Don't Cut the Arts
Thursday, September 5, 2013 • 7:00pm
AS I SEE IT
Observing experiences; learning life lessons
BY Nancy Ori
As a teacher, I often play the role of life coach, mentor, friend and even therapist to many of my students. I have developed these skills through my years of photographing, painting, teaching and basically observing life. When you add a lifetime of art experience to the eye and heart of a trained observer, an interesting person emerges. If you listen to and learn from your experiences as they unfold every day around you, you can find the answers to many questions in life. These are my observations.
DON’T CUT THE ARTS!
By Nancy Ori
I have seen major cut backs in our education system reflected in layoffs of art and performing arts teachers and the elimination of arts programs every school year. Important programs are going away and I don’t think we are thinking about how this will affect students in the future.
In a world where ideas and information are most often delivered visually, it may be more important than ever for young people to learn how to look at and evaluate the meaning of images as well as create images of their own to communicate their own ideas. The arts are the common denominator for humanity and can open the door to our own history and culture as well as those of other people.
Learning and developing life skills is a complex process. According to documented research, there is a strong relationship between arts learning experiences, academic achievement and social development. Standardized testing that rates college readiness cannot satisfactorily measure the range of benefits involved in acquiring knowledge and skills in the arts. Many research studies have shown that an increase in art study translates to higher SAT scores. A detailed study completed in 2005 found that art savvy students outscored their non-art educated peers in both verbal and math scores.
In 2000 Congress enacted the Educate America Act and identified the arts as part of the core curriculum. Yet, even with this congressional mandate, art, music and performing arts classes are being cut. In 2002 the No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law and once again the arts were recognized as a vital part of a well-rounded education.
There are associations between visual arts learning and the ability to read and improve language skills; between studying drama/performing arts and conflict resolution skills; between the study of dance and non-verbal reasoning and social skills; and between playing an instrument and math proficiency. All lead to a more positive school environment and more well rounded students.
We need to raise our concerns about the future of art in education in our own communities and on the federal level. Let’s look at some facts.
1. Learning in the arts enhances academic skills. Standardized testing has revealed that the learning experiences in the arts contribute to improved success in reading comprehension, language skills, writing skills, and math. Children acquire these important skills in a variety of ways. One study found that when students acted out their favorite stories through dramatic play, overall comprehension of the story was enhanced, especially for those students who were reading below their grade level. Another study revealed that the study of music in middle and high school increases scores on SAT math tests. We need to be aware of what we are really losing when the marching band or orchestra is eliminated from our educational programs. Training in music reinforces a student’s ability to recognize the relationship of ideas, patterns and objects within space and time known as spatial temporal reasoning.
2. Learning in the arts contributes to the development of basic life skills. Fundamental thinking, social, and motivational skills considered necessary to succeed in life are included in the arts learning experience. The simple act of looking closely at a painting and thinking about what it is about can intensify a student’s ability to reason, imagine and perform basic problem solving. Research also suggests that music and the performing arts can contribute to positive growth in skills for collaboration and conflict resolution as well as increased confidence and self-esteem. Practice in the arts also promotes motivation to learn by stressing active and sustained involvement in activities. It can take a student from passively reading to a much deeper understanding of text.
3. Learning in the Arts equals success on many levels. The benefits of study in the arts apply to all students, not just those who are more talented. The results are even greater for those students who are educationally or economically disadvantaged. The positive effects of arts learning can reach from the classroom and school environment, into the home and on to the local community.
These are the facts. They are quite clear. Where do we go from here? Art is not an educational frill. It can become a major contributor to a student’s growth and success on many levels throughout their lives. The benefits can permeate into a more positive place to be in school, home and community environments. Study of the arts is comprehensive and necessary.
Parents can make a difference by encouraging participation in art at home, by becoming involved in art programs beyond the classroom and by being more influential in our schools to promote art education. The most important thing that we can all do is encourage our schools and elected leaders to support art education in the basic curriculum. We can make a difference that can lead to success for all of us as we head into the future.
Nancy Ori has been a corporate photographer and video producer
for New Jersey Media Center LLC in Berkeley Heights for over
three decades. She also enjoys teaching photography classes and
workshops in the US and Europe. She is presently on the faculty
and regular lecturer at numerous art centers and museums
throughout New Jersey.