My husband and I are now expecting our first child. With both of us being arts educators, we feel like we’re in a good position to help our child experience the arts.
In fact, the little one has already been to see shows at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. (During the production of Pirates of Penzance I could have sworn I felt jazz hands in my belly.)
But, as much as we value the arts in our family, I know that when the time comes to send Junior off to school, we will have to be active, passionate, vocal, and unrelenting advocates. Here are some places we plan to start.
Although I have plenty of stories about the importance of arts education, it is equally important for advocates to stay on top of the statistics too. Here are some recent data gems to keep handy:
• 72.5 percent of tenth graders from “high-arts” schools scored in the top half of standardized tests (verbal and math combined) compared to 45 percent from “low-arts” schools.
• A state of Missouri survey found that districts offering more fine arts classes have a one percent higher attendance rate. Attendance effects funding, so in a district of 12,000 students, a one percent increase in attendance equals an additional $430,000 annually.
• Researchers at Arizona State University and University of Wisconsin-Madison found that students understand and infer more by physically acting out text than by reading alone.
• These grade level specific guides from the Center for Arts Education in New York are another excellent resource.
Maintain Our Passion
The best way to increase value for arts education in society is to value it yourself. Another Education Week article speaks about the impact of student instruction in a subject on their subsequent adult attitudes towards it. Share an arts moment with a child and see how it makes you feel. The impact of that shared experience may fade quickly for you, but will stay with a child far longer.
Learn when and where your school board meets. Many school districts have an email list that will send you a copy of the upcoming agenda so you can check for budgetary or arts education issues. Then you have to show up. Stand up and say your piece during public comment. If you can’t attend, write a letter or leave a voice mail for your board members to make sure they know your concerns.
Make Our Votes Count
It is critical to know if candidates (school board, legislative, mayoral) have a position on arts education. If they don’t have one, offer to share some resources, such as this 2011 report from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, or a powerful video from students in Boyertown, PA. If the candidate cannot respond to your concerns, start looking at other candidates.
Find Art At Any Cost
While a season subscription to the local children’s theater company may not be financially viable, there are many low or no-cost opportunities arts experiences available. Start by checking at your library. Don’t be afraid to ask for a scholarship from your local arts center. These community experiences will bring a deeper level of value and appreciation for the arts.
Help Our Children’s Voices Be Heard
Some of the most compelling testimony about the power of arts education comes directly from students themselves. You may be nervous about speaking to the school board, but your child might be ready to go. Creating an arts education video might be overwhelming to you, but second nature to your tech-savvy teen.
What other ways have you found as a parent to advocate for arts education?
I may be steeped in the field, but this parenting gig is going to be a whole new world, and I need all the help I can get!