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.

A Wider View of The Basics

Most educators would probably accept as valid the findings from this new study.

Most politicians and educational “experts” will completely ignore them.

A new study in the journal Social Science Quarterly reveals that music participation, defined as music lessons taken in or out of school and parents attending concerts with their children, has a positive effect on reading and mathematic achievement in early childhood and adolescence.

They also found that “socioeconomic status and ethnicity affect music participation”, which basically means that rich white and Asian parents are more likely to give their kids music lessons or take them to concerts.

Hardly surprising.

Ok, so we have studies (and more than just this one) showing a strong link between participation in the arts and student achievement in the so-called academic subjects.

However, even if the arts did absolutely nothing to improve test scores, they still need to be a fundamental part of every child’s education.

Especially if we really believe all those mission statements proclaiming our desire to provide a well-rounded education for our students.