Arts Integration Isn't Enough

Posted by Katherine Damkohler, Jul 06, 2011 8 comments

Katherine Damkohler

Integration across academic disciplines can strengthen a child’s learning. When teachers reinforce content through a variety of approaches it helps children retain information and fully appreciate academic concepts. However, one academic discipline cannot fully convey the fundamentals of another.

For instance, a History teacher cannot expect to effectively relate the scientific processes of an electrical current to students by teaching them the historical biographies of Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison. And yet, many educators apply this approach of substituting subject instruction to the artistic disciplines.

I have seen too many schools refrain from hiring an arts teacher because they have been lulled into thinking that training a classroom teacher to integrate the arts into their lessons serves as an acceptable substitute for bringing a full-time arts instructor on staff.

Sending classroom teachers to summer arts integration institutes or having them work alongside a local professional artist is a wonderful way to provide professional development to teachers. However, these programs alone do not qualify classroom teachers to be the primary arts instructors for their students.

The arts are not learned through osmosis. It takes years to master an art form. Learning how to read music, play an instrument, perform dance, or create theatre takes both discipline and skill. It takes even longer to learn how to effectively translate that artistic knowledge to others and develop natural skills in students. Universities offer masters degrees in Music Education, a focus devoted entirely to the process of teaching music to others.

To suggest that a teacher trained to teach History with no prior musical knowledge or experience, is qualified to teach Music after a six-week integration seminar disrespects the fact that Music itself is an academic discipline.

It also suggests that it is permissible to dilute the quality of artistic instruction for students, which reveals an implicit admission that the arts are somehow less important than other academic disciplines.

It would be unreasonable to request that an individual with a Music Education degree would be equipped with the necessary skills to teach French without true knowledge of that subject, and it is just as unreasonable to request that a French teacher teach Music without true knowledge of the subject. How can a person be expected to teach a language he or she does not speak?

Classroom teachers should enrich and enliven their lessons by integrating the arts, but we cannot expect them to simultaneously serve as classroom teachers and primary arts instructors. In order for students to fully meet the arts standards, schools must invest in qualified and effective arts educators.

8 responses for Arts Integration Isn't Enough


July 09, 2011 at 7:43 am

This is a great post. As an arts integration teacher and huge proponent of the arts in schools, I know the importance of getting this message out. Here's my full response to this post on my site:

  • Please login to post comments.
Joseph Futral says
July 09, 2011 at 11:15 am

As I continue to ponder this article, this really does quite accurately illustrate the quandary of art and artists in the age of Modernity. Summed up nicely in this line:

"The arts are not learned through osmosis. It takes years to master an art form."

On the one hand we, as artists, arts businesses, and arts educators, try to promote the intrinsic nature of art to everyone. Anyone can be an artist and everyone, to one degree or another, is an artist. That is why art is not just valuable to humans personally, socially, economically, culturally. Art is needed by everyone. Art is not just an external force, it is an internal force that drives almost everything we do and are.

But Modernism is about systems, categories, and processes. So you can't _really_ be an artist without formal training. Thus the barrier is built. And certainly through much of the 20th century, so, too, was the elitism built which we now struggle against, but from the other side of the once considered "unwashed masses".

On the one hand we want everyone to understand the artist in all of us. On the other hand we want our particular art form to be respected. At the very least because it justifies our own years of formal training. If I had to go through all that to learn my art and craft, it is only fair everyone else should, as well, to be taken seriously. What a dilemma. It's like we want to have it both ways.

What's the solution? I have no idea. As a post-modernist (wanna be, at least) I believe the problem is systemic and the nature of systems, especially the ones we have created as a society, and in particular the education system in which we currently reside. Is it any wonder why Sir Ken Robinson believes our school systems kill creativity? Until we at least admit to and address the problems inherent in the/any system (shades of Monty Python, there) we will always be forced to convincingly justify what we believe ultimately needs no justification.


  • Please login to post comments.
Marcy Cochran says
July 10, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Thank you for articulating so eloquently the danger of misunderstanding and misuse of arts integration. I have experienced firsthand how budget cuts in my district have cut the arts instruction with the belief that sending a few of the regular ed classroom teachers in my school to a "workshop" on arts integration would be enough to make up for that loss. It is a fundamental flaw in the power of the arts. Arts integration can be very powerful as a vehicle to learn something else but that is totally ignoring the real power and lasting benefit of arts instruction, that of arts for arts' sake. It is what makes us human and makes life beautiful and worthwhile. It is what lasts after a civilization is gone and it is what really tells the story of humans. There is also the unexplained emotional effect that the arts have. All of these things are so much more than doing a craft project in social studies class or playing background music during language arts time. To master the arts is very complicated and to think that a teacher without the training and background of an arts specialist could possibly instruct with the same quality is very naive.

  • Please login to post comments.
July 10, 2011 at 8:58 pm

I am in full agreement here with Marcy. I know that arts integration is a very powerful vehicle for instruction, but administrators and teachers need to understand that in order to have a high-quality arts integration program that truly engages students in deep, meaningful learning, the arts teachers are the most valuable people within the school. The arts teachers become the resource as masters within their craft and as such, their positions should become even more important, not less. As a trainer in arts integration, I also make sure to provide classes in arts advocacy and arts techniques so that classroom teachers and administrators can truly comprehend the importance of the arts teachers within a true arts integration platform.

  • Please login to post comments.
Susan says
July 12, 2011 at 11:59 am

FYI most teachers that intergrate arts are usually proponents of arts education and have mastered one or more discipline. Most would love for their students to have arts classes with an arts teacher. It has to start with the school board and district administrators seeing at as valid core instruction needed for all students.

  • Please login to post comments.
Joseph Futral says
July 07, 2011 at 2:08 pm

What educational level are your speaking to? I suppose this could cross all levels. And I have to admit to feeling like I was handed a raw deal when it was the track coach who taught U.S. History in HS.

This reminds me of the argument to use Windows PCs in high school because that was the computer the students were more likely to use in the work place. I suppose if school is meant to be seen as job training.

Similar principles or concepts, though not necessarily the same issue.

What about the idea that teaching itself is an art form? Teaching is not about regurgitating facts, but as much about creating an environment, a place to suspend disbelief to (hopefully) learn something heretofore unknown.

But I suppose that does not allow a student the opportunity to be in an environment and to learn a subject that is borne on inspiration then developed by discipline. A bit backwards from the rest of the three R's.

I do think you have hit on a key problem, and one shared throughout the arts world and not just education:

"an implicit admission that the arts are somehow less important than other academic disciplines"

We have created Art as an "other", one that can be taken and referenced in isolation and isolated from, not just academics, but also our being. Kind of like whether we should wear a sweater or a jacket today, not the actual intrinsic nature of how we are affected by external temperatures.

I would suggest that one way to address this is to demonstrate how art is important in those other subjects and teaching in general, not by separating art as something that can be seen as removable. Show people Mae Jemison's TED talks lecture.

I think she gets it.

But in the end, it isn't about whose argument is better than someone else's (read the NYT article on the birth of reason). If someone in authority already believes art is expendable, you are unlikely to change their mind. Best to replace them with someone of like mind.


  • Please login to post comments.
August 24, 2011 at 6:39 pm

The fact that some upper-level administrators and school officials have used arts-integration as a method to cut costs (that is, cut arts teachers) reveals a deep level of misunderstanding and is a misuse of power, because it ultimately diminishes the education being delivered to our children. Susan Riley has eloquently described the structure of true arts-integration and the vital importance of arts teachers to a strong arts-integration program (on her blog Education Closet)(and I would go even further and say that arts teachers are crucial to delivering a strong education, period). Arts-integration provides teachers with a proven and approachable means of differentiating instruction to honor the unique multiple intelligence profile of each child in the classroom. It is also a proven and approachable means of bringing project-based learning into the classroom. Both of these goals are known to result in deeper learning experiences for children and adults. But we must also continue to teach the arts as stand-alone academic subjects, especially considering the fact that the creative sector represents one of the healthier, growing facets of our country's economy. And the arts are intrinsic to our humanity - what nonsense it would be to abandon the arts!

  • Please login to post comments.
March 16, 2012 at 6:48 pm

I agree with Ms. Damkohler that arts integration does not replace arts education. That's because they are not synonymous terms. Arts education engages students in the learning of an art form; arts integration is the use of the arts in the classroom for the teaching of the other academic subjects — math, reading and writing, science, social studies. All classroom teachers can use the arts to help students do better in the academic subjects, which is the definition of arts integration. Summer academies and midyear PD can have a big impact on the classroom practice of arts integration; sound, rigorous arts integration does not claim to substitute for arts education. And this is especially important as the budget for arts education is under such (admittedly wrongheaded) budget pressure. Please note that arts integration is not "arts education lite." Arts Integration is a classroom pedagogy with the potential to transform our schools. (We believe that arts integration makes arts education (and arts educators, teaching artists and artists) more essential to education than ever.) Donn Poll, CEO, Arts Integration Solutions, nonprofit PD and school programming -

  • Please login to post comments.