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Six Practical Reasons Arts Education is More than a Luxury

Washington Post (Washington, DC) , November 23, 2009

Summary:

Johns Hopkins University and the Dana Foundation hosted a conference titled “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain.” Some great neuroscientists participated. The keynote speaker was Jerry Kagan, one of the leading researchers in developmental psychology. His address offered six reasons that the arts should be included in school curricula.

First, he estimated that something like 95% of children are capable of doing the work necessary to obtain a high school diploma, yet the dropout rate hovers around 25%. Too many of these students quit because they decide (usually in about the fourth grade) that school is not the place for them. This decision is based largely on their perception of their performance in reading and mathematics. The arts, Kagan argues, offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

Second, Kagan argues that children today have very little sense of agency—that is, the sense that they undertake activities that have an impact on the world, however small. The arts, Kagan argues, offer that sense of agency, of creation.

Third, Kagan argues that the arts offer a unique means of communication, using representations in the mind other than words, which are at the core of most school subjects. The arts communicate in ways that words do not.

Fourth, participation in the arts allows children to see the importance of creating beauty, of creating an object that others may enjoy. When the child creates a drawing, she makes something for the pleasure of others as well.

Fifth, the arts offer an opportunity for children to work together. Too many of children’s activities are solitary, and solely for the child’s benefit. Morality and concern for others grows, in part, from understanding what it means to have a common fate.

Sixth, the arts provide a chance for children to express feelings that they otherwise might be unable to express. Kagan cites data showing health benefits for this sort of self-expression; several studies have shown that writing, even briefly, about emotional conflicts reduces illness and increases feelings of well-being. Kagan proposes that similar benefits might accrue from artistic expression.

Yes, core subjects like reading, math, history, civics, geography, and science are important. But the arts should not be treated as a luxury to be indulged should time allow.

Subjects Covered: education


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