The Power of Arts Integration
Your first thoughts when you hear the word "art" is probably something along the lines of famous paintings and drawings of fruit. This is most people's initial thoughts on art. Unfortunately, many never learn that artist aren't just Frenchmen with painter hats or some deceased guy who had a thing for melting clocks. Art is absolutely everywhere. Yes, I fully understand how dreadfully cliché that sounds. Allow me to show you what I mean. Look at whatever device you're reading this on or perhaps the paper it's printed on. Do you know how this device or piece of dead tree came to be? It was an idea. Somebody had a thought and they explored it. Perhaps, they saw a problem in the world and felt the need to address it. On the other hand, they could have just been bored and needed to kill time. Art is all about experimenting and problem solving. It can be a form of visual problem solving and even auditory problem solving. In order to be successful you need to have the ability to solve the problems you're faced with.
In my experience as a student, I have had several opportunities to use my passions in art to learn other course material. In my time attending Tri-County Early College, I've made paintings and was able to use them to make connections to physics, math, Spanish, and history. Not only have I made personal connections, but I've also helped my peers make connections to their passions. Crafts, photography, drawing, editing, and much more. These are real skills and talents people can use in their life. Tri-County Early College allows students to connect whatever they feel passionate about to the material they are learning. We are given the standards we need to learn and we are allowed to learn them however fits us. Now I'm seeing these things in my school and I'm seeing people feel like they are actually learning something of use.
Art not only connects with math, science, languages, and history, but they lean on each other in various ways. Many have heard of STEM in education. It's essentially education based on science, technology, engineering, and math. There is a big debate occurring over whether arts belong in that mix. STEAM education would acknowledge the need for arts in the educational system. This movement could also potentially help funding for the art programs. Knowing this we have to ask ourselves why have art teachers and visual arts in particular been cut by 45% in US schools over the last 30 years? This has been happening for quite some time across the Country, including in North Carolina where recently the NC House Bill 13 was passed. This bill seems great at face value because it will reduce the amount of students in grades kindergarten through third grade, but less students in classrooms means more teachers. More teachers means more money is needed. Where this money is coming from? You guessed it, arts and physical education funds. The arts are typically the first thing the schools choose to cut to save money.
What are the costs to the students' educations when the arts are being cut? Here are some examples. During a fourth-grade lesson on geometry in a school in Vermont, the class examined the work of the famous Russian artist, Wassily Kandinsky. The class then talked about his work and made their own versions of Kandinsky's work to show the use of angles. This allowed students to learn about angles and geometry in a visual hands on style.This example of their learning being enhanced now goes away with the loss art funds. Another example is an art teacher from my district, Dedra Davis, stated that the results of her study showed that students were much more engaged when an arts component was a part of the unit of study. Davis is one of the few art teachers in the district and has to move between two schools to teach. This is struggle on her because this constant movement leaves her very little time for planning. This planning time is essential to ensure there is a quality lesson and learning experiences to be gained.
Students can't be expected to learn everything from lectures and blocks of text. They need to be involved with their learning not just experiencing it. "Arts Integration allows us to build chefs who make choices -- not cooks who merely follow the recipe," says Susan Riley, an arts integration expert who has written several books and articles on the subject. Additionally the famous Sir Ken Robinson states, children aren't born afraid to be wrong in the TED talk, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?" He says that they are taught in schools that to make mistakes is bad. This makes us afraid of failure and essentially afraid of being original.
When it comes down to actually integrating art into other courses there needs to be some creativity. It's more than just tossing two subjects into the same room. They have to feed off of each other and engulf the student into in-depth learning. A local North Carolina arts teacher named Ray Kaylor states in order to be successful you have to be willing to try new things. Kaylor is a college art history teacher I've had as my instructor since sophomore year. [Tri-County Early College allows me to take college level courses while I'm in high school.] Kaylor has influenced my life and his class is what inspired me to be an artist. It's scary to have someone see your art because you're putting parts of yourself into it. People are often so afraid of failure, they won't even try. You have to get past that fear in order to succeed. You will fail occasionally, but what truly matters is what you do with that failure. You have to be willing to look at what went wrong and make a new approach. Kaylor states, "Successful people are gonna be problem solvers which is what you do in art—solve problems." Even in the task of drawing an apple you are faced with countless problems. Shading, illusion of depth, proportions, and medium. Every piece of art has individualization to it. It's not the final product that teaches you, but the process of getting there. Your final goal can change, meaning that your road can go anywhere. This is where the learning really happens.
Arts will teach students skills that they will need in life. It will allow them to have original thoughts instead of the standard textbook material they are force-fed from entering school. If you walk into a classroom of 1st graders and ask "who here is an artist?" You're going to see nearly every hand shoot up. Now walk into their classroom when they are in middle school and ask again, "who here is an artist?" This time less than half raise their hands. Finally repeat the process again when they are in high school. You will be lucky to see a single hand. Can you really blame them? After all, art isn't something valued by the educational system so why should they value it themselves? Well, let's get back to my original point, the device in your hands. Now let's imagine what those kids who used to claim to be artists and all of the things they have the potential to do. We have discussed that art requires problem solving, creativity, and being brave enough to show your work. These are skills these students need in the real world. We have to allow them to learn things for themselves in a way that best benefits them. This is a lot of trust to put into a student. Although students have been told they have to trust their schools to give them the proper education, but how can they trust the schools who are cutting back on the skills they will need in the real world? There has to be a mutual trust between the two so they can both flourish. Schools have to prioritize what's going to most benefit the student and help them flourish in the real world. Art will do just that. Just imagine what the future will hold when art is finally acknowledged and integrated into the curriculum of all schools. I'm lucky enough to have had that opportunity and hope to see it in every other student's education.