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Don’t cut art education

April 21, 2012
Daily Press


It has been brought to my attention that many area schools are looking at cutting art education and I would like to address to the public why that is such a bad idea and why art education is crucial for our kids.

First off, some kids are lucky. They are born into creative families that promote artistic endeavors and provide meaningful and consistent experiences which foster a love of the arts. Many others, however, are not so lucky. They are born into families that may not have the time, resources, or desire to expose their children to such experiences. This leaves educators with important questions to address, such as: are the arts important, how can schools make sure students get exposure to the arts, and why is it important to do so?

The arts are important because they teach us fundamental abilities that are taught almost exclusively in art programs. Two books I have read recently highlight the importance of the skills necessary for students to be innovators and competitors in the the 21st century workforce. One is called "The Global Achievement Gap" by Tony Wagner. In this book, Wagner looks at the evidence which shows that Americans are not leading the world in success on standardized tests. He agreed with that fact, but brought up some excellent research which shows that isn't so bad. He pointed out how students that are doing well on standardized tests are lacking in the survival skills that they will need, but which have sadly been forgotten.

These "survival" skills are adaptability, initiative, effective communication, analysis, curiosity, and imagination. The last two are taught almost exclusively in art classes. Wagner further emphasized that standardized testing and rigid curriculums which are aimed for students to do well on the tests do nothing to help students gain skills they will need to survive in the future. If art education is cut, the one place where students can develop these skills will be cut as well, and our society - the future of our great nation - would pay the ultimate price.

The other book was "A Whole New Mind" by Daniel Pink. This book discussed the importance of shifting our priorities away from linear thinking, to what the author refers to as high concept and high touch. He wrote that, "high concept involves the capacity to detect patterns and opportunities, to create artistic and emotional beauty... to combine unrelated ideas into something new." High touch involves the ability to empathize, have meaningful relationships, realize one's potential, and find purpose and meaning. Both of these skills are currently undervalued, yet must be present in those students who want to thrive in the emerging world they will inhabit. These skills cannot be tested on a bubble sheet and their importance is immeasurable.

Schools need to allow students more exposure, not less, to the arts because if we fail to so, we are cheating our students of the chance to develop the skills that they will need for their future success. Some may argue that teachers could integrate art into their lesson plans, but the truth is many don't unless they themselves are an artist or have a deep understanding of the creative process. There is also so much information that needs to be taught each year that it is impossible for teachers to fit it into their lessons.

Art education programs are just too important to be cut and schools owe it to their students to avoid knowingly and strategically short-changing them. Schools are an integral part of the larger community and must give students the opportunity to be competitive in the 21st century. Art education does just that.

Melissa Aho




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