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The Arts and Education
Sharon Longert

In the years since the enactment of No Child Left Behind many school districts have concentrated on literacy education and left the arts behind. Participating in the arts can often boost student achievement in academic areas. “Anyone who has ever practiced an instrument and learned to read music will know that self-discipline, the ability to focus, and increased ease with abstract information are all by-products of that endeavor.” (Edwards, Edutopia, 2009) Music training leads to increased memorization skills, and correlates with reading acquisition and sequence learning. Students can express their creativity and learn critical thinking and problem-solving skills. There is a strong connection with art and music to mathematical and scientific skills.

  • Teaching artists can fill in the gaps in classroom instruction. In NYC, the Roundabout Theatre assists classroom teachers by bringing actors and directors to the classroom for 10 sessions. Students engage in in-depth scene study, write their own scenes, act out portions of plays, and see two theatre productions. They are able to see their work come alive and see theatre performances, sometimes for the first time. Hearing the scripted word, visualizing a scene, and learning about the elements of the theatre leads to new theatre-goers and offers career planning opportunities for middle and high schoolers.
  • Visual artists make school visits, too. They connect the curriculum or literary genre to artist products. Many schools cannot afford full-time art teachers and these artists come to the classroom with knowledge of materials and concepts. Some teaching artists work with classroom teachers to create lesson plans, learning objectives, and assessments that address standards in content areas. They participate with the students to create products that lead to better understanding of the intended conceptual learning.
  • Dancing depicts some concepts that are difficult to explain in words. In one chemistry classroom, the mystery of ionic, covalent, and metallic bonds was choreographed. Students began to “remember” because they had used their bodily-kinesthetic memory to demonstrate the concepts.
  • Social skills and conflict resolution skills can be fostered through the arts. Dramatic productions about historical events “require students and teachers to examine the meanings, relationships, and conflicts that shaped events and processes.” (Sloan, 2009) Questioning historical events and motivations can help students to see their place in history and similar events and conflicts in our more recent history. They see that there are ideas and concepts that are not really “old”; the human condition is familiar.
  • Art is usually a community effort. It teaches students to cooperate, to value each others products, to create products communally, to view each others’ talents (intelligences), to think critically about their own and others products, and to engage in an activity that nourishes their connection to themselves as well as their class and school community.

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up,” Pablo Picasso.
“Above all, we are coming to understand that the arts incarnate the creativity of a free people,” John. F. Kennedy. Students who engage in artistic expression are more likely to be engaged in coursework. They will learn to make content connections by becoming involved in hands-on learning. The education process prepares students to become citizens with meaningful lives with careers and jobs. We need to teach students to admire the beauty of their creations and the beauty of the world around them through the arts.

Sloan, Willona. “Making Content Connections Through Arts Integration.” ASCD, Education Update, March, 2009.
Edwards, Owen. “UpFront.” Edutopia, Feb/Mar, 2009.

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