by David Safier
Art and music education, just like literary education, are vital introductions to our most human and beautiful qualities. Even if there weren't a single indicator they improve intelligence, school achievement or test scores, they would be valuable unto themselves. But the fact is, both art and music education are good for the intellect as well as the soul.
An op ed in the Sunday NY Times discusses a study in Arkansas. An art museum opened where there wasn't one before. Classes were selected at random to take field trips to the museum because there wasn't enough time for all the classes to attend. Social scientists studied the effects on the children and found significant gains among the children who attended the museum. And, very significantly,
[M]ost of the benefits we observed are significantly larger for minority students, low-income students and students from rural schools — typically two to three times larger than for white, middle-class, suburban students — owing perhaps to the fact that the tour was the first time they had visited an art museum.
Art isn't a frill that low achieving students don't have time for. It, and other components of a comprehensive education, pay academic dividends that don't come from obsessive test prep.
I'm in the unlikely position of praising a few folks I usually disagree with. First is the Walton family — the Walmart folks who give major financial support to the whole conservative "education reform/corporate takeover" movement. Alice Walton gave $800 million to help create the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum allows classes and schools to visit the museum at no cost. That's a very good thing for the community in general as well as the children. Second is Jay P. Greene, an ed prof who is connected with the Goldwater Institute and all they stand for, and I stand against, in education. Greene co-authored the study and the NY Times article. I found nothing that pushed a conservative education agenda. It was all about pushing the arts as an important part of a comprehensive education. It looks like Greene and I found something to agree on.
Then there's music. An article in Education Week, Music Training Sharpens Brain Pathways, Studies Say, discusses the congnitive value of learning to play an instrument. We've known about the music-math connection, but this talks more about the complex interaction that comes from reading music, listening to the results coming from your instrument and combining manual dexterity with the other skills. The multitasking pays dividends in other intellectual pursuits.