Given all the talk on the importance of STEM subjects, are you wondering if arts education in middle school is even relevant?
Well, think back, if you can, to a time in your early life when you went forth into every venture with reckless abandon. Whether it was painting and drawing, building sandcastles, singing at the top of your lungs, or even deconstructing a snow fort, the activity brought you value.
This is what art does.
It teaches us who we are. It also shows us where we have been. Every culture since the beginning of time has left artifacts that give us insight into how civilizations have lived and worked.
And yet, most learning in art stops around the sixth grade. This is unfortunate.
Why Arts Education in Middle School Matters
Middle school is a turning point in a young person’s life. It is an undeniable fork in the road where students begin to make choices that will more strongly impact their move into adulthood. It’s also a time when they become more distracted and concerned about what others think.
As such, this is the worst possible time to pull arts education out of the curriculum. Art is a universal language. It’s the first language of babies as they learn to express themselves through sounds and movement. For toddlers, scribbling is a normal part of development. And young children are unafraid to be inquisitive, imaginative, and curious.
But sometime around middle school age, the American educational system begins to put more of an emphasis on the math and science subjects – working from a false belief that these will be the most important contributors to success in the 21st century.
And for students who are visual learners and/or have always felt at home in the art classroom, this can zap their enthusiasm for learning and ultimately staying in school.
The Fallacy of Prioritizing STEM
Yes. Science, technology, engineering, and math all have great value. But rather than at the expense of the arts, they work more ideally in tandem with them. As such, some schools are bringing art back into the fold – thereby creating the acronym STEAM.
Educators and researchers alike recognize that working in the arts helps students to develop creative problem-solving skills. It also helps middle-school-aged children continue to develop their motor, language, and social skills.
Art requires students to invent, make decisions, and take risks. It requires critical thinking. These are all essential skills that will help them as they enter high school and then move into adulthood. Through art, young teens learn to be more careful and thorough in the ways they observe the world.
Thus, the notion that the arts are superfluous in the shadow of STEM subjects is ludicrous. In fact, according to Americans for the Arts, young people who participate three hours per day, three days per week in the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement.
Interestingly, they’re also four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair than children who do not participate.
Additional research indicates that the greater the arts education program is in a middle school, the higher the attendance, graduation rates, and test scores with fewer disciplinary infractions. That same research shows that arts education is closely linked to nearly everything the nations says we want for our children:
- academic achievement
- social and emotional development
- civic engagement
Involvement in the arts is clearly not separate from science, tech, engineering, and math. Rather, gains in such areas can be achieved through learning the arts.
The Challenges Arts Educators Face
Obviously, the arts foster a positive and encouraging learning environment. So it’s no surprise that what’s often at the heart of outstanding middle schools is a quality visual art program.
Arts educators strive to integrate learning experiences, address students’ questions, and focus on the issues that are relevant to middle school-aged children. They work to engage students in problem-solving while accommodating individual differences. And they emphasize collaboration, cooperation, and community while attempting to foster an environment conducive to developing compassionate adults who will care for one another.
It’s a Tall Order
Unfortunately, not all schools are created equal and arts educators are at the mercy of the school or the district where they teach. Students from more affluent families have had the advantage of arts exposure from an early age.
Meanwhile, children from lower-income households have often not had these experiences. Providing them with an arts education all the way through middle school and high school gives them a more level playing field with children who’ve had these enriching experiences.
The Dawning of More Arts Integrated Middle Schools
Arts integration high schools have been around for many decades. But more recently, educators are grasping how crucial it is that we also provide an arts-integrated middle school option for students who don’t thrive in the conventional educational system.
This unique system of teaching integrates art with other disciplines to access students who might otherwise disengage from classwork. So for example, educators may use musical notes to teach fractions or dance movements to better understand physics.
In addition, the arts are incorporated into other core classes, while the school environment is infused with creativity (i.e. playing jazz or classical music in the hallways). Then, of course, there’s also straight-up hands-on art instruction.
Many of the arts integration education models are based on new findings in brain research and cognitive development and are flexible enough to embrace a variety of approaches.
The Ultimate Goal
At the end of the day, educating comes down to two things. First, preparing students to be citizens and have jobs by giving them the necessary skills for increasingly complex work environments. According to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, these include creativity, critical thinking, innovation, problem-solving, collaboration, and communication. The arts teach all of these.
And second, teaching students to become human beings who can recognize and appreciate beauty. Take that away and where does that leave the human race?
We’d rather not think about it.
Experience the Benefits of An Arts Education in Middle School
If your young teenaged child is struggling with conventional learning and you think he or she could benefit from an arts education in middle school, then contact us today to arrange a tour of our school.
Growing from our success over the years, Arts Academy in the Woods now offers an arts integration curriculum for middle school students. So don’t hesitate to explore this very viable option for your child.
And prepare for possibility.