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Putting the Arts in the
(Everyday) Picture


While for the most part the arts have been on the fringes of education, when they become a larger part of the curriculum, they can engage students in numerous ways, and particularly can benefit students in low-income, low-performing schools. Included: Information about arts integration.

While funding for arts education continues to take a hit, the arts continue to be a valuable tool for engaging students and improving performance, according to Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century, a study published by the Center for Arts Policy at Columbia College in Chicago.

Edited by Nick Rabkin and Robin C. Redmond, associate director of the center, the study looks at how schools that integrate the arts across the curriculum can invigorate learning and raise achievement, especially in low-income and low-performing schools.

The book examines and describes arts integration programs in several cities, including New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis and how they have affected learning.

Redmond discussed the study and the influence of the arts on learning with Education World.

"The research shows arts integrated learning goes well beyond the basics and test scores. Students become better thinkers, develop higher order skills, and deepen their inclination to learn," says Robin C. Redmond, associate director of the Center for Arts Policy, Columbia College, Chicago.

Education World: Why do you think for the most part the arts have been singled out from the rest of the curriculum?

Robin C. Redmond: The arts have never been fully accepted as cognitive, academic, or intellectually rigorous. Even those educators and parents who believe the arts are instrumental to student development and support arts instruction in schools see them first as expressive, creative, and connected to emotions or refinement, not intellect. So, the arts have been rationed to the gifted and talented and to special needs students. They have never enjoyed a secure place within the core curriculum.

EW: Why do you think arts integration has made such a difference in the performance of students in some low-income schools?

Redmond: Arts educators have long reported that the student benefits from learning in the arts seem to multiply, often in surprising ways. They see positive social development, habits of mind, and thinking inclinations. A growing body of research indicates that when the arts are integrated across the curriculum, academic performance rises. That is because they produce conditions that cognitive scientists say are ideal for learning. Learning in all subjects becomes more hands-on and project-based. Students begin to reflect on their own learning and that learning then becomes visible to both the students and their teachers through the art they make. Teachers' opinions of their students' capacities improves. Students' opinions of their own capacities and of those of their peers change. These shifts lead to a cascade of change in the culture of a school.

Second, students invest emotionally in arts integrated classrooms because the curriculum often connects the lessons to their own experiences, raising their emotional connection to what they learn and building a community of learners in classrooms where students used to learn alone. The research shows arts integrated learning goes well beyond the basics and test scores. Students become better thinkers, develop higher order skills, and deepen their inclination to learn.

EW: Many school administrators will say they neither have the resources nor time to undertake arts integration. What are some ways schools can begin to integrate arts into the curriculum?

Redmond: Time is probably the single scarcest resource in schools. But by integrating the arts across the curriculum, teachers make more efficient use of time, and student learning in all subjects gets deeper. Many communities are blessed with artists who have extensive experience working in schools. Successful arts integration programs in cities like Chicago, Minneapolis, and New York have taken advantage of their knowledge, expertise, interest, and desire to work in schools and communities.

For educators and administrators interested in implementing an arts-integrated curriculum, but with limited resources and expertise, our first suggestion would be to engage experienced teaching artists to help them develop and staff their efforts. This does require the allocation of resources, no question. But change requires effort under any circumstances, and programs have succeeded in low-income schools and districts that are under intense pressure to raise test scores.

EW: An interesting point was made by one person in the book who noted that math teachers never are called on to defend the role of math in the curriculum. What about the fears that integration could dilute the arts or make them less meaningful on their own?

Redmond: Because the arts have lived on the margins of public education for decades, art and music teachers constantly are forced to justify their positions and the role of the arts in education. They often have argued that the arts should be taught for the arts' sake and that the arts should not have to prove their value for learning in other domains to be included in public education. But the remarkable quality of student work in arts integrated schools is evidence that students are learning the arts deeply in arts integrated classrooms. It is consistently sophisticated, complex, original, and well executed -- often more than artwork we have observed in other schools.

Unlike conventional arts education, student work in integrated classrooms reaches a higher level because students are encouraged to master real arts skills, while engaging the world and the other subjects through their art. What students do in arts-integrated education is actually far closer to the practice of contemporary artists than what usually happens in regular arts classrooms. And as for the fears of arts specialists, we have found that when arts specialists embrace an integrated approach, they actually move from the margins of their schools' cultures to the center. They become leaders within the faculty, valued for their contributions, not just for providing a few moments for breaks.

EW: What do you think needs to be done to help the public -- and educators - understand the value and role of the arts in learning?

Redmond: The value of arts integration cannot be realized until there are broader changes in the culture and politics of academics and schooling in the U.S. Arts integration is an education reform strategy that requires real commitments and hard work from educators, practitioners, parents, and policymakers. But programs like those in Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, New York, California, and North Carolina are demonstrating that arts integration is a strategy within reach of many school, school districts, and communities, and supplied with the proper resources and time, arts integration represents a viable strategy for improving American education.

This e-interview with Robin C. Redmond is part of the Education World Wire Side Chat series. Click here to see other articles in the series.


Teaching About Art
See Education World's School Issues Glossary for other articles regarding teaching about art.