Are Students Getting the Right "A" in School?

It seems in recent years, we’ve seen a shift in education towards Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math (“STEM”), and further from the Arts (“A”). Every young mind needs the right STEAM to power it forward, and although Science, Tech, Engineering and Math are important, what use is a great education in STEM without the right “A” to create STEAM?

I’ve always enjoyed learning anything to do with arts, but as an adult I’ve really grown to love teaching and sharing that passion with others. Having read about, and noticed myself the shift in the education system, I was curious to hear from other arts educators in the community on their experiences and opinions and am honored to include their insight. 

Arts Education effects brain development

An education in any type of Arts (dance, martial arts, music, fashion design, drawing, painting, culinary arts, graphic design, writing and other creative pursuits) is hugely important to development. Through research we’ve learned how it greatly impacts, critical thinking, communication, social skills, memory, focus, self expression and identification, and even the discovery of life passions and purpose. 

Dance educator, Katy Byrne, remembers a time when dance was required in her elementary school and credits this experience to finding dance and finding her passion, “Schools that are focused on test taking and are removing the arts all together makes no sense to me. If schools offered arts education or taught regular subjects with art, students would be more engaged, excited, about learning, and better at taking tests” Says Byrne. She wasn't the only educator to point out the effects on brain development and to combine that thought with being given the opportunity to pursue a life long passion. Lori Eubanks, Music Teacher at Kemp-Carver Elementary has seen children in her classes, who don't necessarily relate to the general academic subjects, really thrive with music "children should have something that they are proud of and that they do well." points out Eubanks. 

Impact on communication and behavior

Beyond giving students the opportunity to explore what may become a lifelong passion and pursuit, arts educators have noticed cutting back on arts education is having a significant impact on behavior, development and communication skills. “Individual students’ process things differently. Eliminating arts education is, for some students, like taking away an important means to communicate complex thoughts and feelings. A child who may not have the vocabulary to communicate anger or frustration may use art or dance as a tool to process those feelings. Says Cassidy Barton, Community Arts and Culture Consultant. She isn’t the only educator to have noticed arts impact on behavior. Richard Bradford, Fine Arts Instructor at SOS Arrow Academy, has noticed that his students respond well to theatre as a creative outlet. Many student are balancing stresses caused by school, and other outside factors and need a way to release frustrations creatively and positively. “It’s almost like a balloon. If you fill a balloon with too much air it’s going to pop. You need a way to let some of that air out in a way that will maintain the integrity of the balloon.” Says Bradford.

Arts connect us to culture, history and human

"Cultures preserve themselves through the arts"point out Stacy Erskine, theatre teacher at A&M Consolidated Middle School. And through this cultural preservation is also where we find history, and literature. But it's important that students know how to relate to their own and other cultures, histories and literature, and it's through art that they are able to do this. Wendy Lee, Art History, European History and Language and Composition teacher at KOR Academy, tells a story of seeing her daughter relate to Paul Signac a man who lived hundreds of years ago, because she had learned about Pointillism his specialized painting techniques (please read full story in quotes included bellow). Both Lee and Erskine related a well rounded arts education to being able to explore what it means to be human. "They miss the opportunity to explore their culture, as well as other cultures - exploration that could lead to a better understanding of what it means to be human." Observes Erskine. 

Afterschool balancing act between homework and arts enrichment

But Arts are becoming more and more overlooked inside what’s required from a school curriculum. In fact it can be so overlooked in a standard education that for some time now students pursue artistic goals outside of the classroom. Entire industries of creative pursuits, (dance, music, and art studios included) have learned to operate entirely during those few after school and before bedtime hours and many children have afternoons packed with extra activates where they focus on skills that aren’t taught in school. Even though these pursuits cut into family time and free time, many parents are willing to make the sacrifice to provide their children with a well rounded education.

But what happens when the pressure of that STEM education, which students have already spent the majority of their day pursuing, becomes so great that it begins to seep out of the school and into the home? Commonly, students get home from a full day of school and start immediately on more school work, sometimes for hours each night. Family time and free time have already been sacrificed, so parents and students are faced with difficult choices about their artistic pursuits to either; continue them, pushing homework late into the night; to cut back and choose fewer activities; or eliminate them entirely; because a “standard education” is too important.  I know I've seen firsthand very passionate young dancers cut back or ever give up on their art as the pressures of school become too much. Even when dancers are very young it’s easy to recognize that they have truly found something that feeds their soul. We all make sacrifices to work our passion in around the school day, but when dancers have to give up this piece of their heart to make time for more and more homework, it’s truly a tragedy. 

Arts education enhances learning comprehension of all academic classes

Even though there are arts focused schools, and elective arts classes in most conventional schools, as a nation, we’ve lost sight of the Arts’ importance in a well rounded education.  "In English, a student may read a book and discuss its characters and content. Whereas in my theatre class, the students can take that same book and bring it to life on stage and become those characters.” Bradford uses as an example for believing that arts education should be required in public schools.

Yes, we want our students to work hard and make As in school, but maybe it’s time we begin to ask ourselves, Are Our Students Getting the Right "A" in School? 

 

 

Please read bellow for complete quotes from contributors. 


"The arts enhance the brain and improve creative thinking, problem solving and cooperative learning to name a few. Schools focusing on test taking and removing the arts all together makes no sense to me. If schools offered arts education or taught regular subjects with art, students would be more engaged, excited about learning and better at taking tests that the schools care so much about." Katy Byrne, Dance Educator, Texas A&M, Pure Energy Dance Productions, Suzanne's School of Dance  

“Because individual students process things differently, eliminating arts education is, for some students, like taking away an important means to communicate complex thoughts and feelings. A child who may not have the vocabulary to communicate anger or frustration may use art or dance as a tool to process those feelings.”  Cassidy Barton, Community Arts and Culture Consultant

 “I see fine arts as a necessity in public schools. The arts can help support the core subjects and bring them to life. For example, in English, a student may read a book and discuss its characters and content. Whereas in my theatre class, the students can take that same book and bring it to life on stage and become those characters. They can see what they see, feel how they felt, and say what they say. It brings a whole new level of understanding to the literature and allows students to have deep discussions about the issues found within the pages and engage in a more in depth level of critical thinking. I also teach violin and there are many studies out there that link the learning of a string instrument to higher ACT and SAT scores. There are areas of the brain that involve math and language that are opened and explored when a student learns to play the violin that help them in these core subjects. There is also a level of dedication, focus and discipline that a student must master in order to be successful in violin and other fine arts that bleed over into studying the core subjects. Lastly, Fine arts are an outlet for students. It can be a way for students to relieve stress, anger and frustration. Many of my high school students saw my theatre class as a creative outlet to express themselves and relieve the stresses of other classes and life outside the classroom. Students need this outlet and need to have that ability to expunge that negative energy in a positive format. It’s almost like a balloon. If you fill a balloon with too much air it’s going to pop. You need a way to let some of that air out in a way that will maintain the integrity of the balloon. It’s the same with students. They are filled with extreme amounts of pressure and stress that comes from many different avenues. They need an outlet where they can let some of that stress out so that they don’t one day pop. The arts can be that release for them. Students can release that stress through a brush on a canvas, charcoal on paper, dancing in a studio, or songs and words on a stage.” –Richard Bradford, Fine Arts Instructor at SOS Arrow Academy,

 

Why studying the arts is important? Several years ago I took my children to the MoMA exhibit on tour visiting Houston. For me it was a magical experience because, although my passion is Northern Renaissance paintings, the moderns are unique and exciting. A particular painting by Paul Signac drew the attention of my then four year-old. As she approached the painting, in a not museum voice she exclaimed “Pointillism! I love the dots” She, of course, did not understand the unique juxtaposition of the dots and the luminosity created because the pure colors were placed next to each other. However, she did recognize a technique we had been practicing in art class. For a moment, she was connected to a piece of art created by a man from the 19th century. For a moment she was drawn to something for its pure beauty. Her reaction reaffirmed my conviction that art should be a significant part of a child's education. The arts are so important to the education of our children. Not only do they connect to ideas and beliefs from different time periods, but they make their brains work on a different level. Learning to paint, play an instrument, dance or create stimulates a part of our brain often left dormant by other subjects. Practicing an art helps them process little failures along the way and provides an outlet for their creative energy. Without the arts our human need to create and copy goes unfulfilled. The arts allow us to tap into the very nature of our humanity. The arts enhance all areas of our lives by providing different pathways that our thoughts can be expressed. The arts connect us to each other and to multiple cultures and traditions around the world.  Wendy Lee, Art History, European History and Language and Composition teacher at KOR Academy. 

Cultures preserve themselves through the arts - portraits, literature, plays, music, statues, ballets, and movies tell the story of who they were, what they valued, and where they were headed. Students who aren't exposed to the arts miss that connection. They miss the opportunity to explore their culture, as well as other cultures - exploration that could lead to a better understanding of what it means to be human. Students can apply the knowledge and skills they acquire in other areas, like STEM, to their art, making the knowledge and skills more relevant to them. -Stacy Erskine, theatre teacher at A&M Consolidated Middle School

·         The Arts, especially at the elementary level, is so much more than learning a song, memorizing a routine, or painting a picture. This "A" learning teaches children skills that will last a lifetime. Involvement in the arts can help improve cognitive ability, verbal skills, critical thinking, and also have a positive impact on academic subjects. Students also show increased abilities to work with a team, confidence in their talents, stronger control for concentration/focus, and a motivation to achieve more. Finally, students who participate in the arts may show true excellence and talent in a specific area that they may not be able to show in the traditional academic setting. In my opinion, this is so important because children should have something that they are proud of and that they do well. This is what the Arts, specifically music, does for children! – Lori Eubanks, Music Teacher at Kemp-Carver Elementary