Arts have dropped out of the curriculum in most schools around the country,
and more's the pity, I say. Add arts back to the schools and we'd have a
Disagree? What if I told you that arts education might be the key to
training better scientists, or that thinking skills developed by the arts
help build the skills demanded by the economy of the future? What if I told
you arts education can cut juvenile crime rates? Okay, you say, but if arts
programs are so great, why did they get cut in the first place?
Most got squeezed out during the budget cuts of the 1970s and
1980s. The few survivors got stomped by the reform clamor that followed the
publication of A Nation at Risk, a document that said American kids' low
math and science test scores put this country at risk of falling behind
other industrial economies. The feeling is, with money and time so tight,
we'd better focus on the practical skills--math and science--that kids will
need to compete in the world of work. The arts drop out because they're seen
I have one problem with this argument. If the job market is the measure, why
concentrate on math? I took math through calculus and I haven't used a drop
of it in all my working life. If I go by the math I actually need, I could
have stopped in fifth grade.
Science? I can't even remember the formula for velocity (as I tried to tell
that cop who gave me a speeding ticket). And I know enough history to choke
a horse, but what good has it done me?
I'm playing devil's advocate here. Of course math and history aren't frills.
I can knock down the arguments I've made against them like bowling pins.
It's the skills, stupid. I've rarely (if ever) used algebra in my daily
life, but I have used the skills that learning algebra gave me, like the
ability to think precisely and solve problems logically.
Just like math, art requires--and develops--key mental skills, including
some that will separate winners from losers in the job market of the future.
With subjects like history, there's another argument to be made: A culture
is like a conversation. You can't join a conversation unless you know what
people are talking about, and history and literature are the record of what
we've been talking about.
But again: If that's an argument for history, it's certainly an argument for
the arts. They're a huge part of our social conversation.
Finally, there's an argument the arts have pretty much to themselves. They
help keep kids in school.