I’d like to plead guilty. I am guilty of declaring that the arts feed the soul. I am guilty of reminding other educators that, for some students, arts classes are the only thing that gets them to school. But this week, as I heard another arts educator say these same things to a large audience, I found myself feeling embarrassed. What are we doing?!
Around the Moon by Nancy Hannans, artist and educator
The reality, if we are willing to see it, is that while some students only find joy in their arts classes, other students only go to school because they love their science class, or math, or social studies! Yet, we don’t hear educators in those fields declaring, on a regular basis, that their disciplines bring joy.
So why do arts educators do this? I think the answer is fairly simple. We believe we have to defend the value of the arts. If we want educators to listen, I believe we are going about it all wrong. We are shouting the wrong message.
If we are shouting “the arts feed the soul!” we are not shouting “students learn valuable skills in arts classes!”
It’s time to stop being defensive, and start speaking the language of 21st Century education. The arts have long excelled in teaching communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, and now we find ourselves in an educational environment that values these skills. We are no longer (or should I just say ‘not currently’?) in an environment that only values the three Rs of Readin’, ‘Ritin’, and ‘Rithmatic.
Let’s change our message. Let’s stop trying to defend ourselves from an outdated paradigm, and communicate our strengths in educational terms. Let’s start telling how the arts are teaching the skills that students need to be successful in the 21st Century.
Perhaps, first, we will need to take a critical look at exactly what we are teaching and find creative solutions for measuring our students growth in the areas we know we help them grow. And as we change our own mindset and see other educators, not as competitors but as partners, we will be able to collaborate in new ways to make learning more meaningful for all of our students.