If We Strip Away The Arts at School, What Do We Have Left?

In a fit of sentimentality, I recently looked up my old grade school: Laguna Road Elementary. After soaking up memories of scraped-knees on the blacktop, Oregon Trail in the library, and art projects in the patios, my thoughts turned to the crowning glory of those years: the sixth grade play.

Winter 99, 7
Me on the left!

Moments from our class’ rendition of Into the Woods are forever etched in my memory–my absurd shoe-fitting as wicked stepsister Florinda, the princes’ hilarious performance of “Agony,” our paper mache Milky White cow. My thoughts also turned to my older sisters’ productions of Midsummer Night’s Dream, Oliver!, and another Into the Woods.

My reminiscences were suddenly interrupted, however, by a startling parent review on GreatSchools.org.

“They spend too time on the 6th grade play and little time reviewing for the CST (California State Testing).”

Another parent wrote:

“Best part of all….when they get [to their new school], our kids will not be wasting their 6th grade at this new school putting on a play.”

I was shocked. Perhaps these reviewers’ children were simply disappointed at the roles they received for their plays (I know I sure was at first). Maybe they just felt uncomfortable with public speaking. Or maybe they do in fact value standardized testing over performance arts.

If the latter is true for these and other parents, my question is, are the arts really a waste? And what happens to schools when we strip them away?

At the recent passing of legendary David Bowie, Stephanie wrote a brief but thought-provoking reflection on why everyone was taking the time to exchange favorite songs and memories. Her bottom line? “Because music matters.”

The case for the arts in school is also well-backed by research. One study at the University of California Los Angeles found:

“…”arts-engaged” students from low-income families demonstrated greater college-ongoing rates and better grades in college. As an example, low-income students from arts-rich high schools were more than twice as likely to earn a B.A. as low-income students from arts-poor high schools. Moreover, the UCLA researchers found the students engaged in the arts were more likely to be employed in jobs with potential career growth and more involved in volunteerism and the political life of their communities.”

The list goes on; other studies spanning the last couple of decades detail the many irreplaceable benefits of the arts for kids, ranging from greater proficiency in academic subjects to increased capacity for community connection to higher graduation rates.

As for me, the answer to what would be left without the arts is–very little. I honestly remember almost nothing else from sixth grade–least of all the testing. But I will forever and vividly recall that play. Furthermore, I don’t find it a coincidence that sixth grade was a major turning point in my confidence and interest as a learner.

What has been the longterm effect of the arts in your life? And would you have traded it for more time testing?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

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Mary Wade

I taught 5th grade at a PYP International Baccalaureate school in Utah for 4 years, and am currently on extended parental leave until my kids start school. In between the roller-coaster adventures of motherhood, I enjoy educational blogging so I can stay in the loop and keep learning! Snapshot favorites: Student voice & choice. Twix bars. Global classrooms. Calvin & Hobbes. Outlandish sewing projects. Teachers learning from teachers. Modeling daring to students.

2 thoughts on “If We Strip Away The Arts at School, What Do We Have Left?”

  1. I was a child with an undiagnosed learing disibility, dyslexia. I thought that there was something fundamentally wrong with me when it came to school. My parent-teacher conferences only made me feel like I let my parents down. I would have dropped out of school had it not been for one thing, art. All of the arts I was exposed to. I was finally “good” at something! When I was on the stage I could shine. It really changed things for me. I’ll never forget that my mother actually told me that she was proud of something I had done in school. For once I felt like I could tackle a school project. I guss you could say that having arts available in my school kind of saved my life.

    1. Thanks for sharing, Christina! I find the anecdotal evidence in stories like yours to be the most compelling in supporting the arts in school. I’m so glad you had the opportunity to participate in something that made such a fundamental difference for you!

      Thank you!
      Mary

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