Bring Art Back Into Schools!

Bring Art Back Into Schools!

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School art classes have been losing ground for over a generation, as educational decision-makers stress traditional “academic” topics—reading, writing, and arithmetic—as the key to future success. While experts acknowledge that art and music are invaluable for building empathy, expanding individual potential, and even priming the mind for success in “academic” areas, it’s still through the standard tests—those that emphasize right-or-wrong answers rather than creativity—that high achievement brings accolades to students and schools. Under pressure to make the kids “produce,” many teachers fear accusations of frivolity should they put “too much” emphasis on the creative side.

At Shady Oak, we think differently and make art education (including art history, art concepts, and art projects as planning process) a vital part of our curricula. Because when children learn art:

They learn to think creatively and open their minds to new possibilities. When we put exclusive emphasis on getting the “right” answers, children learn only to accept and parrot the dominant views, and to ingrain a prejudice against any challenge to the status quo. Encouragement to create their own art shows kids there are a variety of equally valid ways to approach a challenge—that there can be multiple “right answers” to many questions.

They have opportunities to practice new problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, as well as physical and language skills unique to the arts.

They learn to observe, describe, analyze, and interpret. Art is not simply “freeform play with no rules.” Successful artists know how to observe the world clearly, and they have guidelines that govern their approach even as they (and their personal rules) continue to grow and develop. As Pablo Picasso said, “Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.”

They enjoy school more. There are, of course, many children who find pleasure in standard academic activities and in learning for its own sake. With art, however, not only are playing and learning virtually inseparable, but the wide variety of possible approaches ensures that every student can shape a project to his or her personal enjoyment.

They learn about cultures from around the world through exposure to historical and international art.

They learn the value of community, with both peers and adult mentors. Opportunities for joint projects abound; even with individual projects, it’s easy to exchange ideas and suggestions without “cheating.” Schools whose students vary in upbringing and background find particular value in celebrating the arts as one community.

They learn to express their feelings—and that there are other ways of expressing feelings besides “finding the right words.”

They find new opportunities to blossom and excel, and to let their confidence grow. While not everyone can develop the skills of a scholar or a scientist, everyone has some artistic inclinations at soul level. And since there are endless “correct ways” to create art, every child has the right to take personal pride in his or her work. Thus, as children are brought up to value art, they also learn the irreplaceable success skill of valuing themselves.

(See also “Why Arts Education Is Crucial,” by Fran Smith.)