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Making the Case for the Fourth `R: Art!

Reading and riting and rithmetic and rt (art)? Many school districts are strengthening the art components of their curricula in light of new research on the benefits of arts education.

[Editors Note: Are the arts an essential part of the curriculum---or are they an extra that can be cut in times of tight budgets? Wed like to hear your thoughts! Just return to the Education World Home Page and highlight Message Boards in the DIRECTORY list; click on GO; then click on Educators Forum and General Education. I posted a message about The fourth `R on Wednesday July 9. Feel free to express your opinion about the arts; or tell us about an art program in your school that has been especially successful.]

Robert was a fifth grader who missed four or five school days regularly. He `tuned out both the teachers instruction and other classmates. . . . But Robert did connect with Albrecht Durer, the 16th-century printmaker. . .[when he] was shown a self-portrait that Durer had painted at age 13. That night he went home and drew his own self-portrait. His teacher suggested that he begin keeping a sketchbook. Thereafter, three or four times a week, Robert shared his sketchbook with the teacher and the class. . . . His identity was in his artwork. . . . His school attendance improved and he looked more confident in the way he carried himself. . . . His self-esteem obviously improved with his growth and experience as an artist.*

Roberts story, which is part of a special report---Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning: The Arts ---is one of many stories that show how the arts can engage students who may lack interest in other classes. In Roberts case, his interest in the arts provided a sense of empowerment that carried over into every aspect of his education. In addition, Roberts interest in the arts led to acceptance by (and the respect of) others and significantly improved his self-esteem.

The evidence in support a strong discipline-based arts education is piling up. Communities and states around the United States are taking action. The arts have been taking great strides forward. Take a look at a few pieces of evidence:

  • Late last year, the West Virginia Board of Education approved a high school graduation requirement in the arts. Starting with the Class of 2002, each graduate must have carried one credit in art, music, theatre, or dance.
  • Recently, the state of Ohio became only the second state (Nebraska is the other) to adopt a competency-based art curriculum.
  • Goals 2000 legislation provides support to help states and communities set standards of excellence and work toward meeting them in core subjects, including English, mathematics, science, civics, foreign language---and the arts.
  • The U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) recently announced an annual awards program to honor arts-education/business partnerships.
  • The U.S. Department of Educations Blue Ribbon School Program, which recognizes individual schools that are examples of excellence in instruction and student achievement, will for the first time in 1998 recognize schools that have used the arts to lift their school and their students to new levels of achievement.

Are those efforts evidence of a commitment to the arts? Are they evidence that 1997 and 1998 will be big years for the arts in education? Or, as some skeptics say, are those efforts simply evidence of people giving in to pressure from communities and strong, well-heeled advocacy groups? Are those efforts just lip service to the arts?

The answers to those questions remain to be seen, but each year the evidence grows in support of a strong art component in school curricula.

All students will leave grades 4, 8, an 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter including. . . . the arts. . . . and every school in America will ensure that all students learn to use their minds well so that they may be prepared for responsible citizenship, further learning, and productive employment in our Nations modern economy.
---Goals 2000: Educate America Act 8

Art was added to the GOALS 2000 mission in 1994. Among the evidence presented to Congress that promoted the inclusion of the arts in the Goals 2000 mission statement were the findings in Title X (Part D. Section 10401) (which supports the Kennedy Center and Very Special Arts programs):

The Congress finds that---

the arts are forms of understanding and ways of knowing that are fundamentally important to education;

the most significant contribution of the arts to education reform is the transformation of teaching and learning;

such transformation is best realized in the context of comprehensive, systemic education reform;

demonstrated competency in the arts for American students is among the national Education Goals;

participation in performing arts activities has proven to be an effective strategy or promoting the inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream settings;

opportunities in the arts have enabled persons of all ages with disabilities to participate more fully in school and community activities;

the arts can motivate at-risk students to stay in school and become active participants in the educational process; and

arts education should be an integral part of the elementary can secondary school curriculum.

A study commissioned by the NEA and conducted by the U.S. Department of Educations National Center for Education Statistics revealed in 1995 that while most students in public elementary schools receive some instruction in music and visual arts few have access to courses in drama or dance, and fewer than half of the nations high schools require arts credits for graduation. Among the studys findings:

  • Music is almost universally included in education programs of elementary schools (97 percent) and visual arts instruction is provided in the majority of schools (85 percent).
  • Only 8 percent of elementary schools offer drama as a separate subject, though most elementary teachers (56 percent) report using dramatic activities, such as enacting stories or plays, to teach other subjects.
  • Only 39 percent of schools specifically require arts for graduation.
  • Half or less of public schools or districts had offered their teachers professional development experiences in the arts.
  • Nearly 90 percent of public elementary schools with visual arts specialists reported that the specialists integrate other subjects into their courses.

In 1996, the Association for the Advancement of Arts conducted a detailed evaluation of hundreds of research studies and program evaluations. Their report, How the Arts Contribute to Education, written by Kent Seidel, Ph.D., found compelling evidence that the arts have a great effect at all grade levels. According to the report, the studies reviewed demonstrated that:

  • Not only are the arts fun for kids, they help keep kids in school and working to learn.
  • Not only do the arts require self-discipline, creativity, and confidence to succeed, but these and other important habits stay with students and help them succeed in other areas of school, life, and work.
  • Not only do the arts represent many ways of experiencing and understanding the world, but they actually help develop the many types of intelligences that all people possess and use all the time.
  • Not only do the arts remove boundaries and allow students to explore aspects of life around them in new ways, but connecting the arts with other disciplines like math, reading and writing, or science often helps students learn about, comprehend, and value those disciplines as well.

In short, the report states, the arts are as much a part of a childs development and success as they are a part of a successful and enlightened society.

See the ON THE INTERNET: STUDIES OF BENEFITS OF ARTS PROGRAMS below for summaries of additional studies that help build a case for arts-based curricula.

Not only can the arts enrich childrens lives, theres a lot of evidence that arts education can help children academically. Through the arts, students can hone their basic and problem-solving skills, learn responsibility and the ability to work as a team, sharpen their communications skills, and better understand their own heritage, as well as other cultures.
--- Richard W. Riley , U.S. Secretary of Education

When words are no longer adequate, when our passion is greater than we are able to express in a usual manner, people turn to art. Some people go to the canvas and paint; some stand up and dance. But we all go beyond our normal means of communicating and this is the common human experience for all people on this planet.
---Murray Sidlin, conductor of the new haven Symphony

Here, then, is my conclusion. First, we need the arts to express feelings words cannot convey. Second, we need the arts to expand the childs way of knowing and to bring creativity to the Nations classrooms. Third, we need the arts to help students integrate their learning and discover the connectedness of things. Fourth, we need the arts in education to help children who are emotionally and physically restricted. Above all, the arts can build community not only within the school but beyond it as well: in neighborhoods, in different cultures, and across generations. Learning in the arts truly is lifelong. Its a deeply satisfying journey that I am convinced should never end.
---Ernest L. Boyer, president of the Carnegie Foundation For the Advancement of Teaching

*Roberts story (see opening paragraph above) was excerpted from Enhancement of Self-Concept Through Discipline-Based Arts Education by Marilee Mansfield and Faith M. Clover, Arts Education, #44 (March 1991, pp. 45-50).


  • Art Education in the Social Studies The symbiotic relationship between art and social studies suggests them for compatible pairing in an integrated curriculum, in this study from the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies.
  • The National Visual Arts Standards Lists what every child K-12 should know and do in the visual arts. This publication is available for $14 ($8 for members) from the National Art Education Association.
  • Be Smart, Include Art: A Planning Kit for PTAs Kit from National PTAs for $40 ($20 for members) helps guide advocacy efforts for including art education in the school. Kit includes meeting plans, organizational hints, and sample materials. English and Spanish.

Related Sites


Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1997 Education World