“Art Is Long; Life Is Short”
Common Core curriculum, standardized testing, No Child Left Behind and the Achievement Gap are all intended to ensure that our children are being educated properly. It should be noted that while all of these are focused on some very critical sets of skills that children need to learn such as math, reading and writing, the Arts are ignored.
Achievement is measured through performance in math and language skills; there are no standardized tests for music, art or drama. At a time when measurement of a “successful” education becomes narrower and narrower and when educational budgets and classroom time are in turn concentrating more on the “core” subjects, students’ exposure to the Arts is often the victim. A 2006 survey by the Center on Education Policy discovered that five years after the passing of NCLB, 44% of schools districts in the country had increased time spent on language arts and math while decreasing instruction time in other subjects. Theater arts for instance have been shown to suffer a 50% cut in budgets over the last year per some studies.
Benefits To Be Gained
Many parents may view arts as “pretty” and “good to know” but not as essential. In some school systems, having an arts classroom or studio full of arts supplies, drawing tables, kilns and more have been replaced by “art on a cart,” which is wheeled from classroom to classroom for a weekly short-term burst of creativity. But the reality is that involvement in the arts benefits children in a myriad number of ways including gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills.
According to Teri Gaberman, Greenwich Education Group’s (GEG) Academic Services Director for Grades K-8, "the arts help to develop the whole child. There's a multitude of research to support the claim that instruction in the arts has a positive impact on everything from brain development and test scores to study habits and a student's overall interest in school.” She cites U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan who noted that the arts "play a significant role in children's development and learning process."
Numerous studies have shown that exposure to the arts lead to higher scores on standardized testing and greater levels of understanding in other subjects such as languages, history, geography and science. But exposure to arts goes beyond testing. It has been shown to help reduce student dropout, raise student attendance, develop better teamwork, increase student creativity and help to better prepare students for the workplace. Arts may reach students that normally cannot be reached through traditional classroom means.
Theater Arts can also generate benefits that impact all aspects of a student’s life. The range of emotions, cultures, ages, social status, challenges met or unmet, all will lead to the student-actor being more aware, sensitive, accepting and tolerant in real life. The mere process of putting on a play requires skills in teamwork behind on stage and behind stage. While every student may dread the need to rehearse and memorize their lines, it will instill in them greater self-confidence and teach them public speaking skills. Learning to communicate and over-coming stage fright will have enormous impact on a child’s self-esteem.
Gaberman, a former middle school drama theater producer and education professional at an arts integrated magnet school, highlights the profound changes she witnessed in students exposed to the arts; “I’ve seen it develop self-confidence, teamwork, self-expression and motivation; all of which carries over into their classroom performance."
Through Theater Arts children can express their emotions in a healthy and creative way. All parents will understand the high stress of teenage years. Acting allows for self-expression, something that all teenagers struggle with. Among troubled youth for instance, significant benefits can be seen, as it is a way of expressing anger or angst. Improvisational theater can bring its own unique set of benefits. The actor must maintain focus on what is happening around them, to listen and respond and then pass on a thought to another actor, to learn how to build upon an idea and how to interact with others. The concept forces one to react quickly and think on their feet and to deal with stress but in a positive environment.
Cultivating Life Skills
When asked about the essential skills the U.S. workforce must have to compete in a global economy there is little doubt that having advanced skills in math, technology and science come close to the top of the needs list. But they are intermingled with softer skills such as creativity, cross-cultural sensitivity, composure, public speaking and effective presentation of ideas. All of these latter skills come about through exposure to the arts and theater art specifically.
Learning Beyond The Three R’s
The Arizona Superintendent of Schools, Tom Horne, explains it well; “when you think about the purposes of education, there are three. We’re preparing kids for jobs. We’re preparing them to be citizens. And we’re teaching them to be human beings who can enjoy the deeper forms of beauty. The third is as important as the other two.” Math, science, technology help students to learn the what and how of life but art help students to learn the whys and then to appreciate, imagine and create in boundless ways.
What is undeniable about art is that it transcends generations; it is passed down through the ages and explains peoples’ values and culture through its painting, sculpture, literature, music, dance and drama. Art leaps across geographic boundaries, differences in languages and is not bound by time. Hippocrates said, “Life is short, and art long”, but maybe he should have added that because of art, a short life is also one that is much more fulfilling and beautiful to live.
As an example of the enrichment available through a leading edge Theater Arts program, Gaberman has announced GEG’s partnership with the Northeast Children's Theater Company “in offering students the opportunity to participate in a summer enrichment program entitled, Centerstage Adventures which is based in the dramatic arts and is focused on the fundamentals of acting, advanced acting and performance. The program will include incredible intensives from an exclusive range of New York City special guests, ranging from puppeteer designers and builders to stage combat experts and musical theater songwriters.”