Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Why Teach Art?
I found an interesting article yesterday in the Canton Repository (1/19/10), the Arts in Stark report card for SmArts programs in the various school districts. Only the Jackson results are of special interest to me as my children went through the district, and I spent maybe 4 if not 5 years volunteering my time as an “art cart” teacher for one of the elementary schools. Why? Because Jackson has no elementary school (grades K-5) art teachers! The district did implement a Jackson School for the Arts program in the High School several years ago, allowing creative kids to follow an arts related track of classes (theater, dance, art, and music). The Middle School (grades 6-9) does have 2 art teachers and the kids take one semester of art in grades 7 and 8 which means up until the 7th grade, no formal programming exists. I don’t know if volunteers still give time to do art lessons like I did, or if the curriculum I wrote for the 5th grade is still in use, but suffice to say, no professionally certified K-12 Visual Arts licensed teachers are in the elementary schools with their own rooms full of supplies.
This is why I found the article interesting. Seems they used an Arts in Stark grant to run a special art program for 6th graders who were then compared to a non-art group to see who did better as far as reading test scores. Any guesses who won? The art kids did by a 95% better performance. Hmmmm….even my limited statistical sense tells me that art is a good idea for early childhood development. Just because I have a masters degree in art education, state certification to teach K-12 visual arts, and a thesis on early brain development and the visual arts, doesn’t mean my opinion (observation) should count for anything….but maybe Jackson should add some elementary art teachers? Seems we have coaches up the whazoo and specialty sports all over the map, so…..um no brainer people. Music starts in grade 5 and even that should be dropped to lower grades. I will never forget trudging down the hall to Mr. Marinak’s music room for flute lesson in the 4th grade. I can remember my first dress for my first band concert in elementary school in which I wore panty hose for the first time. Lucky for all of you that I found art a lot more fun!
It is unfortunate that some teachers consider a poster for a history lesson for example to also qualify as an art project. The copy paper turkey with traced hand feathers does not count either. Not all skies are blue and grass green, nor should some holiday be the reason behind taking time away from spelling to make some “art” for door decorations. I must say though that a little more time on spelling lessons would be a good idea. Qualified art teachers know how to intertwine the classroom with the art room. The report cards for Massillon and Canton Local School districts also showed double digit improvements. My point with this is to encourage schools to stop getting rid of art, music or gym in favor of academics. I can only speak professionally about visual arts, but it is as important in brain development as math and reading although I know that music and gym have proven benefits as well. Is it any wonder that art therapy is used for the treatment of stress and other ailments?
I know districts may not have the money to fund more teachers. How about giving the little kids a bucket of chalks, locate some blacktop (if any still exists near a school building) put up a few safety cones and let them scribble outside for half an hour? That being said, I have my own art to go make right now so here is my report card for Jackson. A+ on taking advantage of the grant and proving to yourself how important art education can be to the development of a child, F for not having any formal elementary art education.