Our Vision for Content in Art
Children … come into the world … mindless. I know that must sound a bit strange to you. They do not come in without brains. Brains are biological; minds are cultural. Minds are a form of cultural achievement. And the kinds of minds children come to own is in the large measure influenced by the kinds of opportunities they have in their lives. And the kind of opportunities … is largely influenced by the kinds of programs and options that are made available to them in the course of their childhood.
– Elliot Eisner, Professor of Art and Education at Stanford University
With the idea that “Brains are biological; minds are cultural,” we are confronted with the fundamental importance of ensuring our students have the highest quality and the greatest breadth of opportunity we can offer in the arts. To be cultural is to have firm grounding in your identity, to express yourself creatively and uniquely, to feel you have a voice and a critical mind. All of this, and more, can be provided by an arts education.
Developing Key Skills:
Research shows a positive correlation between arts education and cross-disciplinary skills. Students who do not have the opportunity to engage in arts education are often found to be at a disadvantage in the following pillars of learning (for more, see ArtsEdSearch.com):
- Literacy and Language Development.
- Reading and Writing Readiness.
- Reading Comprehension.
- Mathematics Achievement.
- Creative Thinking.
- Problem Solving and Reasoning.
- Engagement and Persistence.
- Positive Behavior.
- Social Development.
Pathways to Opportunity:
While this logically follows from the development of key learning skills, it’s impressive to look at the numbers for how the arts affect future success. Life-long opportunities are at stake for our arts students.
- College-Readiness: The College Board has examined the impact of arts education on SAT scores. Math SAT scores improve by 41 points, and verbal scores improved by 57 points for students who benefit from a music education. Studying the arts for extended periods of time (four years or more) improved total SAT scores by 119 points (68 for verbal and 51 on math).
- College Applications: Should our students want to apply for an Arts and Design College or Conservatory College, they will need to be prepared to speak cogently about their own development, exploration, and ideas on their artistic discipline. Whether heading to the Rhode Island School of Design, Julliard, Memphis College of Arts, or any other Arts institution, our students will need a transcript with competitive GPAs, high standardized test scores, writing samples, as well as a demonstration of their performance skills, and a portfolio that shows depth, research, and ideas. All of these materials – and the opportunities they make available – are correlated to and products of a strong arts education.
- Job Opportunities: The College Board has also researched the job listings that their AP Studio Arts (2-D, 3-D, Drawing), their Art History, and their Music Theory classes make more accessible to students. They list over 100 career paths ranging from Aerospace Engineering to Composers to Computer Programmers to Editors to Fine Artists. Whether or not a student takes these specific courses of study, an arts education will make these careers more available and real. Our students deserve to have these pathways available.
A National Problem
Despite wide-spread, consistent findings that participation in the arts is correlated with higher academic achievement, the National Endowment for the Arts has found that the proportion of students receiving arts instruction has been in constant decline since 1985, especially among poor and minority students (see the NEA’s “Arts Education in America: What the Declines Mean for Arts Participation”). While the NEA, the Cultural Learning Alliance, and the Arts Education Partnership have all confirmed that “Low-income students that have the opportunity to engage in extensive contact with the arts are 12% more likely to earn a BA, 33% more likely to read the newspaper on a weekly basis, and 12% more likely to participate in student government at a college level”, it is these same students for whom arts education is least available. In fact, “arts instruction is often least prevalent in schools reporting large percentages of students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches,” and a study conducted in 2008 found that only 26% of African American 18-24 year-olds had received an arts education. As we undertake teaching art, we must consider not only how we can generate opportunities for our students this summer or this year, but how we can leave a legacy of change that makes a quality arts education the norm, and not the exception.
The Arts in Mississippi
A recent study conducted by Paul Theobald and Kathy Wood, and featured in Rural Education for the Twenty-First Century, revealed that “rural students and adults alike seem to have learned that to be rural is to be sub-par, that the condition of living in a rural locale creates deficiencies of various kinds – an educational deficiency in particular” even if they are being offered an excellent education (18). This holds true in the numbers: only 6.8% of adults in Mississippi hold a graduate degree, and only 12.6% hold BAs (Measure of America, 2012). If our students are to succeed and become life-long learners, we need to enact a cultural shift that places value on rural culture and cultural identity.
Given these studies as well as our own regional experiences…
… We believe that a strong Arts Education is instrumental to overcoming educational inequality for our students in Mississippi. We know that our students deserve equal opportunities in education so that they may have equal opportunities in their futures. The arts are one of those critical opportunities, and one that is too often ignored. Our students deserve confidence in their cultural identity, pride in their creative expression. They have the right to the long-term benefits of a strong arts-education. They deserve to see the arts as providing them with viable pathways to opportunity, and engage with the arts in their own communities.
It is no mystery that Mississippi is rich in culture, history, art, and music. From entire musical genres such as the blues and jazz, to some of our nation’s most celebrated writers like Faulkner and Walker Percy, from the pottery of McCarty to the portraits of Chris Kruse, to the birth of the Civil Rights movement to the recent ratification of the 13th amendment, Mississippi is brimming with beautiful and difficult culture.
However, the fertile cultural grounds of Mississippi are seldom if ever exposed to our students. Most elementary schools in Mississippi offer arts instruction to their students on a weekly basis at best. In the Delta, where regulation is less consistent, students may not have an art or music class for years on end. While the arts have been federally recognized as a core subject, they are untested and therefore often left to the wayside. Comparing our students’ rural experiences to their urban counterparts, it is only logical that they have less access to museums and concert venues as well as exposure to art we take for granted: buskers, concerts, street art, and other cultural events. Even if they do get a solid arts foundation, they have limited options in terms of real performance venues or opportunities to compete on a national level. It is therefore instrumental that we begin such exposure in the classroom and draw upon the communities we work within to enact a paradigm-shift for the arts in Mississippi.
What an Arts Education Looks Like for Us in the Classroom:
We have found that Discipline-Based Arts Education to be a highly effective pedagogy and structure for ensuring our students receive a holistic Arts Education. While we encourage invention, creativity, and exploration of different pedagogies, we want to ensure that every classroom focuses on the following strands throughout the year :
History/Culture: Encountering the historical and cultural background of works of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, artist statements, and more.
Aesthetics: Discovering the nature and philosophy of art or music. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, visible in artworks, artist statements, and more.
Criticism: Making informed judgments about art. How do we know if students are getting it? Through written or verbal assessments aligned to the New York State Standards and Art Regents, artist statements, and more.