Arts Education: Why It’s Worth Fighting For

Introduction:

Public education in American high schools aims to give students a wide array of classes and knowledge to prep for graduation. For all future plans, the education that they have received will be following them. In most high schools, this vast array is decreasing. The schools are cutting the art programs and classes. This is almost always due to budget cuts as the arts are perceived to be less important than sports. Yet, with the art programs being gone, the academic performance and mental health of these students begins to decrease. Many high schools are noticing and feeling these effects. The Wanette School District in Oklahoma explores this. They discuss how they used to teach art 5 days a week, allowing students who have trouble in subjects such as math, or science, succeed. The program cut to 2 days a week with most of the curriculum being art history taught online, and few students wanted to take the class.

Due to the number of times similar situations have occurred, one might think that having an arts program or class is not important. Sports receive the majority of the funding for their teams, because sports are the image of public schooling in America. Doing so fails to acknowledge that not all students in every school want or wish to play sports. Some would instead focus their energy into the arts. Why do schools rush to cut the programs and classes that many of their students need to succeed both in academics  and mentally? Why are sports the face of public education? What are the performance trends of students after cuts occur, and what are some solutions to this problem?

What exactly is an arts program?

The Fine Arts Department of the Katy Independent School District describes art as “education in the disciplines of music, dance, theatre, and visual arts.” Texas A&M student Faustina Gallagher writes that the purpose of an arts program is to provide a “positive effect on student academic performance by engaging students in creative project-based art learning.” The arts help foster an environment in which students can learn to express themselves in a positive manner. Why cut educational programs and teachings that are only there to benefit the students’ learnings. Why not enhance their learning and their mental health with these programs?

How do the arts relate to sports?

Arts are not the only form of extracurricular in public school education. Sports are the face of public schooling and receive the most attention. Because of this attention, sports are able to get more funding. This makes them more likely to stay when budget cuts are being made. This is unfair to students as the arts are very important to their academic education and mental well being. “The goal of school sports is the enrichment of the high school experience. This occurs within the context of the educational mission of schools.” Who is to say that the arts also don’t provide students with enrichment of their high school experience. According to the National Federation of State High School,  “the community often feels that a “successful” football or basketball program is the identity of the community and cutting those programs is like cutting the heart out of the community itself.” They also explain how “a school district without the arts leaves many students without an outlet for the creative capabilities and without options for expression of their talents. These are the students who often are overlooked and are often the ones who need an outlet the most.”  Not only do the arts help students in their academics, but they also help students mentally. By cutting this type of education, both will decrease. The National Assembly of States Art Agencies (NASAA) helps to advocate for the arts in public schools across the United States. “Their most recent report for the 2019 fiscal year shows that after adjusting for inflation, art funding throughout the years has decreased 43.4 percent.” Organizations such as NASAA understand that the arts are as important as sports. They want the schools to find a way to reallocate their resources in a way so that all students can have an outlet to channel their energy.

How do the arts affect mental health?

“Making art is helping many people express themselves, without having to use words.” In an educational setting it can be hard for students to express themselves as they want to have a sense of belonging. Going to school can be hard, especially when there isn’t a place or a person that a student feels comfortable confiding in. This can be both physically and emotionally. Involvement in the arts advocates for that sense. According to researcher Laura Young, “arts activities can provide a safe place to express or reflect on difficult emotions. Additionally, when adolescents are emotionally distracted, the arts can provide a meaningful, targeted focus.” The most important thing to acknowledge from this quote is the introduction of a “safe space.” As students get older, they start to recognize some of their emotions. These emotions can be different to explore, and students need a way to help channel and center them. The arts have shown to give an outlet in which students can be creative and calm in a space. Not only would students then be able to channel what emotions they feel in a positive way, they create community., and establish that sense of belonging.

Key Words/Phrases in regards to Mental Health and the Arts

Journals and articles discussing the relationship between mental health and the arts all have outcomes that are very similar to one another. This is not a coincidence. The data has shown that the arts have a positive impact on mental health. The connection cannot be ignored, and our focus must be on arts education. Why decrease or not even teach a subject that has such a positive effect in our lives.

These words and phrases include: Sense of joy, Engagement, Social connection, Alleviates loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression, and isolation, Boosts confidence, Improves overall well-being, Engagement, and Resilience.

Conclusion

As stated in the introduction, public education in American high schools aims to aid students for life after graduation. After conducting the research for this synthesis, arts based classes and skills need to be in the standard curriculum. This also includes keeping or creating more arts based extracurriculars for the school. It is important to note that budget cuts do exist, but this funding is not distributed between extracurriculars. We asked the question of why sports receive the majority of funding. and why the arts programs have to go when cuts need to occur. The goals of both extracurriculars are for enrichment, and to provide outlets. With arts in their lives, the mental health of students increases. The students don’t have to fear their sense of belonging and can be a part of a community. For all ages, academic performance increases with art extracurriculars and curriculum. This helps students channel their creativity into their learning. Which in turn allows them to comprehend and think in different ways. The research presented in this review showcased the importance of the arts. It also explains why arts need to stay within the American public school system. Earlier in my post I asked questions that may not be so simple to answer. Why do schools rush to cut the programs and classes that many of their students need to succeed both academically and mentally? Why are sports the face of public education? What are the trends in the performance of students after cuts have occurred. What are some solutions to this problem? To understand these questions is to gain an understanding of the arts and its benefits. What could be more important than a students performance and well being.

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