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Put Art Back on the Charts

So as I mentioned yesterday, this article by Ann Hulbert appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Essentially the piece takes research from Harvard’s Project Zero and uses it to carefully deconstruct the idea that arts education causes a spike in students’ test scores. Though her point–arts education ought to be appreciated in its own right, and not just for its potential to raise a school’s NAEP results–is valid, she goes on to deride that very point by looking for its relative influence on other subjects, rather than viewing it as, for some, the means to an end.

Why isn’t it possible to appreciate arts education as one option in a panoply of offerings for young minds? Some kids gravitate to math, others to English, and some might well drop out altogether if it weren’t for their school’s drama, music or art program. Though she looks for skills that might “transfer to, say, the school lab,” and “not just in tackling a canvas or lump of clay,” perhaps Hulbert should have checked with Toshiko Takaezu, the artist who headed Princeton University’s ceramics department for 25 years, about how the skills involved in shaping a lump of clay might have helped her career. Or hey, maybe Tommy Lee could tell her how participating in his school’s marching band taught him how to be a rock star. After all, I’m guessing he didn’t have a whole lot of other reasons to show up for class.


Tommy Lee mugshot

Hulbert cluelessly wonders “How to forge links between the attitudes nurtured in the quiet hum of a studio and the tasks demanded in classrooms beyond?” when the links are evident pretty much everywhere you look. Architects must have a competent grasp of both geometry and art history. I know a surgeon who credits sculpture for his facility with a scalpel, and attorneys who believe their success in the courtroom is a direct result of their success in a high school play. Can you compute these subtle influences? Probably not, but what would be the point, anyway? Cross-discipline connections are made continually, and the smaller the range of subjects influencing a student’s education, the more that student’s opportunities shrink–and considering our economy of late, do schools really want to be the ones to narrow their charges’ opportunities?


Toshiko Takaezu\'s work



4 Responses

  1. Here is some interesting statisitics Drama Queen..

    1. Exposure to music from an early age significantly raises a childs IQ, no, not their performance on which ever test has been devised to positivelt re-enforce the sagging American education system.

    2 Dr Wolf’s study completed in the latter half of the last century concluded that 45% of American adults were only ‘functionally literate’ – Far above other developed countries.
    The aforesaid 45% contained an alarming amount of college graduates!

    3.The arts, be it literature, drama or music tend to contain a cross section of individuals identified as ‘Polymaths’, which in itself gives rise to a proposition.

    If a high percentage of Polymaths choose an arts based discipline as their forte, are their actions innate or deliberate? If deliberate, maybe our over-indulgent education system has inadvertantly produced the paradox it so seeks to destroy.

    To sum up; When the ‘Cold wind blows across the Atlantic’ as you so appositely said, do we feel the chill, or dismiss it as always, clutching dearly onto our dollar bills lest they blow away?

    Any comments

  2. Fantastic commentary on this! I was incensed by Hulbert’s piece (and I loved her book Raising America and consider myself a fan of her writing). She seemed to neither grasp the full meaning of the Project Zero studies nor the research elsewhere that suggests that there are in fact positive effects from education in the arts that apply elsewhere.

    I edit Beacon Broadside, the blog of Beacon Press, and today Mark Cooper posted on this issue as well. If you’re interested in his viewpoint, I hope you’ll come by.


  3. Oops–wrong link. Here’s the one to Mark’s post:


    Although the link above is to a report on many of the studies done that seem to contradict the work that Hulbert cites.

  4. Thanks Jessica, I will definitely check it out. I was pretty shocked myself when I realized what her equation was adding up to. It’s as though she’d never stopped to imagine that arts education had a value in and of itself, which, I believe is the most interesting part of the story, but which she relegated to one sentence. Odd.

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