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Arts Education is Not a Luxury

In a guest education column from the Post earlier this week, Daniel Willingham, billed as a cognitive scientist at UVa, makes a good, practical case for the arts being an essential part of K12 education.

He makes many excellent points but there are two that resonate the loudest.

Kagan argues that the arts offer a unique means of communication, using representations in the mind other than words, which are at the core of most school subjects.

…participation in the arts allows children to see the importance of creating beauty, of creating an object that others may enjoy. When a child gets an A on a math test, the immediate benefit is to the child alone. But when the child creates a drawing, she makes something for the pleasure of others as well.

Our traditional system of schooling has always been largely closed, with students only taught to communicate with those in the same room, and largely not allowed to express themselves beyond those walls.

And, pushed by the holy grail of our current standardized testing mania, the curriculum they study has been narrowed to the points that anything but reading and math is considered a frill.

Instead we should be expanding our concept of what it means to be an educated person to include the ability to communicate using many different tools through multiple channels.


  1. Mandy

    Do you think it is appropirate that schools only use standarized testing to evaluate students? What types of other methods do you think could be used?

  2. Barry Dahl

    Since I was never terribly artistic, at least in the traditional sense, I came away from my schooling without a great appreciation for the importance of art education. Now as the father of three children, I see all of them have far more artistic talent and interest than I ever did – which is good, very good. My middle child is by far the most artistic of them all. He’s an incredibly intelligent kid, but he gets mostly B’s (low ones) in math, English, and social studies. I know he could do better, but I try not to pressure him ’cause I want him to be his own person, not mine.

    My fear is that he will continue to have fewer and fewer opportunities (at school at least) to express himself artistically as he continues through school (6th grade now) and will just be known as that kid in class who doesn’t live up to his potential in the “hard subjects.” Not only are the opportunities for art in school limited – but there are almost no rewards for doing well in them. Sadly, we reap what we sow.

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