or years, we have watched arts classes give way to the seemingly more “practical” courses that politicians and policymakers assume have a direct link to professional and economic success. But in an increasingly globalized economy, one in which an ability to innovate and to imagine new possibilities is critical to America’s ability to compete, we still train our young people very narrowly to work in an industrialized society.
As the country contemplates reauthorization of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, political and policy leaders must recognize that an education in and through the arts, as a central part of a total school program, allows schools to better address these challenges than a curriculum that defines success as aptitude in literacy and math only.
A recent study from the Center on Education Policy [3.1MB PDF] indicates that the No Child Left Behind law, with its limited focus on standardized-test scores, has led, over the last six years, to a 16 percent decline in the time devoted to art and music instruction in public schools. Some may view this as unfortunate but necessary. But the loss of the arts, and all that is learned through participation in the arts, severely limits the kinds of skills and capacities children develop in school. In a word, students are learning less, and what they are learning is only part of what is needed to build a strong workforce and a vibrant citizenry.