Arts Offer Crucial, Active Learning for Kids

Article excerpt

IN budget-cutting times, the dire state of the arts in our schools' curriculum reflects as much the public's perception of the role of arts in American culture as it does budgetary constraints. Many Americans feel the study of the fine and performing arts is a nice thing for children - but that study of disciplines such as math and science is more important to prepare for the "real world" of college and work. The arts are often viewed as "frills." Radical as the notion seems, however, serious study of the arts is one of the best ways to educate a young person for that real world.

The "back to basics" approach that has partly characterized educational reform for the last decade has not produced the results that educators and parents sought. However, research at schools with curriculums that include 25 percent or more of arts courses shows that students acquire academically superior abilities. There is a relationship between learning in the arts and learning in academic subjects, and as we look for answers to the dilemma of improving our schools, the power of the arts as an avenue for learning, "education through the arts," should be considered.

In this post-industrial society what is required of workers at all levels is that they be creative thinkers, problem solvers, able to work well with others and independently. Schools can no longer simply train students for specific tasks; we must educate them in broad skills so they will have the ability to function in any number of capacities. Students must be active learners, know how to work collaboratively, be judicious risk-takers, be able to push for high levels of achievement, and have the courage of their convictions.

Arts training develops such skills. The student artist (musician, dancer, studio artist, writer, actor) learns by doing. Often in schools students do not do anything. Rather they learn about doing something, or watch someone else perform. The young musician, however, learns by doing, by playing the violin, not by listening to someone lecture about playing. Artists often work in groups, requiring listening, responding, and asserting their own "voices" while supporting the voices of fellow artists. Research tells us that one of the most important reasons Japanese education produces such productive workers is not the many classroom hours, rote learning, or longer days, but the fact that children are taught how to work well in groups. Many artists are highly skilled in collective and collaborative work. …