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Teaching the arts

Even more essential as schools bow to standardization

Cassin Stacey

Cassin Stacey

Greta Rainbow, Managing Editor

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When American public school administrators are faced with a shrinking budget, the arts are often one of the first things to go. Studying visuals, theater or music can’t be measured by a standardized test — this is why the arts are not taken seriously in public schools, but this is also this is why they are vital to continue teaching.

The continued push toward standardization and college preparedness creates an educational climate where students breathe in temporary air only meant to last until the test is over. Students memorize information for the grade, but any joy of learning — or learning at all — is usurped by the limitations of our the current system, one that expects too great a range of competency and eliminates depth.

Students today get surface-level understanding. In one year, students are expected to learn the history of the United States.
“This week we’ll cover before, during, and after the Cold War,” my teacher said. This kind of teaching results in sweeping generalizations and a hurried stuffing of information.

If high school classes were modeled after university education, perhaps we would spend a full semester on American diplomacy during the Cold War, engaging in critical discussions, looking at multiple perspectives, conducting research, writing papers. Students would actually experience what those educational buzz words allude to: a deeper understanding, expertise, interest in a subject.

The Cold War in a week, and I don’t remember anything.

The future looks grim for advocates of in-depth learning and analytical thinking. Annual state spending on standardized tests rose from $423 million in 2002 to almost $1.1 billion in 2008 (a 160 percent increase compared to a 19.22 percent increase in inflation over the same period), according to the Pew Research Center.

In art classes, no. 2 pencils are finally set aside and students are encouraged to utilize creativity and individuality. People enjoy painting, acting, singing, playing an instrument and making pottery, and this enjoyment is enough to protect arts education.

Ballard offers an impressive range of programs, sports and extracurriculars, but not many of these provide the same immediate, daily reward in the way that a class dedicated to creating art does.

Solving a complex math equation may be satisfying and enjoyable for a student, but this is not equivalent to the incorporation of beauty, fluid interpretation, or whatever art means to the student, into daily life.

“Self expression can be hard, especially in high school,” sophomore arts student Ava Gulassa said. “Art can be a healthy way to get that out.”

Art is an important break from standardization, necessary for individual students and for the preservation of American education. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, currently the primary federal ruling for K-12 education, does not include the arts as a core academic subject.

Teaching art in school has only been found to benefit students. A 2012 National Education  Association study with teenagers of low socioeconomic status found that students with access to the arts in high school were three times more likely than students who lacked those experiences to earn a bachelor’s degree.

There are also links to better SAT scores for students who studied the arts. The general consensus of researchers is that art classes provide skills that positively influence a student’s education en masse.

But this is not the primary reason why the arts are necessary. We need arts education because it is different from everything else.

Ceramics teacher Scott Cachopo sees art class as a “welcome break in [a student’s] day from their academic rigors.”

Art is the reason why many students come to school and stay in school. Standardized testing is a reason why many students don’t. Ironically, we are spending more and more money on filling in the bubbles.

A study released by the American Federation of Teachers in 2013 examined a medium-sized Midwestern school district and its relationship with standardized testing since implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act. The district spent from $400 to $600 annually per high school student on standardized testing.

Where are the funds for classes that encourage expression and individualism? Finland’s education system is often cited as an ideal model as their students are scoring higher than those of almost any other country.

Finland’s National Board of Education includes nine different art forms in their core curriculum: music, literary arts, dance, performing arts (circus and theater) and visual arts (architecture, audiovisual art, visual arts and craft).

“For some students, [art classes are] their place where they shine,” Cachopo said. “It’s what kept me coming to school.”

Finland also eschews charter schools and instead advocates for well-rounded, comprehensive education across the country. Seattle Public Schools offers alternative, arts-based education with Nova and Center School, but this runs contradictory to the idea that all students benefit from art classes and thus all students should be given the opportunity to engage. Art should be central to curriculum at every school.

“Ballard has academics and the arts,” senior ceramics student Rachel Thomson said. “Some people like the traditional system with clear expectations.” Our school offers a variety of course options, and it is my hope that it continues to prioritize the creation of films, paintings, pieces, photos.

Art exercises a different part of the brain from any other subjects; it doesn’t fit into a system of standardization and commoditization of students. Do not treat the arts like an afterthought when they are the saving grace of education today.

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Teaching the arts