James Catterall titled “Doing Well and Doing Good by Doing Art: The Effects of Education in the Visual and Performing Arts on the Achievements and Values of Young Adults.”

The study found that students who attended “arts-rich high schools” were 20 percent more likely to pursue a bachelor’s degree at age 20, 10 percent more likely to achieve a bachelor’s degree or higher and nearly 15 percent more likely to achieve a master’s degree or higher.

Arts education shouldn’t need numbers that display improved academic performance in core subjects in order for it to keep its funding. This was outlined in an article by the New York Times titled “Book Tackles Old Debate: Role of Art in Schools.” An interview was conducted with Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland of Project Zero, an arts-education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Winner stated, “The arts need to be valued for their own intrinsic reasons. Let’s figure out what the arts really do teach.” Overall, they found that visual arts classes did have “broad indirect benefits” such as helping children learn persistence.

If this short commentary leaves you wondering, “How can I help keep arts education within or reintroduce it to my child’s school?”, consider reaching out to your state representatives and express your interest in keeping the arts funded. You can find out who your state legislators are at Otherwise, attending your local school board meetings is another way to express your concerns and find out more about arts education within your child’s school.