The Arts are Fundamental to Education

Someone posted a great question about Art, Music, and Drama on Facebook this week. This deserves some thoughtful consideration, since the decline of arts education in schools has been long and painful, so I won’t pretend to have any concrete solutions just yet. We do need to do something though, as I see the arts (that is, fine and performing arts) as fundamental to education, just as much as language arts, science, history, and mathematics are.

Arts education helps fulfill a key mission of public education: cultural literacy. Much of our popular culture is deeply rooted in our longer term culture, especially when it comes to performing, fine, and language arts. Tying the music, movies, and books back to the classical music, theater, and literature they learn in school will help them gain a deeper understanding of those works and potentially open up new opportunities to enjoy topics they might find dry and uninteresting.

A drama teacher here gives some great reasons why we should teach drama. Public speaking, creative problem solving, and learning by doing are just some of the reasons he gives. For me, art, drama, and music gave me the chance to learn how to do something well and right. That involves a lot of problem solving, engaging in productive self-criticism of your work to improve it, and lots of other “soft” skills that, if a child masters them, will let them apply them anywhere.

Finally, the arts also enhance our comprehension of more traditional subjects like math, science, and history. Industrial Arts is applied physics and math (and you’re going to need plenty of algebra and trig to resize that plan down to something manageable). Music theory is highly mathematical, and studio art and history go hand in hand. Art history and music history are fundamental parts of cultural literacy, and those are best understood when you know the fundamentals of art and music through experience. Graphic design and data visualization have become a key part of science communication both within scientific communities and to the rest of the world. I see the arts (including music and theater) as a fundamental part of our educational mission, not just a nice-to-have add-on.