Katie Brabham graduated from Eastern in 2011 with a degree in music education. In 2014, Brabham was put in charge of the music department at Bishopville Primary School-Annex in South Carolina. When Brabham first began this position, she was working with the bare minimum, but this didn’t stop her from pursuing her love of arts and education. Using the site donorschoose.org, she sought to involve the community in raising money to buy instruments for the students. Brabham’s is one of the many voices we need supporting the arts in schools. When she became a music teacher she was told that she was going to have to fight for arts advocacy, and so she did. With the help of the public, she worked to keep the arts as an important part of education. Brabham is confident that the department will continue to grow, largely due to the overwhelming support of the community. Still, she expresses concern for what future generations will look like if the arts are taken out of schools.
As school budgets are tightened, the arts are often one of the first departments to be cut. There seems to be a prevailing idea that fields of study like science and mathematics take precedence over the arts because they are viewed as more practical or useful. And while science and math are valuable and fundamental in order to develop into thoughtful persons, the arts should not be devalued at the expense of other areas of study. In fact, research shows that an education in the arts positively impacts students in other areas of academia as well. In the late 1990s, James Catterall analyzed the results from a study that the National Educational Longitudinal Survey conducted in which they surveyed 25,000 secondary school students over a four-year period. In 2009, he reevaluated the data, along with the 10 years of data since the first study, and found that students from “arts-rich” schools in low-income areas were more likely to have higher grades in school, to graduate and to continue on in higher education than students from “arts-poor” schools in low-income areas. Further, for those students who were more involved in the arts, there was a greater percentage of them in the top two quartiles for standardized tests and the top two quartiles for reading than those with low involvement.
These are all great ways that students benefit from the arts, but put aside these statistics, and we still see the importance of the arts as a good in and of themselves. We often find that good things cannot be measured and fit into an ideal number or fact. The conversation about arts in education should not be shaped by the language of utility, but rather we should value the arts for their own sake. Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland are researchers for Project Zero, the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s arts education program. They published a study arguing that arts should be supported in schools, not because they improve standardized test scores, but because they are good and worthy of time and study. Elliot Eisner, professor emeritus in the education department at Stanford University, claimed that arts have an experiential value that cannot be rivaled. Edward Pauly, Director of Research and Evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, an organization that helps provide funds for art education, echoes this sentiment that “there is no substitute for listening to jazz, seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ performed, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ seeing the Vietnam War Memorial. Those powerful experiences only come about through the arts.”
Within our education, the arts ought to be valued not just for the way they shape our academic achievements or even the way in which we interact with others, but simply because they are a good.
Sources: AEP-Arts.org, The Kennedy Center, The New York Times, WLTX.com