Pencils, Backpacks, and Perspective: Art’s Place in Education

One of the most complicated and fiercely argued about topics in education is whether or not art programs ought to have a permanent place in schools. We all hear things like music helps with math and students’ creativity directly correlates to their capability, but what does it all mean? I’m of the opinion that finger-painting (just an example) might be fun for small children, art can have a specific purpose in a student’s education. I’ll discuss a few of my own experiences and explain why.

The first one is, admittedly, a little silly sounding. But, as a child (say first through fourth grades), we used to make all sorts of detail-oriented projects like God’s eyes and handmade chessboards that explored dimensions and color theory. Now, I was never a particularly detail-oriented child. I never checked my work after completing a test and could not stand to show my work in math. Gradually though, I became much more capable of paying attention to even the smallest details in my work and projects. Consequently I became a much better student overall, and I credit all of that (well, most of it) to art class.

Moving on to middle school. Now I’m not going to talk about how I learned to quilt, make pottery, etc. What I am going to discuss is my least favorite class ever. You see, I had a mandatory Improv class twice a week for three years. I will say that I love to watch such activities, but participating in them made me anxious as a fly trying to get through a glass window. However, coming up with storylines, characters, and dialogue in the moment, concentrated my ability to think on my feet. I became much better at timed essays, brainstorms, and even classroom discussions because of it. It all came to a head when, in a fifteen minute brainstorming session, I came up with the plot for our school play. There are few things I have been as proud of in my life as seeing my story performed by 200 kids and performing in it myself. I discovered a love of writing that influenced all of my future academic decisions. That kind of self-confidence doesn’t come out of the blue or generally in a typical classroom setting.

And high school, last but certainly not least, brought about the culmination of my creation as a student. I could go on and on about how learning digital photography and Photoshop at the same time was a perfect STEM/Art crossover. Or about how making stencils, stamps, and pop-up art helped me think more logically in computer programming. Or even how my rather mediocre drawing skills helped me gain extra credit in chemistry for creative lab covers. But what I have to say was the most prominent way art helped me in high school, was the inclusion of creative writing in our English classes. We had annual essay and poetry writing contests amongst a myriad of other creative writing projects during rather literature analysis-heavy years. When given the space to develop my own writing, I was given a voice. The confidence that I gained in middle school came back tenfold. And though it felt like I was just developing my creative writing skills, I became more and more successful in literature classes and found writing personal essays for college applications a breeze.

Alright, that was long-winded, but what I’m trying to say is that well-thought out arts programs can make a huge difference for students. I’m not advocating wasting time banging willy-nilly on drums or anything like that. But real, challenging programs to tie in with all of the STEM education you want. It’s possible and the benefits are real. I can say definitively that I would not have been nearly as successful as a student without the various art classes I took. And maybe my voice is just one of thousands, but I will never stop talking about the importance of retaining art programs in schools. Creativity is an invaluable skill, in school and in the workplace, and all students ought to have the space to foster theirs.