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Bill Cirone: Arts Education is Essential and Deserves Support

Arts Education Month in March gives us a great opportunity to remind ourselves why art is so essential for all, and deserves to be supported.

We all know that when school budgets get tight, art and music education are early casualties. Schools and classrooms are rated according to how students achieve on standardized tests, and you can scan those tests until you grow very weary but you will never see mention of a treble clef or a two-point perspective. When tests measure reading, math and social studies, that is what is taught and that is where resources must be allocated, so cuts in other areas are a sad but understandable fact of life.

It is far more difficult to understand a political arena that makes that choice necessary in the first place. It is short-sighted and counterproductive. The arts are essential elements of a complete education, and they often provide the very skills and motivation required for school success.

The reasons to include arts in a school curriculum are compelling, and Arts Education Month is a good time to revisit those reasons.

The arts represent a form of thinking that is both sensory and intellectual, one that is based on human imagination and judgment. The arts are a form of expression and communication that is essential to the human experience, and truly deserve a regular place in our classrooms. What’s more, the arts provide unique ways of reaching students who may not access knowledge as readily through language and mathematics alone.

In addition, studies point to higher levels of involvement and educational achievement among students taking advanced arts courses.

Fortunately, most Americans recognize the importance of this early engagement in the arts. A Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all students.

Parents seem to recognize that the arts provide a heightened appreciation of beauty and cross-cultural understandings, and that the arts seem to enhance creativity, thinking skills and discipline. Many young people find great joy in artistic expression. For some, it is an outlet and a source of inspiration. It helps them keep connected to their teachers and their schools.

The benefits of arts education can translate into real advantages, including closing the achievement gaps between groups of students, keeping young people in school who otherwise might drop out, and preparing students for the demands of college and an ever-changing workforce. If we had a magic pill that would do all that, we would be dispensing it widely.

In declaring March Arts Education Month, the state Board of Education stated that arts education is an essential part of basic education for all students, K-12, to provide for balanced learning and to develop the full potential of their minds.

Throughout the western world, arts education is an integral part of a child’s education. Arts education is essential. On behalf of all the children we represent and serve, we should support arts education with all our efforts and resources. Otherwise, we will have drained from our schools the humanity, the creativity, the discipline and the joy that arts can provide to all our children.

— Bill Cirone is Santa Barbara County’s superintendent of schools. The opinions expressed are his own.

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