A Humanistic Perspective: Art in Schools The Humanist TheHumanist.com

March is an important month in education. In two different ways, March highlights the critical importance of art in schools: firstly, it has been heralded as Youth Art Month since 1969, and the National Association for Music Education marks March as Music In Our Schools Month.

In 1961, the Crayon, Water Color & Craft Institute celebrated the first Children’s Art Month. In 1969, the month was renamed Youth Art Month to include secondary school students. The history of Music In Our Schools Month began in New York in 1973 when the New York State School Music Association sponsored a Music In Our Schools celebration. Over the course of the next decade, more and more celebrations dedicated to highlighting the importance of music in schools took place in March, and in 1977 the organization now known as the National Association for Music Education created a Music In Our Schools Week for members who wanted more flexibility but also loved the idea of March being when events occur. In 1985 the organization expanded the week, and this is the first year that March is known as Music In Our Schools Month among music educators.

Art is a critical, life-saving, and life-altering aspect of education. The American public strongly supports the basic idea that the arts represent an important part of a well-rounded education, with data from the mid 2010s showing broad support for arts in schools. Even if someone is solely focused on the outcomes of education in an empirical, testable sense, there are powerful arguments and existing data that shows the importance of art in schools with studies reporting that students who receive art education often perform differently in standardized exams than those who do not, even if other factors are similar across the broad. Supporting the arts is not just about giving students a reprieve from other subjects, it has a material, quantifiable impact on both their enjoyment of school and their performance in it.

The arts allow students to creatively explore and express themselves in a space that can often feel very dichotomous. In many classes, answers can be distilled to one of two possibilities, and the arts, and art classes, give students a needed break that allows them to express themselves in more complex ways than they may feel can be possible in a math class. This disruption from the rigidity of other classes is something that allows students to take a necessary break and to adjust their states of mind in critical ways before continuing their school day or leaving class and navigating the freedom and complexity of life outside of the walls of a school where answers to questions are only rarely dichotomies.

Understanding the importance of arts in schools and the impact of arts on the lives of students is something that many humanists already do. It’s worth noting that it’s not just humanists who value arts and art education, as many people throughout the American public–regardless of factors such as education, religious views, and even political leanings–support the arts. An example of this came late last year when in a heartwarming moment of American bipartisanship, elected officials granted the arts a win. In November of 2023, members of the House of Representatives came together across the aisle and defeated an effort to eliminate federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This shows that despite how it may feel at times, there are areas of common, workable interest in American politics, and those areas are not always destructive or negative.

The arts allow students to express themselves, and a healthy love of the arts is something that many of us profoundly feel. This can, on occasion, manifest in beautiful, happily non-partisan ways that bring people together and result in the creation of something joyous that allows us to see each other’s humanity in an age where it is too easy to dehumanize each other.

For students, the break in their day can be a valuable time to recharge and to safely express facets of themselves they may not get a chance to explore at other times in ways of their own choosing. A student can be penalized for using the wrong formula in a math class, but in an art class there often isn’t a wrong formula and each possible answer can be something correct without negating the correctness of other answers. It’s not a zero-sum game where someone getting something right means others didn’t, or signifies the emergence of one true strategy. This lack of pressure, and lack of competition, can be freeing and positive, and may well be part of the reason why this particular set of classes can be so influential on a student holistically, even when they take tests in other subjects.

It is the hope of this humanist that the significance of arts in schools becomes more widely known and better understood, so that more students can come to love the safety and opportunity of arts classes. Such critical spaces are a necessary part of a healthy, well-rounded childhood, and this is something many people regardless of their views recognize and cherish. There is something mildly fitting about the positive impact of the arts being so widespread that it unifies an often fractured community or network of communities. Here’s to hoping that the future of the arts in schools is as bright as the impact of the arts in schools!

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A necessary part of a healthy, well-rounded childhood.
The post A Humanistic Perspective: Art in Schools appeared first on TheHumanist.com.