In the following videos, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton articulate their support for the arts:
A noteworthy commonality between these two videos is that both of them say that arts education is valuable because it helps students excel in other areas. Obama specifically mentions the connection between mathetmatics and music abilities. And Hillary cites research that shows that students who engage in the arts do better in school than those with no artistic exposure or engagement. This argument about the connection between the arts and other subjects is valid, and support from the current President of the United States and the Secretary of State is no small feat for arts education. But this reasoning still makes the arts secondary. Obama says that the arts are necessary to education, and not just a frill, and I wholeheartedly agree. But why do we need to prove their value? Why does the value of an education in the arts have to be in reference to what they can do for students achievement in other subjects? How often do politicians, parents, teachers or school administrators question the value of English or mathematics? Have you ever heard anyone ask, “What can an algebra course do to help a child’s skill level in ballet or drama?” Instead, the service and support the arts provide to the other areas of education is focused on.
Now, I don’t mean to invalidate this argument in any way. As both Hillary and Obama say, there is an immense amount of research to support what the arts do to enrich the personal and academic lives of students of all ages, and I have a slew of firsthand experience that speaks directly to this point. So I guess my question isn’t so much, “why do we need to prove it?” but “why do we need to CONTINUE to prove it before things start to change?”
In the town hall video posted above, Obama says, “Part of what arts education does is it teaches people to see each other through each other’s eyes. It teaches us to respect and understand people who are not like us. And that makes us better citizens and makes our democracy work better.” This should be the argument to move policy makers and school administrators to keep the arts in schools. Making our students better thinkers, citizens and human beings: that is what arts education can do for our students. What more proof do you need?