The sound of a flute or the deep tone of a bow pulling across a cello is beginning to be viewed as though they are unnecessary and a nuisance, but the real question is: is arts education important? There has been research upon research working to justify the significance of emphasizing arts education for students of all ages and how it could affect them later in life as they blossom into adults with jobs that require hands-on problem solving, communication, and leadership skills. While there is research that backs up the influence of arts education effects on students. While arts education is on the verge of being dismantled, we should be willing to look at why the arts are of importance and how they are evolving to keep up with today’s demands.
Arts education offers tremendous benefits to students that find themselves so thoroughly involved in them. For example, arts education teaches the importance of attendance, as students are expected to show up to their rehearsals and performances. Many of the arts require that students must be in attendance at school regardless of any excuse that may be provided in order for them to participate in events such as Friday night football games, required concerts, and other events. Without that one person, there could be a lack of strength in the group and the pieces will not seem to fit the puzzle of that program because each individual student offers a new outlook and individuality that makes their sound different from the student next to them. ‘According to Whitford, the results of the initiative are promising, including improved attendance rates and higher levels of engagement in their academics.'(1) Not only do students attendance improve, but most older students learn valuable leadership skills that resonate throughout their careers. Deborah Minyard writes, ‘They know that they are leaders. They believe that as they build their own skills, they have a responsibility to share what they have learned with others around them,’ (2) suggesting that not only do they take the initiative to define their own skills, they also hold themselves accountable for teaching others the skills that they have developed over their arts career. Students do not just refine their skills, but education in the arts also affect cognitive and emotional developments, also known as the development of the ‘whole child’. In paper released by the National Endowment for the Arts ‘Music instruction, for example, seems to develop specific spatial-temporal skills.’ and ‘ … advance children’s school-readiness.’ (3) According to the ‘The Music Post,’ there is evidence suggesting that children experience an increase in spatial-temporal skills when they understand musical activities, such as rhythm counting, and notes transcription. (6) Spatial-temporal skills play a part in solving multi-step problems found in math, computer work, art, and many other everyday activities. In 2011, researchers Maite Garaigordobil and Laura Berrueco studied the effects of engaging preschool-aged children in 75-minute play sessions during an entire school year. The results of their research ‘…found improvements in verbal and figural creativity, as well as increases on a scale of creative behaviors and personality traits.’ (4)
On the other hand, like everything in life, there is always an opposing opinion, which must be properly addressed and expressed in order to understand the drawbacks of implementing arts education and the reasoning behind why so many would like to see it removed from school curriculums. A common point that is made when discussing arts education is its cost. As stated by the National Association of Music Merchants, the average costs of running an arts education program are 187 dollars per student, annually. This means that every year the average costs for a school district that serves over 70,000 students is roughly $13.9 million for music education. (7) Not only are the costs high, but they seem to offer little to no educational benefits as found by Durham University ‘…many studies showing that arts participation in schools has no or negative impact on academic attainment and other non-academic outcomes…’ This observation comes from a range of subjects from creative writing, music, and dance. Some studies have even shown negative effects in those who listened to classical music, as results from the Mozart effect have generating differing results. (5) Not only does arts education fail to complement academics, but fails to offer real-world experience. Arts education is supposed to be a hobby, something to just have fun with, and it is simply that. Why should approximately $13.9 million be set aside for an activity that does not present any benefits for students later in life.
In refutation, the topics that are commonly found in arguments that do not support arts education come from a perspective of those who typically did not participate in arts education. There are points that are simply not addressed by the contrasting opinion, for example, just because the money is there in the budget, does not mean it is used. Most arts education expenses are allocated towards elementary music and arts as it is a requirement. By the time middle school and high school rolls around, the averages drop as they become an elective. As arts education is only an elective after elementary school, there are educational benefits for those who do participate. For example, students often learn to communicate with others, as rhythms and new theories can be difficult to learn without the help of another. Initially known as a category for performing arts such as drama, band, and orchestra has quickly added computer courses to its criteria in order to keep up with today’s technological advancements. Some schools are even beginning to implement music technology courses. Heath Jones, a teacher in Georgia, is someone who is actively working to develop a curriculum for these courses, and states ‘Music technology is about creating and capturing sounds then using technology to manipulate, edit and produce a final product to achieve specific artistic and functional goals.’ (8) This course was developed to provide an academic program that could pave out a professional career for students who would not find themselves in a musically defined career otherwise. Music technology is one of the fastest growing industries in the nation today. As addressed previously, attendance, accountability, communication, and leadership skills are all taught in arts education through a hands-on learning environment that helps students hone real-world experiences.
Regardless of the formal evidence of the benefits of arts education, we as a society should be more than willing to take a step back and properly analyze why we should want to fund these programs and dig deep down to those days where we were young and impressionable. To reminisce back to those days where we sat on a scratchy rug in a room full of sounds that were new to our young ears. The truth is that music has been ingrained into each of us, the way that the ridges of our fingerprints are etched into our skin. Arts education provides the youth of today with tools that will allow them to solve problems, communicate, and establish leadership skills that they will be able to take with them to the workforce and other aspects of life. Therefore, we should reach deep down into our souls and remember all the times’ music was there for us when no one else was. So, why are we more focused on dismantling a program that is uplifting, positive, and beneficial to young adults? Why should we demolish a program that works so hard to keep current with how rapidly society changes?