Klea Scharberg

How Do You Justify Arts in the Curriculum?

You've heard the comments: The arts are nice to have but not necessary to have. We have an afterschool program that integrates the arts so that they don't take away from the curriculum. If a kid can't read, does he really need music? And on and on. Yet NCLB includes the arts as core content, and there is plenty of research pointing to the value of arts education not only as a stimulant for student engagement and deeper learning in other core content areas, but also as a valuable curriculum all on its own.

What makes a subject or discipline a "major discipline?" In his book Arts with the Brain in Mind, ASCD author, former teacher, and leader in the brain-based-learning movement Eric Jensen tackles this question and arrives at the conclusion that the arts are not only fundamental to success in our demanding, highly technical, fast-moving world, but they are also what make us most human, most complete as people.

The book describes what findings from neuroscience and cognitive science research are teaching us about the need for the arts in our schools and presents instructional strategies and classroom activities that promote the musical, visual, and kinesthetic arts in school, as well as recommendations for assessing arts instruction. Do the arts help develop the brain? Are there special age-groups important for introducing the arts to children?

ASCD book: Arts with the Brain in Mind

Jensen grades the arts on a series of seven criteria:

  1. Is the discipline assessable?
  2. Is it brain based?
  3. Is it culturally necessary?
  4. What is the downside risk?
  5. Is the discipline inclusive?
  6. Does it have survival value?
  7. Is it wide ranging?

What do you think? Do the arts receive a passing grade?

"Make the goal high test scores, and you get a majority of students who get higher test scores and a minority who are turned off by learning and school. Make your priority better human beings, and you'll not only get better test scores; you'll also get cooperative, self-disciplined, creative, and compassionate students with a real love of learning." —Eric Jensen

Eric Jensen is also the author of Teaching with Poverty in Mind: What Being Poor Does to Kids' Brains and What Schools Can Do About It and has been a guest blogger for the Whole Child Blog and a featured guest on the Whole Child Podcast, where he addresses student risk factors, including health and safety issues and cognitive, social, and emotional challenges.

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