When discussing the need to prioritize arts education, I wish the following quote by Kurt Vonnegut was convincing enough: “[The arts] are a very human way of making life more bearable.” That reasoning should be enough, because the arts are what we need to live in this life, but unfortunately we live in a society where political ghouls are always ready in the wings to gouge education funding, particularly for the arts.
So, if it were me, personally, I’d answer that they should invest in the arts because it’s the human thing to do. We all enjoy creating something. Investing in the arts is like investing in a creator. I’d argue that we don’t need evidence or anything, because Vonnegut’s quote is sound enough to go by. The arts are the only way to make life more bearable. It sounds nice, doesn’t it?
But we don’t live in a society where decision-makers act with human kindness based on their own intuition and exposure to living on Earth among their fellow humans. Those decision-makers need numbers to convince them of their own humanity. With my skeptical lens, I will start with the reasons why we should doubt any need for investing in the arts:
- Eisner (1999) explains that a lot of existing studies reported to show evidence that the arts contributes to academic achievement are flimsy at best. The waters of proof are muddied with statistical insignificance and reported evidence that flat-out doesn’t exist. There are a lot of reports making bold claims, and none of them are actually backed by hard evidence. So, since the science’s evidencce is untrustworthy, filled with many charlatans who are using narrow frameworks, then we should not invest in the arts because there’s nothing but pools of doubt.
- Eisner (1999) explains that “we need a theory that explains the connection between the cognitive skills that work of all kinds in the arts develop and the functions that these skills perform in academic work.” The lack of a sound theory and its associating evidence is reason enough for why we shouldn’t invest in the arts, since there isn’t a good theory, there can’t be good science. Therefore, we shouldn’t invest in the arts until there’s a sound theory that’s been tested.
- Keeping in mind with the two above points that highlight how difficult it is to measure the connection between the arts and academic achievement, since the school isn’t being measured by arts performance, we definitely shouldn’t be investing in the arts. Schools are measured by test scores around math, reading and so on. Without a direct measurement, the school would only be wasting its money.
But now, let’s turn over to the reasons why we should be investing in the arts, using evidence and the like:
- “Reports of the effects of arts education on academic achievement appear to be most notable in programs that are specifically designed to help students with reading problems learn to read through the arts. As educationally virtuous as such effects might be, these programs are specifically designed to teach reading: the arts are resources to this end,” ( Eisner, 1999, p. 145). Even with that element of the arts only being a resource, I think this is a perfect example as to why we should invest in the arts. Many students struggle to read within our education system and using every resource available to us, including the arts, can serve as a useful tool. Especially if a cost-benefit analysis is made comparing existing reading tools with arts-based reading tools, you could certainly find room for using arts in this way.
- In The Educational Value of Field Trips Greene, Bowen and Kisia (2013) explain that field trips have moved from cultural enrichment to rewards based, in an effort to help inspire students to work harder and get higher test scores. I wonder how we as a society have become so reliant on the absurd notion of a token economy where every little thing has become strangely transactional. I digress, but I think it’s strange that we invest money on bread and circuses instead of meaningful opportunities that students might never be able to experience outside of the school. With that said, Green, Bowen and Kisia’s study finds that enriching field trips, to an art museum in this instance, helped students experience a variety of measurable positive benefits, including around critical thinking, developing historical empathy, increasing tolerance and recalling information. Instead of wasting money on a trip to a baseball game, or whatever, that money should at least go back towards enriching field trips that will help the students on some measure, instead of just letting them turn their brains off during a “reward” period.
- Eisner (1999) also explains that arts education “appears” to cultivate several dispositions, including the ability to imagine possibilities that might be, to explore ambiguity and to recognize and accept multiple perspectives. These dispositions, or skillsets are vitally important to ensuring a peaceful world. Today’s age is greatly lacking in these qualities among many folks and investing in the arts will help do away with views that are purely selfish and unimaginative. So, investing in the arts will help us educate out bad qualities by building up these good qualities that are related to problem solving and accepting thy neighbor.
I would recommend that we collect only individual data at our own school. The premise would be that we ask one simple question: did the arts make life more bearable? I think the other evidence available to us is good and all, but the value of the arts is a personal experience for each individual. Does the arts make your life more bearable? Even that Garfield cartoon strip you saw the other day? If yes, then we should certainly be investing in the arts at schools.