Making Time for the Arts

Our summer intern Carly Ginsberg kicks off a 3-part series on arts education: the value, the lessons, and the reality.

“Today, more and more policymakers think it is the arts, after all, that can motivate kids, engage them and help them develop 21st-century skills such as teamwork and innovative thinking — in sum, be the key to their salvation.”

The Washington Post

There is a strange, isolating dichotomy between the arts and more “valued” academic subjects in the education system, and the more I think about it, the more baffling it is to me. The problem is that the arts are viewed as these independent entities that have no effect on the other subjects taught in school. The fact is: the arts improve student engagement in the classroom.

Many researchers have found causal links between the arts and academic achievement. An Education Week article discusses how “arts education, when it is approached with the seriousness of purpose exemplified by the schools profiled in this report, can be a powerful medium through which students come to love learning, strive for excellence, and imagine a fulfilling, purposeful life.” The arts foster a sense of empathy and awareness that translate into every arena of life, and therefore, I find it critical that we make time for the arts in education.

A fascinating study revealed that when low-income schools added more learning time to their school days in order to incorporate arts programs, the students achieved a well-rounded education.  This fostered students’ ability to communicate and express ideas, accomplish their goals, and engage in positive social behaviors. When students develop in a well rounded classroom, they are better able to navigate the challenges of the world around them. The arts undoubtedly promote empathy on their own, and when the arts are integrated into education, students not only understand themselves better but they are also better able to communicate with their peers. Through these developments, they learn to appreciate the world around them in a new and refreshing way. One of the study’s findings was: “Creating and learning through the arts offer children and adolescents access to an invaluable endeavor: a means to connect emotionally with others and deepen their understanding of the human condition.”

Harnessing a sense of awareness for our own intrinsic natures is a life skill that should not be overlooked. This sense of awareness allows students to not only recognize problems in the social world around them, but to actually feel compelled to do something about them. Bringing this back to the classroom, intrinsic awareness can help students recognize where they struggle and where they thrive, and be able to communicate with their teachers and peers with more sensitivity.

Time is crucial, as seen by this study. However time does not solely need to come from an extended school day in order to integrate arts programs because, although that would be ideal, funding cuts make it nearly impossible. When I talk about extended time, I’m also talking about time’s alter-ego: patience. If both teachers and students can develop patience and allow there to be a sense of camaraderie in the classroom, there will be a stronger sense of engagement from the students.  This means that teachers should allow their students to claim a sense of agency, making them more proactive citizens of the classroom.

A compelling study about the role of arts education in schools goes into depth about the importance of spontaneity in the classroom, which takes a great amount of patience to foster. This patience was expressed through teachers allowing their students to draw their own complicated mazes on the walls, a practice which began as doodling. This created a space that promoted creativity, where students have some well-earned agency. The study discusses the value of teachers and students working together as a community of learners and notes, “In arts-based learning contexts, students become aesthetically situated researchers as their classrooms transform into ‘places of discovery.'” It also discusses how empathy comes into play with the remarkable finding: “Because of the intrinsically communicative nature of the arts, creative discoveries are frequently shared through performances, displays, and other social interactions.”

It’s like those big signs on the subway that say, “If you see something, say something” – in a context much larger than intended. I’ve been thinking about the saying as a way to view my surroundings, outside of the subway car. I know it’s simple, but what if every time we saw something that seemed wrong, or immoral, we said something about it? The application of empathy into the broader context of the social world is the ability to see something, recognize that it’s problematic, and say something about it. And, it doesn’t always need to be something negative. It also means that you can see something, recognize its beauty, and say something about it! As I have discussed, the development of life skills and engaged citizenry come from an empathy infused classroom— a classroom that makes time, in every sense of the word, for the arts.

Check out Carly’s second and third posts in this series!

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