Popular education buzzwords like grit, experiential learning, individualized instruction, entrepreneurship, cooperative learning, and social emotional learning, whip around education circles offering possible solutions to the age old problem of schooling. Yet, few turn to the arts as part of the solution. Just looking at the list of buzzwords above, all of them are naturally embedded in the arts.
For too many years the arts have had to wrestle their way into the educational arena. Art advocates feel the need to argue for the importance of the arts, to convince not just the general public, but unfortunately those in charge of education of their value. Even with multiple research studies finding positive correlations between the arts and academic achievement, the arts are often pushed aside. Too often, people draw conclusions about the arts as a way to get to the final destination. Students can learn about FILL IN THE BLANK through the arts. Why not reverse the idea that FILL IN THE BLANK is a vehicle which leads us to the arts as our destination?
Here are 4 things education can learn from the arts:
1. The arts are messy. Much like success stories, there is no straight line from beginning to end, but much trial and error, until we reach a final product. The arts inherently teach us this! Speak to any artist, musician, dancer, performer, and they will confirm this to be true. It's high time for classrooms to become flexible learning spaces, where anything can happen, where the design of the room might change based on the task rather than designed around a subject, and where desks become optional.
2. The arts require an audience. Too often teaching and learning in school happen in silos. Projects are created for the teacher or for peers in the classroom and then that's it. When we create art, it's meant to be shared with an audience. Sometimes, the arts are created to serve a specific community. Creating with purpose and for an authentic audience should become the central focus in the classroom.
3. The arts are interdisciplinary. Every piece of art speaks about a different aspect of our humanity. It is time to smash the imaginary glass boxes we've created to fit each subject in its own container and to mix the subjects together, much like colors on a palette, to create a new educational experience. STEM was attempting to mix certain colors together, but realized it needed the arts as it morphed into STEAM. Let's continue to create our own palettes to create new forms of teaching and learning that resemble real world projects, jobs, and lives.
4. The arts embody most educational buzzwords. They require grit, mindfulness, individualized education, risk-taking, creating thinking, problem-solving, entrepreneurship, and a growth mindset. The arts take us beyond seeing and reading about, but rather require us to do, to make, to create, and to respond to our world. When teaching about these buzzwords, we must look at the arts as a prime example.
So dive into the arts, head first, and I guarantee you'll learn something new about yourself, others, and the world around you.
Shout out to my former professor and former head of Arts in Education at Harvard: Dr. Jessica Hoffman Davis for her incredible work in this arena. Check out her books http://jessicahoffmanndavis.com/books/