Integration is the New Specialty
The second in Carly’s blog trio about arts education models and research. Check out her first post here!
In Thomas L. Friedman’s The World is Flat, he writes that the secret to achieving a “flat world,” or a world of equal opportunity, “comes from our ability to integrate art, music, and literature with the hard sciences […] Integration is the new specialty. That is what we need to prepare our children to be doing.”
While Friedman’s book focuses more on globalization than education, the two are very connected – an integrated education leads to students thinking in a more comprehensive, global way. Essentially, we need to create an education that stops isolating subjects into categories and teaches students to view the world from an assimilated, cohesive perspective. Friedman explicitly uses the example of integration between the arts and hard sciences, articulating the importance of not confusing the two as segregated facets of education.
I believe that this theory of integration can humanize education. It harnesses skills in students that will help them think more critically and become more effective problem solvers. They will be able to think outside the box, and view problems in a more humanized, practical context— a context that makes them determined and excited to learn. This integrated educational process will give students the skills they need to think in an intersectional way, in which they are able to examine how various aspects of the social world interact on various levels.
Arts education gives students the opportunities to see beyond the blackboard, and be able to think from creative perspectives. We have reached a point where it is detrimental to students to isolate specific areas of education, because everything is connected. It’s also hard for anyone to be productive if they’re doing the same thing all day long. A teacher discusses the power of integration in How the Arts Build Academic and Social Skills: Grades 3 to 5, stating, “The arts can encourage and motivate kids in all aspects of their school lives, including teaching academic skills. When kids act out a story, discuss a painting, or perform a play, they improve their reading and writing skills. Noticing musical patterns and rhythms can help them with math because they’re organizing information quantitatively.” Some of the things we consider to be basic, like discussing a painting, can actually help students learn new ways to gather their thoughts and express themselves. This teacher also points out that you don’t necessarily need to physically paint something to feel the power of the art form; often, the mere act of exposing students to something artistic and talking about it can be enough integration to get their brains working in a more desegregated way.
In a TakePart video series, a nine-year old art-enthusiast, Primo, says, “I think it’s important to have arts programs because you get to be free, but you’re still working. And I think some of the writing and reading we do is almost art, because we’re really focused on making something, which I think is like art, too.” Primo couldn’t be more right. There is no feeling quite like the one you get when you create something new— when something that once lived in your mind now physically exists, all because of your own hard work.
Studies show that the process in the creation of art is what truly makes a difference, which relates back to integration— it’s about the process, not the product. It’s about the work you do to connect two seemingly different realms of education into one lesson plan and the way that this new information is absorbed by the students. It’s about the feeling that you get when you create something that you’re proud of. It’s about the changing thought patterns and the new way students internalize what they learn. Solving problems is a process, and an arts-integrated classroom’s goal is ultimately to teach students how to be effective, collaborative, creative problem solvers.
An art teacher discusses the power of process in her op-ed on TakePart, noting: “Unlike academic curriculums in which correct answers and rules prevail, art is based on observational judgment rather than a scantron. In one art lesson, I can teach mathematics, language arts, history, and world culture before any student picks up a paintbrush. I tell my students that drawing and painting is easy; it is developing the thought process that is challenging.” This process comes from a classroom that focuses on a combination of ways to creatively stimulate the mind, which also may not be easy, but is feasible, even if a school lacks the resources.
One school facing budget cuts is proof of this; they just had to think creatively in order to make it happen. Their creative approach was to bring in parent volunteers who are artists, and integrate arts into each subject, allowing them to still keep the arts alive in the classroom in the best way possible: by putting them in the same room as the other subjects.
One study discusses the collaborative nature of arts education by focusing on one teacher’s method of using music as his teaching tool: “Students sing, clap, and dance about solids, liquids, and gases. On holidays celebrating American heroes, Mr. Puzzo writes songs for the students about them. Years later, when students sit down to take their SATs, they report humming Mr. Puzzo’s songs to recall historical and scientific content. These musical experiences provide more than a memorization tool to master facts.” I wish that I was humming during my SAT’s instead of giving myself a headache trying to remember a specific flashcard that I merely memorized instead of fully understood. The ability to regurgitate facts without even understanding what they actually mean does students no service academically or emotionally. This process teaches students to understand things on the surface level.
An integrated education will teach students to learn something, go home and be able to think about it in various contexts, and give them the confidence to come to school the next day and excitedly share their ideas in an articulate and creative way. I firmly believe that integration is the new specialty, and it makes me so excited to think of future classrooms starting to embrace it.