Integrating the Arts Throughout the Curriculum



“Pyramids, cathedrals and rockets exist not because of geometry, theories of structures or thermodynamics, but because they were first a picture — literally a vision — in the minds of those who built them.”

Eugene Ferguson


One of Albert Einstein’s most famous quotes states, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” To think that one of the world’s greatest contributors to science and mathematics would realize the significance that creative thinking and imagination has is surely testimony for us all to live by. As a nation, we must ponder what this means as much of our country lies stagnant in the quest for excellence in educational reform. Ramon Cortine of Stanford University contends there are not three R’s related to the curriculum, but rather, four R’s (Longley, 1999).  The fourth “R”, aRt, is all too often left out of our nation’s daily educational setting. To think creatively and imaginatively is what we must do to prepare children for the challenges of the 21st century.

Researchers are proving that there is no better way to accomplish this than through the arts. Solving problems, thinking creatively, developing discipline, and even learning the reward of persistence and perseverance are life skills that art education teaches. The skills taught through arts education are the true essence of what will take our nation’s children to higher heights in the new millennium. What more could we want for our children, our society, and the future of mankind than this?

Schools are not providing our students with tasks and problems that they will encounter outside the school setting. One third of all students will be employed in an art related occupation one day (Brademas, 1996). The United States Government has concluded, “The arts are indispensable to education reform. The very idea that we can change our schools and make them more effective centers of learning without educating children in the arts is simply false” (Fulbright, 1997, p. 100). Reportedly 1.5 million students (K-12) in 500 school districts are receiving an arts-integrated curriculum (R. Chapman, 1998); this is only 3% of our nation’s children. Unfortunately, with the back-to-basics movement as well as high-stakes testing, the arts seem all too often neglected. Accountability for the inclusion of art as outlined in Goals 2000 is nonexistent.

Art was abandoned after World War II while our government and the public in general shifted the focus from art to math and science (Walling, 2001). The race to the moon altered American’s priorities, thus the focus on math and science in the years that have followed. The impact of the space program is obvious as the struggle to get art back to the core of our education has been long and arduous. It has become evident by many concerned educators that “Science and technology do not tend to our spirit, but the arts do” (Fowler, 1996, p.47). The National Endowment for the Arts, the Kennedy Center for the Arts, and a host of other such agencies promoting and supporting the arts have been created to make certain the arts remain accessible to all American people. We can be thankful for the work that was done by President’s Kennedy and Johnson in the ‘60’s. “In the long history of man,” President Johnson declared at the bill-signing ceremony for the National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, “Countless empires have come and gone. Those, which created no lasting works of art, are reduced today to short footnotes in history’s catalog. Art is a nations most precious heritage, for it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision that guides us as a Nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish”(as cited by Fulbright, 1997, p.21). With the creation of this agency supporting the arts, President Johnson changed the way America looks at the arts for our generation and many others to follow. He has left it in Americans’ hands to forge ahead. What we must individually do is push for support of the arts from the top down (superintendents, school board officials, and all the way down to the classroom teachers.)

Through the Getty programs, students and teachers alike now have an instrument that helped gauge the academic benefits of the arts. An extremely important part that the Getty Foundation is responsible for is awareness across the nation that was influential in getting art included in Goals 2000. The foundation reports that it is the cornerstone in which 36 states have based their curriculum frameworks (Eisner, 1999) and this is indeed a significant accomplishment. Positive rewards have come by many continuing to incorporate the Getty values along with other philosophies such as Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and now the research data offered by Eric Jensen on brain research.

Howard Gardener’s work in the area of multiple intelligences has made the idea of integrating the arts a natural stepping-stone through his philosophy. His concept of relating how different people have different “smarts” (Armstrong, 2000) is one that many can identify with, either for themselves or their children. His beliefs have been widely accepted in the past fifteen years and many people practicing arts-integrated curriculum theory use the concepts of the multiple intelligences. Teaching through the eight intelligences, drawing on the individual’s intellect, and focusing on multiple styles for multiple kinds of learners seems to be what the American public wanted to hear about. Armstrong suggests that parents, administrators, and educators need to think of ways to take our students to the edge, allowing for “Christopherian Encounters” (Armstrong, 2000). I believe “What is required is an approach to education that challenges naďve beliefs, provokes questions, invites multiple perspectives, and ultimately stretches a student’s mind to the point where it can apply existing knowledge to new situations and novel contexts” (Armstrong, 2000, p. 116). After all, where we would we be today if Columbus had not challenged the idea of the world being flat?

Jensen argues that more is not better…more computers, more data to stuff down the throats of children… His research in how the brain works confirms that the arts can increase cognition and are an important link to learning. Jensen proposes a choice for us all to scrutinize: higher test scores (and higher dropout rates), or better human beings that have a love of learning (Jensen, 2001). 

Gardner and Jensen are in agreement with the philosophy that meaningful learning takes place as we challenge and channel the potential of each student; research confirms this is best done through methods that tap heavily into the arts. The arts, without a doubt, provide multiple ways for students to exercise intellect (Longley, 1999). Data supports that the schools that are integrating and including the arts in some fashion are the schools that are showing academic as well as personal student growth. Many programs nationwide are promoting the arts in education with fantastic results. Harvard’s Project Zero (Tilney, 2001), Ohio’s Spectra+ (Brademas, 1996) and North Carolinas’ A+ Schools (A+ School Network) have supporting data showing student academic improvement after the arts-integrated curriculum was initiated.

Much fuss and debate has been made over what we want our schools to accomplish for our children, our communities, and our nation with no real direction on how it will be achieved. When surveyed, the public overwhelmingly supports the arts and wants them included in their children’s education. What is absent is long-range planning and goals. This coupled with the public’s lack of commitment to fund the arts has resulted in a disastrous situation for the arts (Fulbright, 1997, p. 3). Besides money, we what else is necessary to meet the goal of fully integrating the arts into our Nation’s curriculum? What is being done and what can we do as individuals to promote the arts in our communities? These are questions we all need to answer.

We must look with scrutiny at our current curriculums and practices as we enter the twenty first century. We must reflect on educations’ place in our society in the past, present, and future. What is taught, and more importantly how it is taught, continues to be concerns that divide our nation and its people. Student-centered learning as well as project-based learning must take the forefront in the future. We must value the arts, and we must train our nation’s educators so they know best how to teach what we expect of them (Brademas, 1996).

Today 28 states require the study of art as a high school graduation requirement while twenty years ago only two had such a requirement.  Many people simply do not understand how art relates to other subject matter and how it can be included across the curriculum. “…When we think about the arts not simply as objects that afford pleasure, but as forms that develop thinking skills and enlarge understanding, their significance as a part of our educational programs becomes clear” (Eisner, 1998, p. 30).  It is obvious that many have taken notice of educational advances (test scores and other related data as well as student enthusiasm) that are being made when art is an integral part of the student’s school day.

Making art a priority for educational reform has proven to be a task that is so big that even major advances made by our government, the J. Paul Getty Foundation, Howard Gardner, Eric Jensen, and countless other curriculum research specialists seem to indicate that just the tip of the iceberg has been touched. We must continue to insist that the arts remain an essential part of educational reform knowing that America can and should do better for its children and our future.  I would have to agree that “Curricula in which the arts are absent or inadequately taught rob children of what they might otherwise become” (Eisner, 1998, p.64). This is simply irresponsible (Jensen, 2001).

Imagination and creativity are the basis for all educational learning. Teachers can help their students create a self that they will enjoy on their journey through life. Laying a strong foundation for critical thinking skills, sparking imaginations, allowing for spontaneity, and nurturing initiative is the role teachers must take for their students. We are world leaders in all realms of importance and our foothold in art and the humanities must not be lessened (Fulbright, 1997).

 As a nation we must all reflect on our heritage. Where we have been and where we are headed is essential. We need to pull together to bring the arts back as the core of educational curriculum. Inviting students to become participants rather than observers is the key to educational success (Fowler, 1996). Jensen sums it up by saying, “I want our schools to foster ethical, fair-minded, disciplined, cooperative, thoughtful, considerate, problem-solving, creative citizens” (Jensen, pg. V). We can do this and so much more through the arts if only our voices are heard.




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