This is a good time to think about the arts. The visuals and sounds of the holidays, art, music, and drama, surround us. It’s a reminder that children need access to learning about the arts in public schools.
I recently watched the movie Elf. Afterwards, they showed how they made the movie. Those involved in creating the unusual set, the props, and ambience described how they created illusion on the set. From designers and make-up artists, to the music and the sounds that make the movie unique, everyone had special preparation.
Set designers understood the importance of color. They knew how to calculate the unusual dimensions to create special movie effects. The artists worked together as a team.
For years this country has denied children in poor schools a good arts program. NCLB was not supposed to end the arts in schools, but due to the focus on high-stakes testing many poor schools got rid of the arts. The attitude became one that considered the arts frivolous.
Race to the Top and Common Core have done little to replace the arts back in all public schools.
Nina Rees is President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. She is also Senior Vice President for Strategic Initiatives for Knowledge Universe, a global education company with investments in early childhood education, before- and after-school programs, and online instruction. Note. Knowledge Universe is now KinderCare. Rees was once a senior education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation and helped develop NCLB.
Rees was once asked “Do you consider art and music ‘frills,’ or would you say they are necessary to good elementary education?” She answered:
It depends. If a student is attending an affluent school that has the budget to invest in such things, then I see many benefits to adding art and music courses. What I object to is focusing the attention of poor school systems on these activities. Schools should be in the business of teaching students the basics. If they fail to teach students how to read and write, it makes no sense to ask them to offer music! In a perfect world, these are decisions that I wish parents could make and pay for.
Rees implies that the arts are only for children in wealthy schools! Any educator knows that the arts and academics complement one another. It is detrimental to get rid of the arts in poor schools. All children deserve access to the arts.
Getting rid of the arts in public schools drives parents to seek schools that include the arts. Is it any wonder that Rees promotes choice and charter schools? Good art programs in public schools became a casualty of corporate school reform.
According to the Children’s Music Workshop more than 1.3 million elementary students don’t have access to music class, and more than 8,000 public schools in the U.S. have no music programs.
A school in the Northeast is more likely to have an arts teacher than a school in the Midwest or the West.
According to Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, drawing is connected to language development. Children need time to draw. Preschoolers learn fine motor, cognitive, math, and language skills when they get art.
How many children in public schools have access to making music in an orchestra, band, or choir? How many high schools still have marching bands?
When students with disabilities lack exposure to the arts, they might miss out on an area where they have talent and can excel.
How many children this holiday season don’t know that they are artistically gifted because they’ve never had access to art supplies in their schools? How many never had an instrument to play, or a teacher with the training to recognize their talents?
Which students never receive that spark of understanding that they have a unique contribution to be made in the arts that the rest of us could appreciate? What are we missing?
How many movies and stories have we missed because creativity was not considered in school? Or because high-stakes, rigorous academics were the only focus, because the arts were thrown out to push young children to read early?
Think of the sounds during this holiday season. The beautiful carols we have come to know and the music that brings us great joy. Look at the beauty of the window displays in stores, or watch a movie and consider all the artistic talent that went into it.
For years those who understand child development have advocated for the necessity of the arts in a comprehensive public school curriculum. During this holiday season, let’s hope it will finally happen.