Curriculum Opinion

4 Reasons the Arts Are the Most Important Academic Discipline

By Nancy Flanagan — March 01, 2017 2 min read
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Don’t you love the title? “Most important!”

Of course, I don’t believe any academic subject is the “most important” (and wouldn’t want to host a fiery discussion with teachers, parents or policymakers, ranking disciplines from “most important” to “barely matters”).

For arts teachers, however, this is an ongoing, contentious, core issue in their pedagogical practice: What is the value of what I do? How do I share my conviction that the arts are essential in the lives of children? Why does artistic expression typically carry less weight than other fields and specialties? Why is it seen as disposable, when resources are scarce?

Research that measures the impact of listening to Mozart before taking a test doesn’t interest me, mostly because standardized testing data is so flawed as a tool for assessing value in a child’s development. Students don’t need “exposure” to the arts as a means of ratcheting up their other skills. They need immersion in viewing, listening and creating. They need to dance, to paint, to sing and to get hooked on the songs from Hamilton.

Here are some solid reasons to include music and art in every school experience:

1. Music keeps the mind sharp, serving as a challenging cognitive exercise. It also feeds the soul, develops character, and boosts creativity. Music doesn’t discriminate between race, income, or social status. It benefits children equally.

2. Art is an outlet for students to say—peacefully and powerfully—what needs to be said about human rights. It is ironic when lawmakers find a student painting intimidating, especially when it is hanging in the very center of political power in this nation. Art can be a focal point for civic engagement and civic dialogue, even when the subject matter is controversial. Ask yourself: Why was this painting so threatening to lawmakers?

3. The arts are healing. In a nation with a rapidly aging population, the arts provide an outlet for joy and community-building, as well as preserving health and well-being.

4. We need the arts to learn from the past. All of us need to interface with the sights and sounds of another time, another mindset.

I would rather see all teens using their artistic creativity to express their worries and fears about this country, than an endless video parade of school security guards roughing up high school students who speak out.

Take your broken heart and make it art. That’s what Carrie Fisher said—and did. Let’s start with children, in school.

The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.