Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, discussed the importance of the arts to the overall education of our children:
“The arts are an important part of a well-rounded education for all students. All of the arts—dance, music, theatre, and the visual arts—are essential to preparing our nation’s young people for a global economy fueled by innovation and creativity and for a social discourse that demands communication in images and sound as well as in text.”
He went on to say, “research shows that arts-rich schools—ones that provide opportunities for students to experience the arts in deep and meaningful ways and to make curricular connections with math, science, and the humanities—are more engaging for students.”
And he referenced research that all of us in the arts education field have used for years saying, “We know that students who attend arts-rich schools are more likely to stay in school and go on to graduate from college.”
At the end of his comments, Duncan issued a challenge: “Now is the time to make the arts a vital part of a complete education for all students.”
Here’s the conundrum…
The U.S. Secretary of Education states what we know to be true. He states it with authority and without equivocation. And yet, we continue to see education budgets slashed year after year. And we continue to see the arts and art opportunities diminished within our schools in favor of more “time on task” for reading and math, and more testing. The disparity among schools is widening, with some really outstanding schools at the top, a few in the middle, and more and more considered “failing.” Typically, the schools with the lowest performing students are also the schools with the least amount of arts opportunities and integration.
What to do?
For us to be successful in our pursuits as arts educators, not only do we need to continue to do what we do—train non art teachers (math, English, history, science, etc.) how to incorporate the arts into their curriculum—we must also continue to educate our legislators and school boards and principals about the power of the arts to transform the way children learn and think. There are many wonderful models that can be followed—like A+ Schools—but even more importantly, we need to focus on the basics—and demonstrate to these various groups that the arts work in terms of developing students who can think and analyze and communicate effectively.
Education in this country is spending too much time lurching from program to program instead of focusing on what really matters. And this is done with the best of intentions; we need students who graduate from high school and are prepared to go into college or a career-tech system. What we have today instead is fewer and fewer students graduating high school with the skills necessary to take that next step.
One statistic I saw recently showed that more than one-third of graduating high school seniors lacked the reading and math skills necessary to go on to college. What we’re doing in education isn’t working.
My charge to you is to work with your area legislators, principals, school board members, business leaders, etc., and insist that they take a look at the data we have about the merits of arts integration—then look at the data about graduation skills/capabilities of high school seniors in your community. And if indeed, as one would expect, you find a direct correlation between the amount of arts integration programs and graduation skills/capabilities, that you then try an experiment—three years—to fund proper arts education and integration in your schools, Kindergarten through twelfth grade.
Measure the results each year and demonstrate that more arts integration programs generate higher graduation skills and capabilities. Then have your local media publish those results so that the general public is aware and can become supporters of arts integration in terms of funding priorities.
We can turn the tide, but education is a massive vessel, and we can’t turn things around overnight. However, if we don’t start now, we may never get this education ship back on course!