Can the Arts Plant Seeds for a Brighter Future?

Posted by Ms. Carol Bogash, Mar 21, 2013 4 comments

Carol Bogash Carol Bogash

In Anne Midgette’s February 2013 article for The Washington Post magazine, the headline asked “Can the Arts Save Students?" After spending many years working in the arts and education arena, I think the better headline might read, “Can the arts plant seeds for a brighter future”? And, I believe the answer is a firm and resounding—YES!

During the 1950s and 60s, school systems in the United States believed in the importance of the arts as part of an excellent education. I actually began my career as a music teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools during the '60s.

At that time, there were music teachers—indeed departments—in every elementary, middle, and high school. There were bands, orchestras, choirs, and general music throughout the grades. There were performing opportunities for the students. Thousands of children attended Baltimore Symphony Orchestra education concerts. Some of those students went on to become musicians and teachers. Most went on to other professions.

One of my fondest memories is of giving blood at a Red Cross blood drive, and while laying there with a needle in my arm, the nurse began to sing the Western High School song. She had been my student decades before and still loved to sing. I was stunned that she actually remembered the song! 

After the decentralization of school systems in the '70s and the push for testing in the decades since, the arts have by and large been forced to take a giant step back—and unfortunately in some cases have been eliminated all together. That is not to say that there aren’t pockets of robust support for music education. Maryland continues to be supportive of arts education and it thrives in many of the counties throughout the state

Unfortunately, Baltimore City Public Schools, a district that arguably needs arts education the most, falls far behind the rest of the state in access to the arts for all of its children. There is a notable bright spot in the Baltimore School for the Arts, a wonderful high school for talented young people. The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra OrchKids program, which is immersing nearly 600 pre-K through fifth grade kids from the most challenged areas of the system in a strong music education and social development program, is making a huge difference in the lives of these children—as shown by their test scores, attendance rates, and significant improvement in social and personal development.

I firmly believe that the United States has fallen behind in the world, in large part because of the lack of focus on the arts, most especially music, in these last decades. According to a 2012 report by Pearson, the United States places 17th in the developed world for education. Finland and South Korea top the list of 40 developed countries with the best education systems.

The study indicates that while funding is an important factor in successful education systems, a culture’s support of learning is even more critical—as evidenced by the highly ranked Asian countries, where education is greatly valued, and especially in music.

In the United States, we have lost several generations who weren’t involved in the arts in school—it isn’t surprising that they don’t get the importance of the arts. The same study found that American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. There has been a great deal of research of late which points to the direct correlation between music, brain function, math, and language skills development.

Why as a society are we not getting this? The arts are FUNDAMENTAL to an excellent education and a creative, innovative society—we have too long considered it a frill—and see where we are!

President Obama is calling for expanded pre-K education and I couldn’t be more excited about the possibility that at long last we might as a country do something about this problem. But music must be a central part of the core of the early childhood curriculum—this is critical to development of the brain, language, discipline, focus, creativity, and self-esteem.

At the Baltimore Symphony, we are inaugurating the Music Box Series, concerts for the very young—6 months to 3 years—to help teach parents/caretakers the importance of immersing their children in music early as possible. In partnering with Ready at Five, an organization devoted to learning for the very young, we hope to underscore the importance of music in developing language, listening, focus, rhythm and coordination, pitch, and self-awareness.

I am hopeful that perhaps we are turning a corner in the United States in our understanding of what is needed to educate our children in the 21st century—and we must start now with the very young—and with the arts.

4 responses for Can the Arts Plant Seeds for a Brighter Future?


Joyce Pezqueda says
September 23, 2013 at 11:51 pm

Art is magical, it has the ability to open the doors to many aspects of a child's life. It is through art that children learn to be creative, innovative, and develop imagination. For children art is a form of self-expression, it gives students the means to connect, interact, and learn from and about one another. Art motivates students to learn, develops critical thinking skills as well as problem solving skills.
I completely agree with Carol Bogash in that art is essential to the development of a student's education. Bogash is right in saying that "the arts are FUNDAMENTAL to an excellent education and a creative, innovative society". How we can look at our nation at large and see the holes in a child's education, which I believe are due to the lack of arts in the educational system. It is sad but it also makes me angry to know that America's educational system is not where it should be. Bogash mentioned a study, which found that American students ranked 25th in math, 17th in science, and 14th in reading. Why? I believe this is so because people are unaware of the importance and benefits of a school curriculum infused with the arts. We need to implement the arts more in schools and let art take the wheel in educating the children of today and the future of tomorrow. It is only then that we will see the benefits of the arts in education, allowing the arts to plant seeds for a brighter future.

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Malarie Redding says
April 15, 2013 at 11:06 pm

This is a great article for all teachers, but especially the teachers of the new generation. We need to remember that we are teaching children and children need creativity and motivation. Music and the arts foster intrinsic motivation by allowing students to create goals for themselves and work hard to accomplish them. The extrinsic motivation comes from the audience or the teacher that the student displays their creative project to. It is important to understand how academic success correlates with the arts and this article did a great job explaining that. Creativity is a process of critical thinking, problem solving, and innovation in which all of these skills are necessary for a students growth and development.

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Brooke Moore says
April 15, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I support this idea of music being a fundamental aspect of early childhood education 100%! Children need a chance to be creative and imaginative, and the arts provides that opportunity. Notice, I said "the arts". This article focused on music which I understand the author is passionate about, but music may not be the area of the arts that interests all students. Visual arts, dance, and drama are equally important. Music is actually my strength regarding the arts; however I realize it may be a weakness to other students and/or adults. We must stress to our students though that even though they may be weak at a certain area of the arts, they can still participate and improve their skills and abilities. All of these programs discussed in the article are very important, but we do not need another program! We need dedicated and passionate teachers who have a burden for students who are discouraged and have low self-esteem because they feel weak in every are of their lives. In Math, there are correct and incorrect answers, but relating to the arts, there are not. The arts allows students to become what they want to be, when they want to be, and how they want to be!

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Damara Titmus says
May 08, 2014 at 12:01 am

The effect that an education rich in the arts has on a student is truly profound. It is beneficial in so many different ways. Research has shown that regardless of the socioeconomic status within a school, receiving an arts-rich education results in better attendance levels, higher test scores, and less disciplinary issues. Through tracking methods used in schools, it has also been confirmed that this leads to a higher likelihood of completing a college education and reaching a professional career in adulthood. A student with more involvement in the arts is also more likely to be involved within the community shown by volunteering and the desire to vote. These findings show that contrary to popular belief, it should be encouraged to bring more arts education into schools even when test scores within a district are low, as this has been shown to improve scores and improve student behaviors. These findings make complete sense as the arts have a way of engaging a student more and bring more desire to learn and think critically. These are just a few of the reasons why it would be so imperative to increase the amount of art classes students are receiving, in addition to encouraging a culture rich in the arts in general.

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