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[teacherartexchange] TeachersFirst response


From: Pam (pgstephens_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun May 01 2005 - 11:39:57 PDT

Recent media reports have cited research showing that exposing student to
music and the arts can help build their skills at "hard" subjects like math
and science. Have you seen effects such as these in your teaching?

My response:

I have seen improvement in understanding of other content areas when the
arts are meaningfully taught in schools, but I have a real problem with the
way this question us phrased. This question seems to imply that the arts are
nothing more than a superfluous element meant to support math and science or
other subjects. This is an assumption that is not only wrong, it is
detrimental to quality teaching and learning.

Using the arts as the handmaiden to other content areas is a common mistake
that educators and the media make. The arts are valid subjects in and of
themselves. There is absolutely no reason to use the arts to build skills in
other content areas; however, because of the complex critical reasoning
skills that the arts require, it is only logical that these skills transfer
to other content areas and thereby impact learning across the curriculum.

There is a tremendous difference between "using the arts" and "teaching
through the arts." Using the arts translates to something along the lines of
counting the trees in a landscape. Sure this helps to teach counting skills,
but it is making art the handmaiden to math. Teaching through the arts means
digging deeper, finding meaning and purpose in the art products, and holding
the arts accountable to their own cognitive skill sets.

Learning to determine meaning and intent in works produced in the arts is
demanding and requires development of careful observation, thoughtful
contemplation, effective description, accurate analysis, supported
interpretation, and competent arts making (to list only a few skills). Any
reasonable person would infer that development of these skills will not
remain the singular domain of the arts; that development of such skills will
positively impact other content areas.

Research in the arts cannot prove that "exposing students to music and the
arts" can build skills in other content areas, although there seems to be a
link (as I have outlined) between development of critical thinking skills in
the arts and those required for other content areas. It is a dangerous and
unnecessary assumption to say that the arts build skills in other subjects.
I cannot think of a single artist, composer, dancer, or author who produced
a work of art so that math or science skills would be enhanced. Artists
produce for worthy reasons and those reasons do not include counting the
trees in a landscape or determining the velocity of a ballerina's twirl.

Perhaps it is time to teach the media to use some critical thinking skills.
A few comprehensive art or music classes could do the trick.

Pamela G. Stephens, PhD
Northern Arizona University
Art Education
P.O. Box 6020
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6020

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