Thursday, March 7, 2013

Why Schools Need the Arts

There are habits of learning (like “sticktoitiveness”) that the arts foster.

The tangibility of the arts: the presence of a something that was not there before the artist/student created it. From this emerge the learning outcomes of imagination (possibilities that the student invents and/or considers) and agency (the student’s central role in effecting these ends).

A focus on emotion, out of which students learn about expression (giving shape to their own feelings) and empathy (recognizing the emotions of others).

Ambiguity: the arts deliberate delivery of multiple meanings from which students learn about interpretation (making sense) and respect (for others’ sense making).

Kids who struggle in reading seem able to memorize all their lines for the play.

When the arts are included, more students show up at school and furthermore, they stay to graduate.

Kids who have left high school show up at community art centers and direct shows.

Visual arts give students the opportunity and courage to express their inner lives.

Musical ensembles give students a sense of community and mattering.

Playing a dramatic role enables students to experience almost first hand the suffering of a grieving friend.

The safe haven that students find in the arts classroom and the difference they experience between arts teachers who treat them like colleagues who can make their own choices and non-arts teachers whose expectations are set and constrained.

The passage from childhood to adulthood is both thrilling and perilous and at this challenging time of life, these students find that arts learning helps them with the pressing agenda of self-discovery.

The arts teach students to think in important ways that other subjects do not - beyond the right answer to critical analysis and interpretation.

What is beyond measure often has the most value - imagination, agency, emotion, expression…

Arts learning’s more authentic often holistic means of assessment: just as it seems laughable to reduce our estimation of expression or imagination to a numerical score, we need to be more mindful of the injustice we do to all learning areas by restricting them to the playing fields of right or wrong - math and science, like the arts, are fueled by good questions (not just right answers).

How many more of us would be able to participate as makers and audiences in the timeless and particularly human conversation that the arts perpetuate.

- Jessica Hoffmann Davis


  1. Love love love this! Arts in education just makes sense--across every discipline, age group and learning style.

    This is what I had to say about arts and literacy:

  2. This is a terrific look at all the benefits of the arts for humanity. Certainly I appreciate these things as I participated in music and theater. Unfortunately art is one thing that is quickest to go when schools begin cutting corners. Yet wasn't it the power of art that brought about the Renaissance, not just of art, but of culture and society? You can learn much of a society by their artwork.