When the General Education Board unified America’s education at the tail end of the industrial revolution, the oil executives who built it had only one thing in mind: to get citizens to “yield themselves with perfect docility to [their] molding hand” (Gates, 1913). The product of this is a schooling system that places the most value on subjects useful to factory work, while limiting personal exploration and interest (Robinson, 2007). Currently, this outdated system results in: widespread student boredom, which serves as a reason many students drop out or fail to meet performance standards (Bauerlein, 2013; Jason, 2017). To fix the detrimental norm, the Department of Education needs to modify schools’ standards to bring out an individual’s strengths, as opposed to treating the entire population as one mass. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening, as arts and humanities programs face constant budget cuts.
English and mathematics are core subjects to development and life in the U.S. Therefore, they are taught consistently and thoroughly for the whole of a student’s career in the K-12 public school system, whereas art programs tend to fall victim to national budgets that severely limit their resources required to function. A primary reason this happens is the insufficient funds that schools are given to work with. Beginning in the 1980’s, schools began shifting towards putting focus into standardized testing rather than encouraging critical thinking and personal growth (Ruiz, 2017). As a result, studies have shown that since the change, there has been a gradual decline in students’ overall creativity, as measured by the Torrance Tests of Critical Thinking (Kim, 2011). Ironically the shift towards centralized standards began as an attempt to receive more government funding, yet the budget trends throughout the entire decade remained inconsistent, gaining roughly three million dollars in mandatory spending from 1980 to 1989 (U.S. Department of Education). Today, we can see similar inconsistencies in the amount proposed to be put towards education. After a steady increase, Trump’s approved budget slashed schools’ funding by 15 million dollars, or nearly twenty percent of money put toward education (U.S. Department of Education). A more direct attack on the arts came from the same budget proposal, calling for the complete defunding of the National Endowments of the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities, both agencies dedicated to cultural advancement and preservation. Although the House of Representatives passed a bill ensuring the programs’ survival, they’re each scheduled to lose five million dollars from 2017 to 2018 (Bowley, 2017). These restrictions “educate children out of their creative capacity” and reduce the likelihood of adolescents finding positive creative outlets and passions (Robinson). They also create a consequence that not many take seriously: boredom.
A 2013 poll found that nearly 80% of elementary school students felt engaged at school; they were enthusiastic, curious and overall happy with class (Jason, 2017). This ratio was halved when high school students were asked the same thing. A 2015 study found that less than a third of 11th graders felt engaged at school (Jason). Boredom may seem like a mundane issue, but the fact of the matter is that bored students are 50% more likely to turn to drugs than their outnumbered, content counterparts (Jason). Naturally, bored students pay less attention, resulting in underperformance (Jason). Furthermore, a 2006 study by Civic Enterprises targeted at high school dropouts discovered that 47% attributed their leave to boring classes, while 69% of them said that school failed to motivate or inspire them (Bauerlein). This widespread issue is caused by the way students are taught.
As previously mentioned, students at every grade level in public schools are taught lessons based off of the priorities set by society (Robinson). Therefore, the art programs are generally neglected due to how they’re perceived. Initially, it may be easy to believe it is society that places low value on media-based subjects. This is contradicted by a poll conducted in 2005 that proved the public support for arts in education: 92% of American citizens agreed that arts are vital to providing a well-rounded education, 86% agreed that arts programs had a positive influence on students’ attitudes towards school, and 83% believed that learning about art was necessary to developing children’s social skills (Ruppert, 2006). Research happens to support the public opinion, which shows that young children who create visual art have better dexterity, decision-making skills, inventiveness and increased academic performance over those who don’t participate in the arts (Lynch, 2012). Studies conducted have proven that people who took music lessons at a young age have superior motor abilities, brain structure and can process speech more quickly than those who never learned how to play an instrument (Boyd, 2014). Furthermore, students who take more classes generally score higher on standardized tests, such as the SAT, get higher scores than students who don’t (Ruppert). In a similar vein, physical education produces “better concentration, stronger recalling skills, and more evolved communication skills” in students compared to those without physical activity throughout their day (Boyd). However, only 6% of schools incorporate daily physical education and 20% of schools cut recess out of the schedule in favor of more class time in an attempt to achieve higher test scores, even though schools who incorporate activity tend to score higher on tests (Boyd). Furthermore, low-income students are more likely to pursue college degrees when aided by arts programs (Wilkinson, 2017). Finally, research displaying creativity having an inverse relationship age correlate happen to have a similar relationship to boredom increasing with age (Kim; Jason). Considering the gradual reduction of art throughout the stages of education, it’s not unreasonable to link art with better student engagement. This would mean that while art programs already reduce the chances of drug use, they could possibly reduce the amount of high school dropouts (Bauerlein). Regardless of the clear benefit of including art in education, their budgets continue to get cut. Consequently, many students go without these important concepts for the duration of their school careers.
To combat the removal of lessons so beneficial to a child’s development, one can take matters into their own hands. For parents: simply encouraging children to participate in what they’re interested is a step in the right direction. Art does not need to be intricate to be effective.
Drawing with crayons and playing with clay are simple and cheap outlets that still have a positive impact (Lynch). If a child seems to enjoy dancing, give them the opportunity to dance. Any form of exercise can help. For educators: if budgets limit your classroom supplies, multisensory learning is a proven method of helping students understand concepts (Morin). Multisensory learning simply involves incorporating most of, if not all of, the senses in a lesson. For example, if kindergarteners are learning about color, pick up some cheap toys from the dollar store and use them to help identify each individual color. Another example would be using small blocks to help teach basic maths, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. However, one doesn’t need to be directly involved in a child’s life to help. By calling a state’s representatives and expressing discontent with the current distribution of funds and grants, you are raising an issue and making your voice heard. One can research different charities dedicated to bringing art to schools, whether it be through lessons or simple supplies. Both “FreeArts” and “Americans for Art” are reputable organizations to donate to. Regardless of family or job status, anyone can help better the future.
When the General Education Board implemented a structured school system, it was designed to remove free-thinkers, artists, dancers and storytellers from society (Gates). Students influenced by the same mediums of art it attempted to remove from the schools tend to do better on tests originally designed to hold them back (Ruppert). These students tend to have more ambition, allowing them to rise out of poverty and acting as an escape from difficult home lives (Wilkinson). Imagine a school system designed to help the individual thrive, finding their talents instead of comparing them to others. If the nation came together and recognized art’s place in education, the change can be made. Whether it’s by speaking out, donating or assisting children become involved in the mentioned activities, everybody has their own way to help contribute to the betterment of our future.
Bauerlein, Mark. “The Paradox of Classroom Boredom.” Harvard Ed, 30 Apr. 2016.
Bowley, Graham. “A Bill Funding Arts and Humanities Endowment Passes House Committee.” New York Times, 20 July 2017.
Boyd, Stacey. “Extracurriculars are Central to Learning.” U.S News, 28 Apr. 2014.
Gates, Frederick T. “The Country School of Tomorrow,” Occasional Papers, no. 1 (New York: General Education Board, 1913), p. 6.
Jason, Zachary. “Bored Out of Their Minds.” Harvard Ed. 8 January 2017.
Kim, Kyung Hee. “The Creativity Crisis: The Decrease in Creative Thinking Scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking.” Creativity Research Journal, 23:4, 285-295. 2011. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10400419.2011.627805
Lynch, Grace. “The Importance of Art in Child Development.” PBS.
Morin, Amanda. “Multisensory Instruction: What You Need to Know.” Understood.
Robinson, Ken. “Do schools kill creativity?” TED. January 2007. Lecture.
Ruiz, Michael. “How to Combat America’s Creativity Crisis.” Greater Good, 27 Jan. 2017.
Ruppert, Sandra. “Critical Evidence: How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement.” National Assembly of the State Art Agencies; Arts Education Partnership, 2006.
Samson, Steven Alan, “Readings on State-Instituted Education Compilation” (2000). Faculty Publications and Presentations. Paper 219. http://digitalcommons.liberty.edu/gov_fac_pubs/219
Steiner, David. “Curriculum Research: What We Know and Where We Need to Go.” Standards Work, March 2017.
U.S. Department of Education. “Budget History Tables.” 13 October 2017.
Wilkinson, Amy. “Cuts to arts funding could be detrimental to academic achievement.” The Hill, 13 March 2017.