Nothing 'Extra' About Music and Arts

I don’t need to tell any of you about current economic conditions. My guess is that, like me, you go home and turn on the evening news, watch the stock market fall, our 401(k) plans become 201(k)’s, and monies for education programs evaporate. Looking for some good news, I welcomed the weekend (and even the six-hour drive) to see two of my grandsons perform in the Arizona Northwest Regional Music Festival Honor Band. The hard work of the students and teachers was obvious, and I couldn’t have been prouder of all the kids who performed. But then, back to reality as I listened to those dedicated educators asking our help so that music and the arts programs in schools not be another victim of the struggling economy.

I may be a little biased when it comes to supporting music and the arts, but with good reason. I spent my happiest (and most productive) days in college as a part of a performing group, the I-Uppers. What I learned from this experience was much more than music. Our director, Leonard DeFabo (head of IUP’s psychology department) taught us discipline, responsibility, self-confidence, the value of hard work, and the necessity of teamwork — lessons that have served me well in life. Speaking from personal experience, I can say that the arts are a lot more than just “extras.”

In January, the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practice released its report, Arts & the Economy: Using Arts and Culture to Stimulate State Economic Development. The report states that the arts and culture are important to state economies. The report also states, “the business leaders polled in the 2008 Conference Board survey concurred that arts education — and to a lesser extent communications education — is a critical component of preparing students to be productive contributors to U.S. businesses. This finding is consistent with a growing body of research that documents how K-12 arts education can develop the precise cognitive, analytic, and communications skills that are most competitive in the emerging global economy.”

Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development is a report published by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a coalition of more than 100 national education, arts, philanthropic, and government organizations. This study reveals important relationships between learning in the arts, thinking skills, and motivations that underlie academic achievement and effective social behavior. Six major areas of influence were identified:
  1. Reading and Language - Dramatic enactments of stories and text improves reading comprehension, story understanding, and ability to read new materials young children have not seen before. Other arts learning experiences develop skills that enhance writing proficiency.
  2. Mathematics - Certain music instruction develops spatial reasoning, and spatial-temporal reasoning skills, fundamental to understanding and using mathematical ideas and concepts.
  3. Fundamental Cognitive Skills and Capacities - Individual art forms and multi-arts experiences strengthen the capacity for organizing and sequencing ideas, theorizing about outcomes and consequences, problem solving, and creative thinking.
  4. Motivations to Learn – The arts nurture active engagement; self-confidence and self-efficacy; and increases in attendance, educational aspirations, and ownership of learning.
  5. Effective Social Behavior – Participation in the arts show student growth in self-control, conflict resolution, collaboration, empathy, and social tolerance.
  6. School Environment - Create an environment that is conducive to teacher and student success by fostering teacher innovation, a positive professional culture, community engagement, increased student attendance and retention, effective instructional practice, and school identity.

The report Living the Arts through Language + Learning: A Report on Community-based Youth Organizations states that young people who consistently participate in comprehensive, sequential, and rigorous arts programs are:
  • four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement;
  • three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools;
  • four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair;
  • three times more likely to win an award for school attendance; and
  • four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem.

In 1997, The College Board reported that students with four years of study in the arts outscored students with no arts instruction by a combined total of 101 points on the verbal and mathematics portions of the SAT. Statistically significant links are now being reported between music instruction and tested intelligence in preschool children. In one widely cited study (Neurological Research, Feb. 1997), after six months, students who had received keyboard instruction performed 34 percent higher on tests measuring temporal-spatial ability than did students without instruction. The findings indicate that music instruction enhances the same higher brain functions required for mathematics, chess, science, and engineering.

There is no question that the budget shortages will mean cuts, but I’m not so sure that music and the arts should be written off as “extras.”