Why the Arts Change the Learning Experience

Although the researchers behind the Arts Education Partnership’s “Champions of Change” report conducted their investigations independently, a remarkable consensus emerged among their findings: Issued in 2000, in conjunction with the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, the report made these points about K-12 arts education:

  • The arts reach students who are not otherwise being reached. Young people who are disengaged from schools and other community institutions are at the greatest risk of failure or harm. The arts provided a reason and sometimes the only reason for being engaged with school or other organizations.

  • The arts reach students in ways that they are not otherwise being reached. Young people who were considered classroom failures, perhaps “acting out” because conventional classroom practices were not engaging them, often became the high achievers in arts learning settings. Success in the arts becomes a bridge to learning and eventual success in other areas of learning.

  • The arts connect students to themselves and each other. Creating artwork is a personal experience. Students draw upon their personal resources to generate the result. By engaging their whole person, they feel invested in ways that are deeper than “knowing the answer.”

  • The arts transform the environment for learning. When the arts become central to the learning environment, schools and other settings become places of discovery. The very school culture is changed and the conditions for learning improve. Figurative walls between classrooms and disciplines are broken down. Teachers are renewed. Even the physical appearance of a school building is transformed through the representations of learning.

  • The arts provide learning opportunities for the adults in the lives of young people. Those held responsible for the development of children and youth — teachers, parents and other adults — are rarely given sufficient or significant opportunities for their own continuing education. With adults participating in lifelong learning, young people gain an understanding that learning in any field is a never-ending process. The roles of the adults are also changed. In effective programs, the adults become coaches or active facilitators of learning.

  • The arts provide new challenges for those students already considered successful. Boredom and complacency are barriers to success. For those young people who outgrow their established learning environments, the arts can offer a chance for unlimited challenge. In some situations, older students may teach and mentor younger students. In others, young people gain from the experience of working with professional artists.

  • The arts connect learning experiences to the world of real work. The world of adult work has changed, and the arts learning experiences described in the research show remarkable consistency with the evolving workplace. Ideas are what matter, and the ability to generate ideas, to bring ideas to life and to communicate them is what matters to workplace success. Working in a classroom or a studio as an artist, the young person is learning and practicing future workplace behaviors.

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— John Eger