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Commentary: New Curriculum Needs to Focus On the Arts

Apr 11, 2013

Kaye Bonner Cummings

Later this year, when students return to the classroom after summer break, they’ll be greeted by a new curriculum that aims to replace the goals of No Child Left Behind. On this edition of Valley Public Radio’s commentary series “The Moral Is” Kaye Bonner Cummings says this presents a great opportunity to put the arts back in education.


Over many decades, various research studies have shown the value and effectiveness of arts education in the lives of school children, as well as its correlation to their achievement.  And yet, increasingly during this same period, educational decision makers have all but removed art education from the curriculum of most elementary schools.  Why?  It makes no sense!

This is what we know about why arts education matters: First, being a hands-on activity, the arts increase student engagement, focus on positive achievements and keep kids in school.  Second, the arts (including painting, singing in a chorus, dancing and acting) require positive behaviors and attitudes, such as patience, persistence and collaboration; thereby building character.  Third, the arts enhance creativity, a requirement of the 21st century workforce and rapidly changing world.  An example is the beautifully designed products of the Apple Corporation.  Fourth, critical thinking skills are also sought-after qualities in today’s world and the arts foster these higher levels of thinking.  For instance, how does one observe a painting, interpret a piece of music, analyze a play?  Fifth, the arts develop various language skills, such as learning to read musical notes for singing, composing or playing an instrument; memorizing dance steps, creating a painting or acting in a play.  Sixth, the arts provide a fun way to learn math principles, such as creating a work of art using measuring tools.  Seventh, the arts can be used to teach about historical periods or make literature come alive. For instance, in one community, Shakespeare plays are used to teach anti-bullying lessons.

There are many other rewards to be found in the arts---qualities such as beauty, joy, grace, emotion, empathy; as well as life lessons such as teamwork and developing a passion for learning.  And, finally, a multitude of studies have shown that the arts in the curriculum almost always improve test scores.  Therefore, reducing or eliminating the arts in education reduces the likelihood of student success and societal satisfaction.

Fortunately, times are changing. The new national curriculum, the Common Core State Standards, which include arts education as an essential component, is replacing No Child Left Behind.  In addition the teaching of the sciences is to be enhanced in a program known as STEM (aka science, technology, engineering and mathematics). In an article in Education Leadership, Robert and Michele Root-Bernstein,, proposed “finding ways to foster arts education alongside science education – and even better, finding ways to integrate the two”. 

The purpose of this coupling is “to produce students capable of creative participation in a science- dominated society like ours”.  As Max Planck, a Nobel Prize winner and accomplished pianist, said, “The creative scientist needs an artistic imagination”.  Indeed, so do our children need and deserve this “artistic imagination”!

Finally- and so importantly- arts education will foster new audiences for the arts, which is critical to keeping alive the symphony orchestras, museums, theaters, operas and dance productions so necessary to the life and health of our communities and our nation! 

The views expressed on The Moral Is are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Valley Public Radio.