Does Arts Education Improve Literacy?
> 7/28/2006 1:50:19 PM

A recently published study of a longtime education project organized by New York's Guggenheim Museum reports that children called upon to create, analyze and discuss works of art displayed improved skills in the areas of conversation, debate and critical thinking. The program, called Learning Through Art, began in 1970 as a coordinated response to nationwide cuts in arts education. Working artists involved in LTA spend one day a week teaching in New York area schools. In addition to helping students make their own art, the teachers often take them to various Guggenheim exhibits and encourage relevant conversation. At year's end, the Guggenheim holds an exhibition of the children's work. In preparation for the new study, researchers conducted one-on-one interviews with hundreds of children, many of whom had participated in the program. From the related New York Times article:

The study found that students in the program performed better in six categories of literacy and critical thinking skills — including thorough description, hypothesizing and reasoning — than did students who were not in the program. The children were assessed as they discussed a passage in a children’s book, Cynthia Kadohata’s “Kira-Kira,” and a painting by Arshile Gorky, “The Artist and His Mother.”

One seemingly contradictory aspect of the study is the fact that the students in the program did not score higher than the control group on standardized New York state reading and writing tests. Organizers believe this is a misleading statistic that occurs because that their tests involve live discussion rather than potentially restrictive writing exercises. The science of the study and the links between arts education and literacy levels are imprecise, but the program's recorded benefits seem to outweigh its clinical uncertainties. 

This topic is particularly relevant in the current school environment, where a pressure to perform at preset levels in math and English often comes at the expense of more creative programs. A large majority of Americans support more arts education in public and private schools, and statistics provided by the advocacy group Americans for the Arts seem extremely encouraging, asserting that children who engage in creative activities several times each week are much more likely to recieve rewards for academic performance, take up reading for pleasure, and attend extracurricular classes or youth groups. Though a basic competence in writing, math and science is essential to every student, ignoring the arts removes a crucial element from our educational equation. In teaching kids how to use their creative faculties, we move beyond preparing them for industrial jobs and closer to making them into well-rounded adults who are ready to adapt to the rapidly changing world in which we live.

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