Elementary School Students Need Art
Intelligence consists not of how much one knows or understands, but the capacity to understand and the willingness to do so. I recently noticed how many people, including my eleven-year-old sister, tend to immediately scoff at works of art or literature without analyzing what the work means or how it pertains to them. Many of the people I know, children my sister's age, teenagers, and even adults, close their minds to the possibilities that art holds before they find time to consider just what those possibilities mean. Despite art appreciation's reliance on personal preference, this reaction results greatly from a lack of education in art itself. Although many believe that schools should focus on a basic education with the arts as an option (or even only extra-curricular), schools should include art as an essential part of the elementary school curriculum.
A sufficient background in art will help students choose future classes, activities, and even careers. "Already, a recent survey of corporate CEO's revealed that finding creative talent for this new workforce is the number one concern of businesses" (Cameron), says Ben Cameron in an article for American Theatre magazine. Kathleen J. Turner, a professor of communication at Queens University, says that "Recent studies consistently show that in your lifetime, you are likely to hold eight different jobs – not only with different organizations, but also in entirely different areas" (Turner). Although elementary school students do not already need to consider future jobs, they will at least test other areas to find out what to keep in mind as they grow and make decisions. If schools expose the students to art along with everything else in the curriculum, the students will possess a wider range of knowledge and interests as they grow up. Kathleen J. Turner says, "…the liberal arts don't emphasize training through specialized knowledge tailored for specific work, like engineering or the law. Instead, the liberal arts emphasize an education: a breadth of knowledge as well as a variety of ways of thinking – that provide insight through a multitude of perspectives" (Turner). Also, if children know what they like and do not like, they can avoid wasting time on activities that do not interest them and spend more time on those that do. Some people may think that elementary school students do not need to think about their futures right away due to their young ages, and that the students should focus on more concrete subjects until high school. However, children decide or start deciding their futures as soon as they can inform their parents of their choices. They regularly say, "I want to be… when I grow up." In fact, at age eight, my sister decided that she wanted to be a scientist. Providing an adequate background in all subjects will help children realize what else they want to do with their lives.
Forcing children to think and see the world around them differently, the arts promote creativity and "stretch" minds. Children open their minds to new ideas more frequently than teenagers and adults, who have more access to learning about art. For example, the elementary school level Odyssey of the Mind combined art with learning to grasp complicated or abstract ideas. When I participated in the program in elementary school, we preformed a short skit in which we worked together to solve the characters' problem. When we discussed the skit later, we concluded that the skit worked better to solve the problem and help us understand than writing a paper or using a different approach. Unfortunately, budget cuts cause a teacher shortage, and schools only budget enough money for basic education with arts on the side in high school and placed in even lesser importance in elementary schools. According to Jeff Archer, "Faced with shrinking budget cuts and a reluctance among communities to shoulder a heavier tax burden, many districts have been forced to set priorities for their programs and trim those that many consider extras or frills. Often, music is among the first to go, especially at the elementary school level" (Archer). The "extras or frills" that school districts remove from the curriculums actually enhance the student's learning process and broaden their perspectives as much, if not more, than science or history, which schools do not dream of removing.
Learning about art in elementary school would help students understand other subjects. In history, the art of certain time periods generally defines the culture of that era. For example, the art of the middle ages seems two-dimensional and centered around the church or daily activities, such as agriculture, much like the average peasant's view on life. Not only would an art background help students understand past cultures, it would help them create and understand the current one. Art is a form of communication and can help students as they develop communication skills in the understanding of themselves and each other. A professor of art education at Florida State University, Tom Anderson says, "Artists connect through ideas and emotions through the physical act of constructing aesthetic forms to represent their meanings" (Anderson). Some forms of art, such as music, prove to develop math skills, as well. Many schools lack the time or money to cover all of the materials in class. But, if the art education combines with the teaching of other subjects, such as history, math, or the social development usually enforced during elementary school, teachers could cover the materials adequately, if not more adequately because art enhances the learning process. My third grade teacher put this to the test by teaching us songs and relating pictures to encourage us to pay attention and remember the lessons. Also, she encouraged us to interpret stories ourselves and talk about them. I, at least, felt I possessed a better understanding of the subjects afterwards. Art gives students the visual aid and stimulus to help them grasp the subjects.
Art enhances the learning process, stimulates the imagination, approaches topics differently than usual, and brings many different perspectives to light. Recognition of art's importance in the world matters a great deal to preserving society's future and its past. Perhaps, instilling an appreciation or, at least, an understanding of art in children can help them become more open-minded, creative citizens with new ideas, perspectives, and problem-solving skills. Perhaps, knowledge of the arts will help them choose what they want to become, discover themselves now, or not even make a noticeable difference. Whatever the outcome, most communities want to give their children the richest learning environment and background possible to help them in their future goals, experiences, and careers. By not exposing them to the arts, those communities neglect to give the children what can help their learning the most.