Arts Education Hung Out to Dry

By Stephen Higgins Guest Contributor. 

Students who study art are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement and three times more likely to be awarded for school attendance. Nevertheless, schools across the nation are being forced to cut music, dance, drama, and visual art programs.

With little to no funding from the government, the promotion of art in education has long been dependent on private means. This can result in varying art programs at each school, depending on who is backing the institution. According to The Foundation Center’s report 35 percent of private funders’ grants went to operating support in 2009, up from just 13 percent in 1989.  Sharon Public Schools is backed by F.A.M.E, Friends of Art and Music Education, a non-profit organization that buys materials, provides financial support, and gives out scholarships to graduating students.

Although many private donors fuel art in education there is one large government-funded program geared towards art in education, The National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), yet it is heavily criticized. Throughout the years many organizations have complained that the NEA budget should not pay for art that is in their opinion obscene, sacrilegious, promotes homosexuality, or is otherwise lacking redeeming value. This issue has been debated for many years and has caused a varying budget for the NEA, despite the fact that any content limitations imposed as a condition of government funding amount to censorship and violate the First Amendment. Still, in 2011, the NEA budge was cut 20 million dollars.

After this budget cut many schools had to downsize or eliminate their art programs, leaving the emphasis on using STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) as a way of creating a structured curriculum based around standardized testing, even though students who take four years of art and music classes while in high school score 91 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less.

The research behind art in education, such as benefits to well being and overall academic achievement are abundant, yet every year the National Science Foundation is provided with over 6 billion dollars in funds, compared to the mere 100 million given to the National Endowment of the Arts. This divide is detrimental to the progress of our youth. Dispossessed of a place to create without the fear of being wrong students lose interest in school and, as proven time and time again, seek out other sources of freedom outside the classroom, such as drugs and alcohol. According to Americans for the Arts students who have a high participation rate in the arts have a dropout rate of four percent while their peers who have a low participation rate in the arts have a dropout rate of twenty-two percent.

A recent movement, called STEM to STEAM, aims to level this disparity by incorporating art into the four major STEM categories, but this has been met by opposition that believes there needs to be separation between the arts and sciences to prevent anything taking away from the focus on STEM education. This belief is fueled in part by the fear that the United States is falling behind in the STEM fields. Ironically, arts and music education programs are mandatory in countries that rank consistently among the highest for math and science test scores, like Japan, Hungary, and the Netherlands.

Art has shaped the beliefs, the values, and the culture of our society and it is critical that it continues to. Students are the future of this country and we need to be fostering, not just critical, but creative thinkers as well.

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