In fourth grade, if you so chose, you could select an instrument.
I did so choose and I selected the viola. I'd wanted the cello but arguments ensued and the viola was the compromise. I knew I wanted something with a rich and deep tonal potential, not a squeaky violin, and I also knew I preferred string to wind. I rejected piano because piano was not an option...it was required.
Not only did I learn about art, music, history, and culture in my music and instrument classes, but I got a break from seat work. When I returned to class---after learning an essential lesson such as how to work with others in a duet, trio, or orchestra---I was refreshed, ready to engage in class again.
My creativity had an outlet.
My creativity had other outlets, too, through creative crafts projects and later art class. In gym class we had a dancing segment, but I took ballet above and beyond that.
I made friends, gained confidence, augmented my academic lessons, discovered new information, and developed my creativity and talent through art, music and dance. I've carried it with me through life.
The arts drew me out of my shy shell and gave me confidence; a voice. The arts taught me to use my words to paint the picture my hands couldn't draw from my mind.
In junior high, a friend from early elementary school (four schools past) contacted me. We'd stayed in touch, and one of our bonds was our love of music. She was entering a competition and wanted to do a duet with a viola...was I interested? I was eager to pair up again with this girl, but concerned about whether I was good enough to accompany her. She assured me I was, so we entered the competition. I would never have had the confidence to do that. She knew a music tutor who agreed to help us get ready for the competition, and she and I had many fun get-togethers preparing and practicing. Our music tutor encouraged us, and built up our ability to believe in ourselves. As it happened, we performed wonderfully, got compliments, and the highest score. From that, I learned to take risks and believe in myself.
I've written before about the importance of arts in education: "Blue Dog and Art Education: Does putting the arts at risk put kids at risk, too?"
I'd like to reiterate a few key points I cited in that post:
Did You Know?
Young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year are:
* 4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement
* 3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools
* 4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair
* 3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance
* 4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem
Young artists, as compared with their peers, are likely to:
* Attend music, art, and dance classes nearly three times as frequently
* Participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently
* Read for pleasure nearly twice as often
* Perform community service more than four times as often
Source: Americans for the Arts ("Living the Arts through Language + Learning: A Report on Community-based Youth Organizations," Shirley Brice Heath, Stanford University and Carnegie Foundation For the Advancement of Teaching, Americans for the Arts Monograph, November 1998)
Opting out of the arts and putting more emphasis on academics (aka "teaching to the test") isn't preventing our children from being left behind. In fact, it is leaving our children behind.
Some of my best memories of school involve the arts, and some of my best and life-lasting lessons learned came from the arts.
The arts are essential and I am beginning a campaign to not just support them in the schools, but expand them.
Tell us about your experience with the arts and where you believe they fit with education...
Copyright 2007 Julie Pippert
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