There is a lot of talk these days about meeting the needs of the “whole child.” Once past the bizarre visual image of a less-than-whole child that the phrase tends to conjure up, we understand its intent, and, in near unanimity, we agree there should be more student supports that actually prevent problems from arising in the first place.
In April, the National Education Association convened a panel of 100 of the country’s top educators. Many asserted that students need more than a curriculum focused in reading and mathematics, saying America’s students also need opportunities to learn more about career technical education, social sciences, and the arts. Yes, that’s right—the arts, as in music and art classes. It seems reasonable that to fully address the issue of whole-child supports, we need to nurture children’s minds in every way, including the unique ways that music and art offer.
Last month, the president’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities released the report, Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools, the result of an 18-month in-depth review of the current condition of arts education, research about its benefits, and opportunities for advancing it. The report acknowledges one effect of high-stakes testing has been a trend away from arts education, but it also identifies the increased interest of civic and business leaders in arts education as a positive and promising development that somewhat counters that effect. Then it dives into some lesser known research. How many educators know the work of anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath or education researcher Milbrey McLaughlin? Do parents and teachers know these researchers found links among arts education, school attendance, and high academic achievement? The report’s authors also describe impressive longitudinal studies and findings from neuroscience that suggest “early arts education is a building block of developing brain function” (p. 22). Lastly, they make several recommendations, including developing the field of arts integration and reinforcing the role of arts education through federal and state policies. Yet, the larger question is whether there is enough public will to act on any of the committee’s recommendations, despite a few influential voices.
It may be that neuroscience will be the driver that restores art and music to America’s classrooms.
Knowing this, one can only ask, if we really care about supporting the “whole child,” and we know that our brains work better when we are being creative, why in the world are we eliminating arts education from our schools?
[Go here to watch a TED Talk on artistic creativity as a neurologic product: Charles Limb: Your brain on improv | Video on TED.com
See how two teachers are integrating art and politics: Schools That Work: Integrating Art and Politics to Improve High School Student Engagement | Edutopia