Arts Education: Now or Never

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Aug 19, 2009 4 comments

As I was compiling this week’s edition of Arts Watch, I couldn’t help but notice a strange dichotomy.

On one hand, a developer in a small city, Woodbury, NJ, is planning to renovate a downtown building, turning it into a theater as a means of economic development. Citizens of Bridgeport, CT, have formed a new local arts group to recruit artists and creative businesses to their community.

On the other, some articles say that Detroit Public Schools have all but destroyed music education over the past 30 years and high school bands are becoming too expensive to operate.

While U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan may have meant well by releasing a letter this week encouraging schools to continue funding arts education programs (especially since they are part of the core curriculum under the current No Child Left Behind Act), that might not be enough.

How can the future leaders of cities like Woodbury and Bridgeport improve their communities through the use of the arts as an economic development and business recruitment tool if they were never taught the arts inside the classroom?

Although I have virtually no visual arts skills and my singing voice stopped being appreciated around my thirteenth birthday, some of my best memories from school involve art and music experiences in the classroom – like using clay to bring home (what I thought looked like) a pencil holder for my mom and performing in a summer production of Grease! Without many experiences like those, I guarantee that I wouldn’t be working in my current position where I consistently point to all the benefits that the arts provide.

This meandering story leads me to ask one question.

If you could sit down with Secretary Duncan today, what would you tell him about the current state of arts education in America? What is most in need of being fixed? Funded?

4 responses for Arts Education: Now or Never


August 19, 2009 at 5:31 pm

I will never forget the first time that I received a trumpet from the school to use in the band. I felt as happy as that young man in "The Music Man". I may never have seen the Music Man, nor gone on to perform in high school bands, college plays & musicals Nor decided to develop my talents as even now I perform at Lakewood Church's Drama team. If not for that first taste of the arts from elementary school, I'm sure I would have had a less fulfilling life. The Arts know no age. They can be learned, performed, developed, enjoyed at almost any age. We must do what we can to preserve and protect the continuing arts education programs in our schools.
Thanks for your consideration.
-Steve Martinez

  • Please login to post comments.
Ms. Karen Bradley says
August 19, 2009 at 5:37 pm

Dear Secretary Duncan,

Let's begin with research. What we have is spotty and we have a tendency to do the same kinds of studies over and over again, because there is no mandate to investigate long term effects of deep learning in the arts.No money either.

Once we have data with value, about what works and how well it works with a range of learners and over time (including coming to a common understanding of what "it" is), we can begin to address professional development issues. Educators have as many hit-or-miss opportunities to study in the arts as the children do. When it's good, it's very good, but mostly it's absent.

Part of what needs to be funded also is the school-arts organization partnerships. CAPE was/is a good model, but has not been disseminated nearly enough. Arts organizations can provide resources schools don't have and vice-versa. And together they make magical things happen in the classroom.

And finally, close to MY heart, let's get them dancing/moving/exploring, thinking on their feet and outside the box, let them improvise, stretch, reach, expand, condense, focus in, explore fully, assert, roll around, jump, skip... and then let them lead the children into the same type of learning: embodied, rich, engaging, and fun. (You thought I was talking about the children dancing, didn't you? Teachers need to renew their energy and creative spirit too!)

I guarantee the teachers will be more effective and the children will have better grades. Plus everyone will show up on time, every day, ready to learn more.

And you don't even have to mandate this. Just turn on the music, take the desks away to the side, and watch it happen.

Or maybe, you should join in too. I bet YOU'D feel better too!

  • Please login to post comments.
August 20, 2009 at 12:57 pm

While I don't yet have the formal background regarding the research conducted in the area of arts education, one thing I do have is my own experience.

My first experience with music was my parents buying me a keyboard for my 9th birthday. I played on it at will, and would try to reproduce melodies I heard throughout daily life. Needless to say, I developed a very good tonal ear. From that point on I learned various instruments in middle school such as tenor saxophone and baritone. Eventually, I focussed my musical abilities on piano and voice; singing and playing music in church and for the high school jazz band. And in my adult years, I have had the opportunity to sing with various prominent choral groups.

So, if there were one general idea I find the most important for arts education it would be this: Exposure

Children cannot know the joy of music, or even if they like it, if they never experience it. However, not only should they experience it as a passive listener, but also be producers of it themselves. Everyone listens to music, but people who create music, by whatever means, seem to have a much better appreciation for the importance of it in society.

  • Please login to post comments.
August 23, 2009 at 12:46 pm

After sifting through several Shakespearean plays with my middle school and high school language arts teachers, I had an uncanny appreciation for language for the first time in my life. I hungered for any classic literature I could get my hands on because I knew that I was now capable of understanding it. The tools that my teachers gave me in not only deciphering the text, but acting it out, allowed me to have great confidence in reading the most intimidating books. I began to read Charles Dickens in middle school, and to this day, my favorite book is A TALE OF TWO CITIES.

This is one of an infinite amount of stories that I can tell about the impact of arts education on my life. My life mission is to teach the arts to underprivileged urban kids because of my arts teachers in grade school.

  • Please login to post comments.