Why fund arts education?
This spring I have had the pleasure of leading a group of children at the St. George School as they worked together twice weekly over a period of a month on a class mural about intertidal zones in seacoast Maine. As I guided the children last session, I was reminded that arts education teaches many of the 21st-century skills highlighted in RSU 13’s Strategic Plan. These skills are known in educational jargon as Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creativity (the 4 Cs).
So how does painting a mural encourage growth in the 4 Cs? Anyone watching and listening as the children work notes that they are communicating and using critical thinking skills non-stop as they mix shades of color, trying to match the colors of real life; and as they discuss the placement of images, as well as the composition of the overall layout of the work. They negotiate the sharing of physical space as they work in groups of 10 with just one long sheet of paper. They learn to commend each others' successes and provide constructive criticism when an effort falls short.
As they have worked on the mural of intertidal zones, the students have been extending their academic understanding as well as the 4 Cs. They have thought about where different sea creatures live and what they eat; they have learned the vocabulary of marine life in two languages — English and French. They will be incorporating writing soon, as they create a bilingual key to accompany the mural.
In this world that seems to incline more and more toward standardization it is important to reap the benefits of project-based learning and artistic expression, and we should listen to research indicating that school subjects are best learned intertwined. The old labels of "core subjects" and "specials" are outdated. A complete education demands the benefits of all disciplines, academic and otherwise.
Above all, when we work with children — and this is key to facilitating successful learning — a sense of joy needs to permeate the process: the kind of joy that usually accompanies artistic enterprise. All too often today the schoolroom feels like a workhouse, as attention focuses heavily on scores and data and school report cards.
Children want to learn. They are learning machines! The desire to learn is inborn in us. We need to be sure our schools keep that desire to learn alive. The arts help us do just that. A worthwhile investment, indeed!