Guest Commentary: Don’t discount value of the arts in education

GUEST COMMENTARY / OPINION:

When the arts are mentioned in the company of parents, there can be many reactions. Some parents support the arts — perhaps their child is in a band or art class in school. Some parents are indifferent — their child doesn’t take art and doesn’t feel the need to. However, a surprising (and increasing) number of parents are openly hostile toward the prospect of involving their student in the arts.

Whether it be sacrificing precious time that could be spent studying for the SAT, or encouraging wispy dreams that will never come to pass, art is often painted as adding little value to children’s lives. You have likely heard, from some rueful friend or another, “My son had to give up the piano. There just isn’t enough time in the day.” This defeatist attitude is one of the main things that has hurt the expansion of the arts in schools.

The attitudes of the students themselves often do not help the situation. Many feel that associating with an arts class or club would be detrimental to their social standing. Others feel that students in these artistic circles are less academically inclined, and therefore aren’t worth as much as students who spend their time on school and academic activities. Still others feel indifferent about the arts, and aren’t in art classes themselves because they believe that they don’t have enough time. It can be difficult for students to be involved with art on top of having to balance school, sports, clubs, social life, and Pokémon Go, all while maintaining some level of sanity.

However, a lack of artistic pursuits in a child’s life may do more harm than good. Although art may not help a student memorize hundreds of vocabulary words, it offers vast benefits that help students succeed in grade school, college and beyond. Life skills such as creativity, focus and perseverance can be easily learned via exposure to the arts. According to Americans for the Arts, students who are involved in arts programs are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement than their peers who are not involved in the arts.

The College Board has found a strong correlation between higher SAT Critical Reading and Math scores and involvement in art and music. According to a 2011 study, students who take four years of arts and music classes average nearly 100 points better on the SAT than students who take only a half year or less. Also, the dropout rate for students of low socioeconomic status who are involved in the arts is only 4 percent, while the dropout rate for similar students not involved in the arts is 22 percent. This statistic may demonstrate how art can serve as a motivating force that makes students want to succeed, and how the arts reach students who might otherwise be left behind in the wake of more privileged kids.

Finally, 72 percent of business leaders say that the No. 1 skill they look for when hiring is creativity, a skill less prevalent in students not exposed to the arts.

In addition to helping students toward success in academia, the arts can serve as a much-needed break. With six classes, sports, a job, home responsibilities and more, it may seem as though a student has no more time to give. However, many who are involved in the arts view their class or club as down time, a way to take a break and unwind in the midst of a stressful day. Because of its creative and often relaxed nature, the arts can give students an outlet for their anxiety that may have otherwise remained pent up inside.

So when registration time comes around next month and your child seems interested in joining their school’s drama department, perhaps, for his own good, you won’t discourage them.

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