It’s budget time here in Bristol and Warren (there’s a school committee budget meeting this Wednesday night), and like so many others around the country, our arts teachers are nervous. Historically, the arts (fine art, music, theater, and dance) are often the first thing to go when budgets are cut, and our school district is facing a drastic reduction in state aid beginning with the next school year. Cutting the arts from our public schools is an irresponsible and crippling decision, but it’s still done on a regular basis because of the deeply ingrained notions of too many people, some of whom happen to be in charge of the purse:
“The arts are just fluff.”
“The arts make for a nice hobby, but they can’t help you earn a living.”
“The arts are good for the super-talented, but everyone else is just wasting their time.”
<sigh.> This way of thinking is so outdated, so last century, but still far too prevalent. The truth is, the arts are vitally important to the education of every child for a whole host of reasons. One of those reasons is that the arts are particularly well-suited to teaching creativity, reflection, and innovation – skills that are increasingly recognized as critical to success in the 21st century. In fact, recent surveys show that an overwhelming majority (96%) of corporate leaders agree, “creativity is of increasing importance to the U.S. workforce.” They want employees who can apply creative-thinking skills, who can innovate, and who can solve problems to reach the best solution, but they are coming up short; most of those corporate leaders (85%) report “having difficulty finding qualified applicants with the creative characteristics they desired.”
Advances in neuroscience have revealed that creativity is not relegated to one part of the brain, or to one type of person. We all have the capacity for creative thought, and creativity can be applied in any field, whether fine art or physics, music or math, dance or basketball, theater or politics, etc. This is a wonderful, liberating realization, especially for children and their parents and educators. But you can’t just say to teachers, “Oh, and by the way, now we want you to teach the children to be creative, too.” Why would teachers know how to do this, when so many adults don’t consider themselves creative and corporations can’t find enough creative adults to fill their job openings?
Oh, wait, there are teachers who already know how to teach creativity – arts teachers!
This is why I love arts-integration, because it brings together a classroom teacher and an arts teacher to develop lesson plans that teach both regular classroom objectives and arts objectives, and results in deeper and more meaningful learning experiences for the students and the teachers. And since many arts-integration lessons are project-based lessons, they also teach creative-thinking, and reflection, and problem-solving, and innovation.
We don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to teaching creativity to our kids. What we have to do is support our arts teachers, and engage them in helping to develop more arts-integrated learning experiences in all our schools. So, you can see how cutting the arts departments wouldn’t really be a step in the right direction.