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- The Case for Arts and the Humanities
in Youth Development
- Organized youth activities can deter risky behavior in
- according to a recent national study. Students who participate
- band, orchestra, chorus or a school play, for example,
- significantly less likely than nonparticipants to drop out of
- be arrested, use drugs or engage in binge drinking.
- this same study also notes that today's most vulnerable youth
- less time in activities like these and are therefore deprived
- Quality youth programs, whether organized around the arts and
- humanities, sports, science or outdoor exploration, are a
- source of supportive relationships and vital experiences. Arts
- humanities programs are particularly potent in promoting
- development. We see this most clearly in educational
- when the arts and the humanities are fully integrated into
- Several integrated educational models currently exist in the
- States. The Duke Ellington School of the Arts in the District
- Columbia provides its high school students, most of whom
- from disadvantaged backgrounds, with the chance to attend
- school where academics and the arts share the school day
- In Kansas City, 7 public school districts, 11 arts
- 35 donors have banded together across state lines to form
- Partners, an initiative to integrate community arts resources
- the school curriculum. Schools benefiting from this approach
- seen the transforming effect of the arts and the humanities on
- quality of education and on student achievement.
- While humanities disciplines such as history, literature and
- have long been accepted as part of the standard school
- enlightened educator who understands the value of the arts has
- insufficient educational theory and research upon which to
base his or
- her insight. In the last several years, this gap has begun to
- Studies are exploring the role of arts education in the
- of higher order thinking skills, problem-solving ability
- increased motivation to learn. Other studies are finding
- correlations between arts education and improvements in
- performance and standardized test scores, increases in
- attendance and decreases in school drop-out rates. The
- points elaborate on the important ways culture counts in
- development of children and youth.
- The arts and the humanities draw upon a range of intelligences
- learning styles. Experts believe that people do not possess a
- general intelligence, but several different kinds:
- musical, logical-mathematical, spatial,
- interpersonal and intrapersonal.2 Schools by and large focus
- linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligences. In so
- America's educational institutions may consign many children
- achievement and failure. As eminent psychologist Howard
- notes, "[S]tudents with strengths in the spatial,
musical, or personal
- spheres may find school far more demanding than students who
- possess the "text-friendly" blend of linguistic and
- The arts and the humanities provide children with different
- process cognitive information and express their own
- Using processes different from traditional approaches, the
- humanities provide children with unique methods for
- skills and organizing knowledge. Each arts and humanities
- discipline has its own distinct symbol system, whether it
- nonverbal, as with music or dance, or uses language in a
- way, as with creative writing or oral history. Exposure to
- alternate systems of symbols engages the mind, requiring
- synthesis, evaluation and application.
- The arts have the potential to enhance academic performance.
- arts give youngsters a richer reservoir of information upon
- to draw in pursuing other subjects, such as reading,
- mathematics and history. "Drawing helps writing. Song and
- make facts memorable. Drama makes history more vivid and
- Creative movement makes processes understandable."
- By honing nonverbal skills such as perception, imagination
- creativity, the arts also develop vocabulary, metaphorical
- observation and critical thinking skills. The elements of
- movement, space, line, shape and color are all concepts
- other subject areas such as math and science. The concepts
- in the arts permeate other scholastic disciplines, and a
- comprehension of an artistic concept can extend across
- academic curriculum.
- Furthermore, the teaching methods used in many arts and
- humanities programs provide alternative approaches to
- For example, some children can process and retain
- more effectively when they learn by doing, engage in
- like relationships and use technology such as in computer
- and videography.
- The arts and the humanities spur and deepen the development
- creativity. By their very nature, the arts and the humanities
- premium on discovery and innovation, originality and
- such, they can be powerful vehicles for stimulating creativity
- young people, a valuable trait throughout their lives.
- Businesses today increasingly look for workers who can think
- create. Clifford V. Smith, Jr., president of the GE Fund, is
- when he says, "Developing business leaders starts in school.
- assembly-line schooling, but rather through the dynamic
- that the arts-in-education experience provides."
- The arts and the humanities provide critical tools for
- youth as they move through various developmental stages.
- Preschool children, before they are fluent in language,
- powerfully affected by music, visual arts and dance.
- can paint, color, mold clay, sing songs, and dance in order
- convey feelings and ideas. These activities encourage
- children to express themselves and learn through the use
- nonverbal symbols.
- Teenagers struggle with issues of identity, independence,
- competency and social role. The arts help to mediate this
- confusion. Creative art activity allows the adolescent to
- mastery over internal and external landscapes by
- mechanisms for structure and containment that arise from
- rather than being imposed from outside. The artistic
- entails repetition of actions, thoughts or emotions, over
- adolescent gains increased tolerance or mastery. While
- means to express pain and unfulfilled longings during a
- maturational phase, the arts simultaneously engage the
- hopeful and healthy aspects of the adolescents' being.
- Similarly, the humanities encourage youth to read, write
- express themselves in a disciplined way.
- Changes in body image may be expressed through movement
- dance. Drama offers the opportunity to explore identity
- integrating childhood roles and experimenting with future
- possibilities. Music expresses emotional dissonance and
- The visual arts provide a vehicle for translating inner
- to outward visual images. Writing and oral history projects
- greater understanding of one's family and neighborhood.
- The arts and the humanities teach the value of discipline
- teamwork and the tangible rewards each can bring. When
- children's efforts culminate in a performance or exhibition,
- have a chance to experience meaningful public affirmation,
- provides them with some degree of celebrity. For those
- minutes, children are in their own eyes every bit as important
- anybody-any TV, sports, music, movie or video idol.
- This can be an experience of particular potency for
- whose lives are primarily characterized by anonymity and
- The arts and the humanities provide youth with a different
- on their own lives, a chance to imagine a different outcome
- develop a critical distance from everyday life. For one adult
- well-known children's book allowed her to envision a different
- from the abusive one in which she lived as a child. At a
- for adults learning to read, she recalled this experience,
- Smokey and the Cowhorse and said, "This is the book that saved
- life." Victor Swenson, executive director of the Vermont
- the Humanities, elaborates: "It [the book] represented
a world outside
- of her own circumstances; a world of honor and honesty, love
- loyalty and bad luck and good luck. It gave her something
- her own experience. And she could see that there was a way
- Developing cultural literacy in children and youth gives them
- sense of perspective as they participate in traditions of
- from which they learn and to which they can contribute.
- humanist John William Ward wrote in 1985,
- learning is centered on the individual who has important
- about self and society. To learn some of the answers to
- questions means the fullest and richest and most
- development of every single self."
- A respected gang-interventionist writes, "One of the most
- and effective vehicles for gang members is the road of the
- especially theater. New values only emerge through new
- experiences, and the arts provide a unique laboratory where
- and possibility can be explored safely. Validating emotional
- is everything."
- Because dance, music, photography and other visual arts
- language, they can bridge barriers among cultural, racial and
- groups. The arts also can promote a deeper understanding
- similarities and differences among religions, races and
- traditions. For some children, the exploration of their
- cultural histories can be critical to their sense of
themselves and to
- others' images of them. This knowledge can help bind them more
- to the larger society of which they are a part.
- The arts and the humanities are a critical part of a
- education. The true worth of cultural knowledge transcends any
- its specific applications.
- Source: Coming Up Taller, a report about youth arts
- by the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities
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