Sunday, February 22, 2015

In the Skills Adults Think Kids Need to Succeed, the Arts Come in Last

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on…………."

In a recent Pew Research Center survey of what adults think are "the most important skills for children to get ahead in the world today", disappointingly, but not surprisingly, the arts come in last. Again.

"Across the board, more respondents said communication skills (90%) were most important, followed by reading, math, teamwork (78%), writing and logic. Science fell somewhere in the middle, with more than half of Americans saying it was important.
Rounding out the bottom were skills more associated with kids’ extracurricular activities: art (23%), music (24%) (sorry, right-brained people) and athletics. There was virtually no difference in the responses based on whether the person was a parent of a child aged 18 and younger or not."

This is frustrating.  At the core of art is "communication"; at the essence of performing arts is "teamwork".  That's intuitive.  Why then does someone who values communication and teamwork as skill sets, not equally value the arts?  It's mind boggling.

What was somewhat surprising in the study (to me anyway) is that whites and college educated people ranked the arts lower than Hispanics and Blacks, and lower than those with a high school diploma or less.  Assuming that most of the educational decision makers are white and with college educations, that is discouraging.  The assumption (mine included) that whites and college educated people are likely to be more supportive of the value of arts education is also somewhat discouraging.  On the plus side though, there is increased support from the growing ethnic communities, and at least (nearly) a quarter of the respondents did pick Arts / Music as important.  We need to embrace and build on that foundation.

For some reason (unclear to me) the Survey arbitrarily included Music and Art as separate categories instead of the wider and more generic Arts (plural) category (but curiously left off entirely as a choice - Social Studies).  Music fared better on the ranking than did Art - but not by much.  The ten skills might have gotten a different response if creativity and / or innovation were included, but the results are still telling.  Political affiliation (unsurprisingly) impacted the responses: Democrats and independents put a higher value on learning about music, a skill that just 17% of Republicans agree would be helpful for kids to succeed.

What does it all mean?   It means despite decades of work citing and arguing the value and benefit of the Arts as a core subject important to the education of our children, despite substantial research on that importance,  despite the flourishing of hundreds, if not thousands, of exemplary programs across the country, and despite all our efforts, the public seemingly STILL thinks of the arts (at least as important in education) as a frill, a luxury.  It means that despite the recognition in the survey of the importance of communication skills and of teamwork as a skill, the public doesn't make the link between the arts and those two key skills - let alone to reading and writing.  We haven't yet succeeded in demonstrating and convincing the public that inclusion of the arts in the curriculum directly relates to preparing better communicators and team players.

We've centered our past arguments in support of Arts Education on the value of the arts in improving SAT and other test scores, in fostering better academic performance and model classroom behavior, and in raising the level of self esteem and confidence of young students.  We've argued that Arts Education helps to equip innovators and is the natural hand-maiden of creativity.  Perhaps we now ought to spend more effort on linking the arts directly to those skills the public already values - communication, team work, reading, writing and even math and science.  And help the public to make the link between the arts and those valued skills.

If we want universal, curriculum based, sequential arts education, then (it seems to me) one of the potentially most fruitful strategies will be to convince parents to demand it in their schools.  And maybe we can move to increase that demand if we link the role of arts to what those parents already seem to value as critical preparatory skills.

Somehow, some way, some day we have to successfully challenge, attack and bury once and for all the notion that the arts are just a nice indulgence unrelated to truly valuable skills.  I'm tired of always coming in last in these kinds of surveys.   We really need to ask ourselves WHY we continue to come in last; and how can we move purposefully and strategically to change that.  We ought to do research, surveys, focus groups and dig deep into the reasoning behind the public's perception with an eye to changing it.

Have a great week.

Don't Quit