My Turn: Celebrating National Arts in Education Week

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Published: 9/13/2021 9:00:40 AM

National Arts in Education Week is Sept. 12-18. I’m writing to recognize with appreciation arts educators, organizations, and parents who support the arts in our schools and communities.

Today as in years before, music and creative arts are often the glue that holds many students together throughout schooling. I recall in high school, chorus and band were the reason some students regularly attended school.

For decades and centuries, music and art have been essential components of education and culture. In grade 3, a county music teacher visited my four-room school and handed each of us a music instrument. It was expected we would learn an instrument. Elementary teachers each had a classroom piano, and we sang every day. Children’s choruses sang for parents and their communities. By singing every day and starting instrument instruction in grade three, music became a part of our lives … all through the school years and for life.

“Integrating the Arts” in curriculum is a Massachusetts curriculum standard — in addition to curriculum standards for arts subjects themselves. A standard for integrating the arts in curriculum reminds us that you can teach an understanding of world cultures and history through the arts. The arts are not just sprinkles on the ice cream —they are a main ingredient.

A plethora of modern medical research now explains music’s positive connection to learning and brain development, making this arts area unique. For children, music teaches acquisition of those very skills needed for learning to read — skill development in visual discrimination for shapes and auditory discrimination for sound. How does the sound of “c” differ from the sound of “t” or how does the letter “b” differ from the letter “p”? Singing and learning instruments, listening for sound variation, develops these imperative emerging listening and discrimination skills needed for reading and spelling. It develops concentration and memory. It develops posture and breathing. It gives experiences with group work and presenting in public.

In recent years, public schools have focused on social/emotional development of students — childhood trauma, stress, anxiety, limited attending, dysregulated behavior, shyness. When needed, schools typically respond with counseling and behavior management. Research shows that music can influence mood modulation, self-expression, centering, focus, self-regulation and calming. Many forms of art expression have documented therapeutic benefit. It begs the question, why not more arts and not less?

Also, unlike other arts, music is a physical experience. We literally vibrate while singing and playing music. Current brain research discusses higher achievement in reading and math when students have engaged in music study. Music apparently continues to contribute to brain development throughout our lifetime. (Find that guitar in your closet and play again.)

And the arts are a recognized economic driver contributing billions to our economy. Millions of jobs —manufacture and sales, the industry, performing, in all forms of film and internet programs, advertising. Having some actual skills in the arts can be an asset to students’ careers and all through their lives.

Public education goals consistently include higher achievement, family engagement, supporting students’ social/emotional development, and preparing students for their adult lives. These goals give reason to really consider and appreciate arts in education and arts educators.

Susan Hollins, Ph.D., is an experienced college teacher and school administrator. She consults in arts and education and retired as Greenfield’s superintendent in 2014. She is currently on the Greenfield School Committee.




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