Art at School

By Esperanza Salgado

We think of education as a one-way street. For eighteen years, we are taught a set of standardized skills by the education system and throughout those years we are required to learn those skills in order to prepare for the real world while figuring out what we like and don’t like. After those eighteen years of learning, we are left to those devices to figure out what we want to do for the rest of our life. Our knowledge of the world is limited to what was offered at the school one attended. Under those circumstances, if we weren’t offered an opportunity such as a basic course in computer science, or studio art or music, how are we supposed to know whether we like it or not? Or if that is a potential career choice? Or whether one will have developed the skills necessary to just be prepared in higher education? Or whether we want to pursue anything in academia?

The American Education system has a plethora of problems and the most vulnerable people that experience the consequences of those problems are students in low-income neighborhoods. Often times, the schools in these neighborhoods are severely underfunded and cannot support themselves. Education funds have been getting smaller and it’s becoming more difficult to support schools, especially for low-income schools; they are getting the worst of the backlash from the NCLB. Schools in low-income neighborhoods need more attention and money.  Lowering their funds because of test scores is just going to lead to a cycle of inadequate funding and program cuts. In a 2011 study from the U.S. Department of Education, “40 percent of schools that receive federal Title I money to serve disadvantaged students spent less state and local money on teachers and other personnel than schools that don't receive Title I money at the same grade level in the same district.” That is to say, schools who need more help with heightening the quality of education, don’t receive it. This leads to an even narrower door of opportunity for students-- program cuts. The effects of this are detrimental to schools, especially those located in low-income neighborhoods, widens the education gap even further.

In contrast, the Finnish education system indicates that a well-balanced education leads to high tests scores and, more importantly, prepares students for success.  An adequate education should include a well-rounded program that includes the arts.  The arts teach something other classes do not: The CPE concluded with “studies lend support to the idea that curricula should be engaging and relevant to students' interests or career plans.”. (Jerald 8) In the Finnish education system,  we see education approached by non-test driven education; instead, it is learning-based education. The education is intended to help “growth towards humanity and ethically responsible membership of society and to provide them with the knowledge and skills needed in life” (source). This means basing learning on a well-balanced education - including an arts programs -  unlike the United States education model which is based on tests.

In order to close the education gap and lower dropout rates, we need to tackle the main issue. Most students that are at-risk are from low-income neighborhoods.  The likelihood of schools in low-income neighborhoods being able to support their student body with sufficient funds are very slim. Those schools generally have less than adequate school funding because of low test scores but results of these tests do not evaluate anything pertaining to how much has been taught or how well students grasp ideas and concepts from their teachers. In addition, a more individualized approach to tests will show whether students are improving and are learning skills that will prepare them for the future. If having testing is absolutely necessary, a universal test across the United States with a variety of subjects and necessary skills may be an accurate descriptor of what has been learned and what needs to be taught. And tests should not be the final word on whether students are succeeding or not. If test scores are low, that makes locating schools in need of help easier. One can take into consideration what the school is lacking and fund it instead of giving more money to schools that are well off. Furthermore, evaluating the issues of a particular school can lead to quicker success and open up opportunities for students.

Students deserve an education-focused toward enrichment and balance in order not only to decrease the dropout rate, but to prepare students for success. However, schools across the nation are cutting programs and the first to go are usually the arts. Cutting the arts program is not going to fix underlying issues as an arts program at schools can help mend inadequate education in low-income public schools. The arts are one of the few human things we use for expression and creativity -- something so important to children. However, arts education in the United States is not on the top of the list as important subjects despite it being so crucial for the well-rounded individual. Every student deserves the option to take a class in an arts program to learn about a discipline or an art. It only leads to good things.