The following article is the first in a series of articles and commentary gleaned from outside sources on the arts and their role in the educational process
Prescription for a Successful Future: Arts Education!
by Mark Heller
As parents today, we are probably more anxious than our own parents or grandparents ever were about our ability (and responsibility) to ensure that our children are well prepared to meet the future. Many parents question whether they are doing all they can to make sure their children will be able to compete in the 21st century marketplace. I have a suggestion that may seem a bit counter‐intuitive at first; in addition to focusing on reading, writing, mathematics, and science, be sure to include healthy doses of arts education.
Contrary to the too‐widely‐held opinion that arts are a “frill” or an “extra” that can be cut when times grow lean, the arts are one of the very best ways to help your child grow and develop as a learner and contributor. In fact, the skills students develop in meaningful arts education experiences will soon be very much in demand. As leading edge author Daniel Pink put it in his ground‐breaking book A Whole New Mind:
“The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers,storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”
Part of Pink’s point is that it is fruitless for us to prepare students for the jobs that exist today. Many of those jobs will soon be off‐shored or automated, scenarios in which the required tasks can be done at a much lower cost. Instead, we ought to help our children develop the skills that will be highly valued in the 21st century work place, skills like creative problem‐solving, working well independently and in groups, understanding how complex ideas and things are put together (Pink calls this aptitude “Symphony”), and understanding how meaning and messages are conveyed through story and design.
In essence, Pink’s concepts are elegantly served by significant study of music, dance, drama, and art. The characteristics of successful experiences in arts education are remarkably well‐suited to the predicted values of success in the 21st century work place. Here are some examples:
Learning by Doing
Good arts experiences are completely participatory. Students learn music, dance, acting, and art by diving in and doing, not by listening to someone talk about doing. This type of active learning has an immediacy and true value that is recognized by the learner.
Learning to Work in Groups
The learning here is very much the same as in team sports (another excellent venue for valuable lessons). Participating in an artistic performance requires awareness not simply of one’s own responsibilities and execution, but also of how your part is designed to interact and fit in with everyone else’s. Self‐assertion and the generosity involved in honoring the roles of others, when pursued with the proper balance, produce a synergy both when the goal is scored and when the piece is successfully played.
Developing the Ability to Pursue Long‐Term Goals
Students in the arts, and especially those who are learning to play instruments, learn early in theirstudies that daily practice, dedication, attentiveness, concentration, and hard work are the road to mastery. They learn well that process is important to the task of producing a superior product.
Learning from Mistakes
In basketball, a shooter who makes 50 – 60% of his shots from the floor is highly successful. In baseball, a great hitter succeeds only 30% of the time. In music, anything less than about 90% sounds awful! It’s noticed, analyzed, isolated, then hopefully improved upon in the next attempts. Real‐time feedback and meaningful analysis teach students a great deal. Often, improvement requires some risk‐taking and further learning from the process. Think of the learning that Yo‐Yo Ma and Thomas Edison have in common from their repeated attempts at mastery. Mistakes uncover the areas that need work and give direction to the endeavor. In this way, the arts build that most valuable skill for the future: they help students learn how to learn.
Daniel Pink is not alone in recognizing that the values of arts education will translate well into 21st century job skills. In Tough Choices or Tough Times, the Report of the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce (published by the National Center on Education and the Economy in 2007), the Commission said that:
“The crucial new factor, the one that alone can justify higher wages in this country than in other countries with similar levels of cognitive skills, is creativity and innovation. . . . This capacity for out‐of the‐box and breakthrough thinking will be decisive for large firms and small, for individuals as well as organizations, for not just a few but the vast majority – and therefore for the nation. . . . People . . . who are comfortable in working in artistic, investigative, highly social or entrepreneurial environments are more likely to succeed.”
Our foremost task as parents is to seek out those environments that will help our children develop the skills they will need to succeed. As a means toward teaching responsibility, communication, teamwork, analytical reasoning, and problem‐solving, there are few endeavors that can equal the arts. In essence, the arts unlock in our children a sense of the true power of possibility.
Mark Heller is Head of School at Academy at the Lakes, a Junior K4 – 12th grade independent school in the North Tampa community of Land O’Lakes. He is also a ‘cellist and the Assistant Conductor of theTampa Bay Symphony.