In the past, arts education has often been thought of as a supplement rather than an integral part of the school curriculum. It’s the first class to be cut due to lack of funds and the last to be encouraged and promoted by schools, themselves. Yet, without the arts, students would lose a creative outlet and the opportunity to explore different paths. Consequently, New Jersey has recently become the first state in the U.S. to offer arts education in all of its public schools.
The New Program
According to this year’s New Jersey Arts Education Annual report, the state is a national leader in arts education, as all of its students can participate in at least one form of the arts. Although only 81% of students take advantage of this at the moment, Governor Murphy maintains that “the future of New Jersey is bright, and today’s announcement is a critical step in ensuring that our children reach their full potential.” However, reports show that the majority of students who aren’t enrolled in these programs attend schools of less wealth. Nevertheless, the state isn’t done making sure there is an equal chance for all students, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status, to take classes in dance, music, theatre, or visual arts. As Robert B. Morrison, the Director of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership, says, “no child should be denied the significant documented benefits provided through active participation in arts education.”
Why Is Arts Education Important?
According to Be Brain Benefit, “Creating art relieves stress, encourages creative thinking, increases brain plasticity, and imparts other mental health benefits. And anyone can do art.” Despite there being a small number of studies connecting the arts to health benefits, there are a handful of implications. Beyond the standard benefits of providing a creative outlet and promoting artistic expression, arts can also have many health benefits. Art therapy, for example, is a common form of treatment used to help decrease the stress of patients, who are frequently in hospitals. But this tactic can also be used more informally for young students, teens, and even adults.
Arts education, especially music and visual arts, is an integral part of child development. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth. Each student is born with different strengths, whether that ability is drawing, painting, photography, music, picking up foreign languages, solving mathematical equations, etc. That being said, having access to the arts in a school setting is critical for any student, regardless of their location, gender, race, sexuality, or family income. Attending an art class, playing in a band or orchestra, or singing in a chorus can be relaxing, enjoyable, and stimulating for many students while also promoting focus, repetition, and memory skills. Therefore, New Jersey has accomplished a great feat by implementing these courses into all of their schools’ curriculums. The state is allowing all students to explore a path in the arts if they choose.
However, as beneficial as arts education can be, I don’t believe it should be forced, particularly at a higher level of education such as high school. A portion of students take art classes by choice, and many schools not only offer these classes but require their students to take at least one. Giving students access to the arts is essential, but not all students find pleasure in taking courses in the arts. Required exposure in middle school is one thing, but by high school, some have a grasp on the types of classes they like or the careers they want to pursue. What’s wrong with taking another math class if a student strives to work in the finance industry and enjoys the complexity and applicableness of an algebra class instead of the abstractness of a studio art course?
This post was written by one of U4SC’s Educators 4SC Research Assistants, Samantha.[Image Attribute: Baker County Tourism]