Safety commissions, school districts, PTAs, and other groups and individuals have discussed school safety. One smart move would be to ensure that every school has a legitimate arts program including visual arts, music, drama, and dance. Students who struggle with mental health problems might benefit from the arts. Every child should have access.
Students should get opportunities for daily self-expression, yet many schools pay little attention to the importance of the arts to a student’s mental health.
What if counselors and teachers were able to work together with art and music teachers to ensure that students find help through the arts? What if the arts were valued in the curriculum to provide this support? What if all children were expected to take art or music classes at every grade level?
While it’s not completely understood, it’s easy to find research that indicates the importance of the connection between the arts and mental health. Here, Stuckey and Nobel in the American Journal of Public Health, question why more isn’t being done to explore art and music intervention to reduce “physiological and psychological outcomes.”
Art and health have been at the center of human interest from the beginning of recorded history. Despite that fact, and despite the invested effort and growth of knowledge and understanding in each arena, it is interesting that we often still find ourselves struggling with the “fundamentals” of art and health and their meaning in society. We make no attempt to clarify or resolve these fundamental issues. Instead, our intent is to summarize current knowledge about the connection between art and health, identify the most compelling next steps for investigation, and generate further interest in researching the complexities of art and health. Legitimate research questions include whether certain art-based therapies are more or less effective than others, whether the impact of therapy can be tied to other important variables and preconditions, and whether health benefits are sustained or short term. These issues deserve vigorous continued attention.
How is this done when public schools have eliminated or reduced the arts especially in poorer schools? The arts still receive little priority. This is unfortunate because the arts could be therapeutic for all students, especially for children with emotional and behavioral difficulties. More study is needed to determine how the arts affect students and their mental health.
We know that many students grapple with depression. Student suicides, we’re told, are up. Teens and even elementary children feel alienated. When students fail to do well academically, or they become bored, feelings of hopelessness are a threat. But the arts could have a far-reaching effect. The arts might give hope to students who are otherwise despondent. The arts not only provide balance to the curriculum, but to life!
Even in the best public schools, however, students with academic or behavioral difficulties may find the arts out of reach. Here is a report from The Guardian. This happens here too. A teacher describes how students are so overscheduled with academics there is no time for the arts.
Here are some facts about art education:
- Public school art and music programs have been defunded for years.
- Schools create AP art and music classes that are more about raising class rankings than helping students create.
- The arts might be included in general classes. Incorporating the arts into other subjects should be encouraged, but this will never adequately replace real art classes that teach the arts.
- Poor schools often have patchwork art programs with artisans that come in for workshops. But this is not a substitute for real art classes.
- Many certified art teachers have lost their positions. While artisans have much to offer students, they should not replace credentialed art teachers.
- Music programs have diminished. Some schools have eliminated marching bands. Some claim that the purchase of iPads replaces funding band programs.
- Schools might rely on partnerships for funding which are not consistent. Not all schools get partnerships. Relying on outside funding is another way to privatize public education.
Here is how a strong arts program can help students.
- Drawing distracts students from their problems. Drawing can help children regulate emotions and assist with depression (Drake & Winner, 2013).
- Acting not only helps students with self-expression, but to be more empathetic. It can also be used to counteract bullying.
- Making music or listening to music lifts a student’s spirits.
- The arts can be a wonderful outlet for students with all kinds of disabilities and gifted students. The arts have the power to equalize children and their abilities.
- The arts can bring students together. It’s the best collaboration. Think choir, band, drawing murals, etc.
- The arts bring joy into a student’s world.
- When a child fails in school, their life can spiral out of control. They might cause disciplinary problems. Often at the heart of such behavior is a student craving attention. If such a student gets an art or music class they could transfer their interest into creating and obtaining recognition for something positive.
Parents who are financially able, search for afterschool art and music programs. Lucky students get drawing, music, or drama classes outside of school, unless they have so much homework there’s no room in their schedules. But too many children get no art, music, drama, or dance.
In today’s fearful school atmosphere, the arts might be the safety net for students who don’t feel they belong. All schools should include a variety of programs that focus on the arts. It is time to make the curriculum whole again. A student’s mental health might depend on it.
Jennifer E. Drake and Ellen Winner. “How Children Use Drawing to Regulate their Emotions. ” Cognition and Emotion. 27(3), 512-520.
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