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The Importance of Arts Education for Kids

The Lost Arts: Why Arts Education Is Crucial For Kids

America's schools ar failing to education students in the arts, and your child is bound to suffer unless you do something.  Here's why the arts-dance, theater, music, drawing and so on-are vital to your child's success int eh classroom and the workplace.

Remember when an art or music teacher electrified an otherwise ho-hum school day just by making you paint a self-portrait or sing an odd folk song?  Sadly, thousands of students have never shared that thrill because their schools have slashed funding for arts education or abandoned it completely.  Tight budgets and a back-to-the-basics approach have left arts education out in the cold.

That's tragic, because the arts can benefit young mind in the number of obvious and surprising ways.  For example, many experts say that an arts education:

Stimulates your child's learning ability.  "The process of learning by way of the arts includes intellectual, physiological, and emotional levels," says Pam Paulson, Ph.D., director of resource programs at the Minnesota Center for Art Education in Golden Valley. "And when students are engaged in all three, that's when the best learning takes place."

Contributes to improved test schores and achievement levels "A recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts suggests that students who attend arts focused schools tend to achieve higher test scores than similar students in other schools in their area.

Preliminary research results from the National Arts Education Research Center in New York support that notion.  Studies by 60 teacher/researches from across the country show that test scores improve when the arts are used to aid learning in mathematics and social studies and to develop communicaiton kislls, says Dr. Ellyn Berk, deputy director of the center.

Whats more, a recent article by Judith Lynne Hanna in the educational journal Phi Delta Kappan, provides further evidence.  Hanna, author of the book To Dance is Human (University of Chicago Press, 1987) cites the caes of Sampson, North Carolina.  For two years running, the school children in Sampson saw their standardized test scores increase.  The only change: the introduction of arts education.

Aids your child's understanding of other subjects.  Research from the National Arts Education Reserach Cetner shows that nonart high schools majors improved their understanding of geometric forms just by studying visual illusions, sculpture, and architecture.  More surprising, their test scores rose an average of 24 points, says Dr. Berk.

Film producer Don Koonce witnessed firsthand how the arts acn invigorate learning.  For months, Koonce criss-crossed the nation visiting schools while filming his TV documentary called "Can Johnny Think?"  Koonce saw students studying Asian history by participating in a Japanese tea ceremony, a dragon sword dance, and an ancient Chinese t'ai chi exercise demonstration.  "These kids were really excited about history," he recalls.

Enhances your child's self-esteem and productivity.  "To the extent that students feel good about themselves, feel productive, have an opportunity to be critical and creative in the arts, these can have positive spin-offs in the class and in school," says Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner, author of The Unschooled Mind.

Just ask Tina Gross, a 1991 graduate from the Arts High School of the Minnesota Center for Art Education.  "It was the first time that I was surrounded by people of my own age who had similar interests, people who valued by interests," she says.  "That was incredibly healthy, and something that everyone who holds art in a significant place in their life needs to have when they are young."

Stimulates your child's creativity.  Experts say that the arts help kids realize that multiple solutions may exist for a single problem.  Through the arts, kids also discover new ways to express themselves.  "It is the genius of the arts to be able to communicate emotions and ideas through artistic symbols," says author and psychologist Gardner.  "As dancer Isadora Duncan said, 'If I could say it, I wouldn't have to dance it.' "

Enlightens your child about art's effect on everyday life. For a generation of kids weaned on MTV and other commercialized and popular art, knowing how art affects life is critical.  "People are starting to realize how many times each day that kids are influenced by the arts," says Paulson. "But without the background and skills to interpret the arts, kids are open to being manipulated."

Prepares kids for the workplace.  "many children are introduced to the world of work through the arts," says Gardner.  "It's there they learn about discipline, application, building skills, seeing progress in learning."

The Abandoned Arts

"Unfortunately, arts teachers in the elementary schools are an endangered species," warns Dr. Berk.  The arts picture isn't much rosier at the upper grade levels.  The latest high school transcript study by the National Center for Education Statistics shows that one-third of high school graduates have never earned a single credit in visual or performing arts.  For many arts education proponents, the saddest day came in 1990 when President Bush and the nation's governors released their six National Education Goals.  The arts were left out completely.  "We were up in arms," exclaims Paulson at the Minnesota Center for Arts Education.  "It mobilized those of us who believe that a good education includes the arts."

The backlash from the arts community led to the release in 1991 of the government's America 2000 Arts Partnership program, a supplement to 1991's original America 2000 "education strategy" (which also made no mention of the arts).
The arts are slowly regaining favor in other ways.  For example, in 1996, the National Assessment of Educational Progress will once again include the visual arts and music.  They haven't been a part of it since 1977.  Still, the signs of recovery in the arts are slow, and cutbacks continue.  "The results of schools' cutbacks in the arts are devastating," says Harvard's Gardner.  "Wonderful programs, built up over years, or even generations, have been decimated."

The future of the arts in our schools, says Dr. Berk, may depend on how badly parents want it.  "Parents need to elarn what's being taught in school," she says.  "Then they need to make their presence felt among school, legislative, and city officials."   The results can be positive: Oklahoma passed a bill that mandates arts education in school.

How Parents Can Help

What can you do to help your kids get the arts exposure they need?  Gilbert Clark, professor of Art and Gifted/Talented at the University of Indiana, offers these tips:

*Organize a community-based support group, then meet with the school superintendent to discuss your requests.  Or, begin a simple letter-writing campaign.  "But make sure you praise the school when arts activities happen," says Clark.

*Bring home magazines that include articles about the arts.

*Take your kids to public performances of the arts, such as music, theater, dance, and so on.

*Rend or buy videos that feature the arts-and watch them with your kids.  "There's a whole library of great art on video," says Clark.  For example, Chicago-based Home Vision, a leading distributor of fine and performing arts videos, carries more than 300 videos on the arts.  They range from documentaries on famous artists, such as painters Georgia O'Keeffe and Paul Cezanne, to vido tours of museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  To order a catalog, call 800-262-8600. 

-Sections from article featured in Better Homes and Gardens by John B. Thomas
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