*Arts refers to many different forms of self-expression, including but not limited to music, drama, dance, and visual arts.
We currently live in a country where the arts are being valued less and less. With the White House threatening to completely defund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in the budget proposal for the fiscal year beginning October 1, the arts have never been more at risk from being completely eliminated from K-12 education.
Of course, arts education has suffered a fair amount in the past as well. The Reagan Administration also originally advocated for the complete elimination of the NEA from the federal budget over a three-year period. The administration later backtracked on this plan after Reagan and some of his close advisors discussed the value and importance of arts programs in schools. Arts education suffered a bigger blow in 2001 when Congress, under the Bush Administration, passed the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). Though there was no clause in NCLB that specifically deducted funding from arts education, this act indirectly caused many school districts to cut back on funding for arts education because of its high stakes testing requirements. High stakes testing is a type of testing in which the students’ test results directly reflect on and affect students, parents, educators, and school districts. If students don’t perform sufficiently on their yearly-standardized tests, under the NCLB, the school in which the students attend will be punished with decreased funding. Therefore, teachers frantically taught to a test, which left very little room for arts education. When your income and job are dependent on whether your students can perform well on an end-of-the-year, mostly multiple-choice exam, you would not worry about incorporating arts into your students’ curriculum regardless of how important an arts education may be.
Receiving a well-balanced education in both the arts and sciences is important for many reasons. Unfortunately, some Americans believe funding for arts education is a waste of time and money. People are failing to see the benefits of an arts education. Talking to the New York Times , Elliot Eisner, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University claims that an arts education allows students to think in a more open-minded manner. According to Eisner, an arts education “promotes the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem, or more than one answer to a question.” In reality, there is almost always more than one solution to a problem, and multiple-choice standardized tests fail to recognize that. Acknowledging that problems can be multifaceted and being able to attempt answers no matter how open-ended the question is are important life skills in this complex world full of gray areas. The arts can also foster powerful emotions and feelings of empathy within students that other subject areas cannot necessarily do. For example, viewing the Vietnam War Memorial might be more emotional than reading about the war in a history textbook. In addition, the arts promote creativity and imagination, qualities desperately needed in all fields. As important as known theories and laws are to the natural and social sciences, it is innovation that drives science forward. We need our next generation to be full of innovative thinkers, thinkers who can move our society towards progress in both the realms of art and science. Finally, the arts give students a chance to enjoy and express themselves in ways that other core classes do not allow them to. In this crazy world of standardized testing, which obviously promotes conformity, self-expression and individuality are more important than ever. We should not take away the opportunity for our students to express themselves safely within the K-12 public education system.
Ultimately, art can provide an escape from or reflection of our society. It is useful for students to occasionally escape and to occasionally view the world they live in from a different perspective. I would like to close with a great quote that I stumbled upon from the movie “Dead Poets Society.” I feel kind of like a poser because I have never seen the film, but here it goes anyway: “…medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits, and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.” Applied natural and social sciences give us the means to live, but art gives us the will to live. So why would we want to take that away from our children’s education?
*For the record, I am a science major. I love what I do and would never want to go back and change it, but I also couldn’t imagine my life without the arts. Learning about the arts in the K-12 public education system gave me a well-balanced education and molded me into the person I am today. I am forever grateful for that. I want future generations to have that as well.