Arts-Based Education

Watching a television program recently talking about creativity. One of their examples was a previously failing elementary school that adopted an arts-based curriculum for all grades and subjects. This means “teaching about, with, and through the arts.” The results? Dramatically increased math and English test scores – in some cases, gains as high as 50%.

It meant a radical re-thinking of how and why we deliver education. Education today is a fairly structured affair, with time delineated into subjects and periods, with little flow-through in the day. One set of ideas ends and the student moves on to the next class and set of ideas.

But even if you accept that we can’t get away from structured education (an assertion I do not accept), there are still ways to cultivate creativity. In her article, Marilyn Price-Mitchell PhD discusses ways of cultivating creativity even in “standards-based classrooms.” Possibility thinking and divergent thinking are only two of the methods she suggests.

But we’re talking about arts-based education. And research strongly suggests that not only does it work to improve overall academic performance, it can actually “significantly reduce or completely eliminate the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students.”

As early as 2004, research was showing the compatibility of arts-based curriculum for whole schools, not just some grades or student populations. “A whole-school art activity may focus on one project in which all the students in the school participate. One elementary school, for example, studied a George Seurat painting for 5 weeks as part of a social studies project.”

Or the curriculum can be individual classroom-based. “In one model, for example, a professional artist visited individual teachers weekly for a period of 2 years to help them integrate arts into their language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies curricula.”

“But is it good for students?” you ask. In short, yes. The research shows that not only does it improve academics, but learning ability generally, thinking skills, self-esteem, willingness to try new things…all are improved with arts-based education.

It’s not new, it’s not easy. But if we want to take our schools beyond excellence to distinction, if we want to honor the artistic heritage of Ojai, if we want to create fundamental gains for our students and faculty, we need to think about new ways. Arts-based education bears close examination.

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