In April at the Arts Education Partnership National Forum, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan stated that “the arts can no longer be treated as a frill.” Of course we in the arts community know that art education cultivates critical thinking and analysis skills. But business leaders are also realizing how urgent the need for increased arts education in our schools has become.
During “Arts Education and the Innovative Workforce,” our recent webinar in partnership with The Conference Board, telecom entrepreneur and Qualcomm co-founder Harvey White reinforced Duncan’s statement by stressing that if America’s workforce is to remain competitive on a global level, art education is indeed not a frill but an economic necessity. White quoted former Secretary of Education Richard Riley, who stated that in the future, businesses will seek out employees that can “solve problems we don’t even know are problems yet.” The technical skills that students learn through STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) subjects are certainly necessary, and even align with arts education—after all the objective of engineering is to creatively solve problems using science and math. However, STEM alone cannot provide all of the critical analysis and creative problem solving skills that future business leaders will require to succeed in the global economy.
White also provided data demonstrating that America’s status as leading world innovator is slipping, and that Chinese parents understand the necessity of creative problem solving skills to innovation in the workplace, while American parents believe math and science education are they key ingredients in producing innovators. For this reason, White has endorsed the idea of adding an “A” for arts to STEM to create “STEAM” subjects that will provide students with the combination of technical AND creative skills the 21st century global workforce requires.
White’s assertions are backed up by data from Ready to Innovate (pdf, 629KB), The Conference Board, Americans for the Arts, and the American Association of School Administrators’ joint study investigating how businesses measure creativity and how the skills employers look for in new hires align with skills cultivated through art education. During the webinar, Americans for the Arts’ Vice President of Local Arts Advancement Randy Cohen connected Ready to Innovate findings with data from the National Arts Index linking arts education to higher SAT scores, even cutting across social and economic strata.
All of these factors add up to one bottom line: we need art education in our schools now if we want to the American workforce to remain competitive in the future. It’s not just arts advocates who are asking for STEAM; it’s employers like Harvey White who know first hand that STEM education alone will not cultivate the next generation of innovators. America’s position in the global economy depends on it.