A Case for Arts Education

By Close, Joanne | Teach, November/December 1997 | Go to article overview

A Case for Arts Education


Close, Joanne, Teach


A CASE FOR ARTS EDUCATION

As the demand for a back to basics approach to education escalates in many boards across the country, the necessity of arts education is called into question. How important is it to have students participate in music, visual arts, dance, or drama when criteria for math, science, and language arts must be met? Unlike its curriculum counterparts, arts education (with the exception of the music component) does not lend itself to strict accountability, yet its benefits cross curriculum borders. A document produced by the Ontario Arts Council in support of arts education states that "basic literacy and math skills are not enough... to succeed in the workplace and in our changing society, people must develop higher - level skills, including creativity, problem solving, the ability to communicate in different ways, self - discipline, tolerance, and critical thinking. A growing body of research and decades of practice demonstrate that arts education can help children develop these critical higher - level skills."

Professor David Booth is the Coordinator of Elementary Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. A strong advocate for the arts, Booth views arts education as an invaluable component of a child's education. "Arts in schools allow young people to think differently - to explore, express, and problem solve... . The learning that grows from art experiences incorporates feeling and thought, the truest type of knowledge."

Public support for arts education has come from some unexpected sources. Matthew Barrett, Chairman and CEO of the Bank of Montreal Group of Companies, stated in a speech to the Canadian Club in Toronto in late 1996 that the primary goal of education should be to impart the ability to reason, to imagine, and to think laterally. These abilities, he stressed, could only be provided through the delivery of a strong liberal arts education. John Snobelen, former Minister of Education in Ontario, was quoted in the Toronto Star as saying that the role of universities is not to be job - training centres. "I'm a great believer in a liberal arts education. Business is looking for creativity, intelligence, and imagination. Business values that" (Toronto Star, May 19, 1996). Ironically, Snobelen's government has instituted educational reforms that place little emphasis on arts education.

Of the four branches of arts education, perhaps the easiest case can be made for including music in the curriculum. The essence of a piece of music - its metre, patterns, and sequences - is mathematical, a point made by Saturday Night editor, Kenneth Whyte, in his article "Why Johnny Can't Sing." The piece, which appeared in the June '96 issue, chronicles Whyte's changing attitude from those who would support the ban of music in schools to those who would reinstate it in the school curriculum. In part, Whyte's change in attitude stems from numerous studies that have proved music's ability to strengthen spatial reasoning abilities, but it also stems from the fact that music "permits us, in a small but important way, to look beyond short - term employment needs to the long - term objectives of our education system. And one of those objectives must surely be to impart and preserve the riches of our cultural history."

A regional school board in Halifax discovered the fervent support their music program had when they tried to cut the positions of six music teachers. The school band, choir, and 300 parents and students staged a demonstration that resulted in the board reversing its decision. While six positions still had to be eliminated, the music department was not affected.

Demonstrations like these are good news to people such as Don Campbell. A musician who has immersed himself in the beneficial power of music, Campbell is the author of The Mozart Effect and the compiler of a series of CDs and tapes that use the music of Mozart to enhance memory and learning abilities, lower stress levels, and encourage creativity. …

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