In April , I blogged a rationale for funding Arts programs and integrated Arts instruction as part of basic education, based on 3 principles:
- We need the Arts to be human
- “Art Means Business”
- The Arts make us think, feel, and do differently
In May , I followed up with resources for content teachers who want to integrate Arts into their students’ learning experiences.
Now that June brings an end to the school year, I’d like to address 2 prevalent arguments against Arts education:
- Why throw away money and time on archaic skills that don’t lead to lucrative jobs or big impacts on life? Art is more a hobby than an essential part of education.
- By promoting Arts education, we’re competing with STEM/CTE and real innovation like the Maker Movement, which offer students modern skills for real jobs.
The basic gist of these and most Arts education counterclaims is that the Arts just aren’t a fiscally responsible investment in the current age of technology, ultimately adding a lot of “fluff” that takes young people down a rabbit trail of tuition debt without the achievement of wage-earning job skills. It is my assertion that both prevalent, economics-based positions are working from a limited and limiting perspective that doesn’t fully assuage their very real and commendable underlying concerns. Rather, the Arts and compatible industries mean thriving, flexible business; therefore, investing in Arts education is valuable and necessary.
If you google search “Are the Arts a waste of time?,” or some similar phraseology, you will find plenty of research-based support for Arts integration in both education and communities. If supportive research predominates, why are Arts programs often the first to be cut back on or to be punted to PTA/O and private donor funding when purse-strings are tight? In case this seems like a back-burner issue , please take a look at its importance to educators and students in Boston , Chicago , Oklahoma , and Kentucky , or scrutinize who is funding California Arts learning, or take a gander at some recent Presidential hopefuls’ commentary on the wrongly supposed dichotomy between Arts and STEM education. This is a tiny list of affected regions and affecting sources, but in each situation money is doing the urgent talking — and in most cases, equity is at stake.
Arts education is not a luxury, a side-show, or an enrichment program for children of privilege; resources, materials, professional learning for Arts and content teachers, and pre-service programs for Arts educators must be viewed as essential elements of basic education investment. A philosophy isn’t reality until we put it into action, and that takes funding and implementation.
I’ll begin with the first counterpoint.
Certainly, and especially when funds are tight, we should not overspend time or money on endeavors that do not add value to students’ learning experiences. The notion that the Arts don’t lead to wage-earning jobs or make significant impacts on life, however, doesn’t fit the bill. In fact, creative industries (those careers relying on Art skills) are a multi-billion dollar economic powerhouse in the United States. And that’s not counting careers in which Arts skills are highly valued but not task-central. According to the NASSA , “Workers in the arts and culture sector received $334.9 billion in compensation in 2012. Museum employees earned $4.2 billion, and those in the performing arts earned $6.8 billion,” and “[f]or every arts job created in America in 2012, an additional 1.62 positions outside of the arts were created as a result.”
If we continue to believe that an Arts education won’t lead to a lucrative career, one that can flex with the times, we may cheat the next generation out of really valuable economic opportunity: how are you affected by a chef, a photographer, a painter, a musician, a film producer, a furniture designer, an actor, a textiles expert, an author, a library or museum curator? No, those careers listed won’t cure cancer or result in the next billion-dollar gizmo, but artisans make valuable contributions to everyday life. Arts careers make life worth living, for all of us — and I’m not certain hobbies are anything to sneer at, given their stress-reducing and community-building potential. Learning to create and intelligently consume the products of creative industries has a well-earned place in education.
The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics published the following table illustrating wage earning power for a sampling of creative industries positions; the table appears in Dennis Vilorio’s excellent June 2015 article, “Careers for Creative People.”
|Occupation||Median annual wage, May 2014|
|Artists and related workers|
|Fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators||43,890|
|Multimedia artists and animators||63,630|
|Commercial and industrial designers||64,620|
|Set and exhibit designers||49,810|
|Media and communication workers|
|Writers and authors||58,850|
|Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics survey (excludes self-employed).|
Let’s look at the second counterpoint.
STEM, CTE, and the Maker Movement match well with current and likely future job prospects for the next generation. In addition, all 3 offer unique and valuable learning experiences for students. Funding, time, and effort spent on the Arts need not compete with STEM, CTE, or MM; indeed, these efforts integrate nicely as they share numerous goals. Let’s look at an artifact recently tweeted by Michael Werner, an innovative CTE educator at Granite Falls HS in Washington, whose students continue to achieve on a national and international scale:
Note the 21st Century skills mind-mapped as part of this entry point to a lesson. Now let’s take a look at an info-graphic from the National Art Education Association; note how similar these learning outcomes are to the 21st century skills focused on in a CTE setting. Innovation, open-mindedness, volition, critical thinking, social communications, flexibility and resourcefulness (grit) — among others.
STEAM, a recent addition to the acronym parade, encapsulates the easily integrate-able nature of these cohorts. For a truly full and effective education, students need to encounter a wide-array of 21st C job skills and a rich palette of “being-human” skills. These common ideals are those that spurred public education in the US: to offer equal opportunity for all children to access knowledge and skills needed for participation in the democratic experience and in life. Not leaving the Arts behind in kids’ learning experiences is so important, that National Core Arts Standards were created in 2014. Established STEM groups and proponents are promoting the idea of Arts integration, hence the STEAM movement. The Arts are poised neither to water-down nor to enhance STEM, CTE, and MM, but to partner with these important educational endeavors.
Educating students in any discipline is not solely about preparing kids to enter the workforce; the hope is to develop adults who retain and apply a sense of caring, wonder, and thoughtfulness about the world around and within them. Check out Sheila Patek’s defense of discovery. The Arts are a very real pathway to the workforce, and they are an important part of our growth as people. Our kids deserve the Arts in their education.