Can the Arts Save Education?
Okay, I'm done.
No, seriously, the arts are the new go-to solution for failing schools.
We have tried extrinsic rewards, or "positive reinforcement" through certificates, stars, stickers, contests, jellybean jars, and praise ("good job!"). We have tried testing out the wazoo, tying test scores to teacher pay (a miserable form of behavior modification that fails our children so why try it with teachers?). We have tried speeches and grand-standing. We've tried firing teachers. Has any of this improved test scores or even stopped the downward slide in many schools?
The definition of insanity is doing the same sort of thing over and over again, expecting that the next time it will work. How we have been trying to improve education is, by that definition, insane.
The arts are instrinsically motivating. The arts instill not only discipline but a desire to pursue discipline because that discipline helps the individual to improve at what they most love doing. Pursuing an artistic endeavor nurtures self-esteem and integrates the mind, body and emotions. Teaching through the arts motivates children to go more deeply into a subject because they are more committed to the process of learning. Finally, states are getting serious about giving the arts their due. "There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests". In many schools children are being taught through project work that includes some art form, be it music, movement, drama or dance. You won't find this in the school just around the corner, necessarily, but it is happening out there.
I have written extensively about project work and arts integration in early childhood, specifically in preschool. During the Bush years my graduate professors often spoke wistfully about how preschool education was ahead of elementary education. High-stakes testing and the emphasis on teaching reading and math to elementary school children through "scientific" methods have failed to live up to their promise.
Teaching and learning through the arts gives children the juice, the food they need to want to learn. It is satisfying and intrinsically rewarding to create, using new knowledge and information, with the guidance of a teacher who understands integrating curriculum and artistic work. Children are hungry for this. Let's feed them.