Why Teaching the Arts Matters

If arts programs are to thrive in our schools, arts educators need to abandon convoluted rationale for arts programs and support the position outlined by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland in a recent Boston Globe editorial (“Art for Our Sake” 9/2/07). If the only rationale for continuing to offer an arts curriculum is that it makes students better at math and science, then the prudent thing would be to eliminate the arts and invest those resources to improve the quality of math and science instruction. While students involved in the arts do better in school and on their SAT’s, it is unlikely that there is any correlation between the two. SAT scores measure very little, but we do know there is a correlation between test scores and family income: schools that offer arts courses are relatively well funded and their students come from higher income families.

We need arts courses because they teach absolutely essential skills and habits of mind that students need today. Schools are preparing students for jobs that do not yet exist. Simple mastery of facts and rote learning will not prepare students for a world that increasingly demands innovation, flexibility and resourcefulness. As Winner and Hetland demonstrate, arts courses develop students in those areas and more. If we are serious about preparing students for the world ahead of them, arts educators need to be more forceful in articulating how their discipline prepares students for the real world in ways that preparation for high-stakes testing does not. And people who want to cut arts programs must pay attention.

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