A report this week by the U.S. Department of Education paints a dreary picture of arts education in the nation.
A casualty of budget cuts and an increased emphasis on math and reading, the report noted that fewer public elementary schools are offering visual arts, dance and drama classes. Although music classes in most elementary and secondary schools remain constant, they have declined at the country's poorest schools.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan decried the situation saying, "It is deeply troubling that all students do not have access to arts education today."
He noted that children who come from disadvantaged families are most impacted by these cuts because their parents cannot afford private music or art lessons. In addition, involvement in the arts may provide motivation to attend school and excel in other areas.
This is doubly disturbing in light of a new National Endowment for the Arts Research report. It indicated that although high school students on the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder tend to not do as well in school as children from more comfortable families, those who participate in the arts achieve as well or better than their wealthier counterparts. They have higher than average grade point averages, are more active in school activities, and enrolled in four-year colleges at higher rates than their peers who did not participate in the arts.
A report on the CBS Evening News Tuesday reinforced these findings. Band Director Alvin Davis at Miramar High School is Florida's Teacher of the Year. For four years in a row, 100 percent of his band students have gone on to college; just 10 years ago, the school was listed as failing. Alvin Davis is proof that one music teacher inspiring his students can make a difference.
There are other reasons why arts education is important.
- In a world where children are tethered to technological devices, we desperately need to provide them with vehicles to unleash their imagination and creativity.
- The arts encourage youngsters to see the world in new and inventive ways and to find different ways of solving problems and expressing themselves.
- Involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skill.
- Arts education can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. According to a 2005 report by the Rand Corporation, the arts "can connect people more deeply to the world and open them to new ways of seeing."
- In a diverse society, the arts can transcend language and cultural differences, and promote experiences of empathy.
- Arts education teaches ways of thinking unavailable in any other discipline, fostering imagination. Albert Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge."
- Creativity is essential in every discipline -- medicine, business, technology, science, etc. The world needs creativity to progress. Arts education fosters the creative spirit.
Be sure to tell your school district that arts education must be preserved!