While scrolling down my Facebook feed, I came across a post by a Facebook group called The Art of Learning. On February 13, 2015 they posted urging their readers to become part of the largest online protest in history by joining them to protest the testing madness currently consuming our schools. With the current focus on testing causing teachers to “teach to the test” instead of allowing our students to truly learn in an enriched learning environment, programs that are deemed “unnecessary” are being cut. Less of the arts and sports are being made available to our kids, which means many students are being left out – forgotten and frustrated.
As a graduate with an A.F.A. in Music Education, a flute player for 9 years, and a softball player for 13 years, arts and sports education (from hereafter abbreviated as ASE) are vital to a student’s success. Speaking from personal experience, sports and the arts were a crucial outlet for me and without them I wouldn’t have made the friends, memories, or personal growth that I did. While the sciences, math, reading, and other subjects commonly referred to as “important” or “needed” courses are valuable, they don’t allow students to have the same kind of opportunities to develop discipline, focus, and self-esteem. We desperately need to keep ASE in our schools.
In a study published in 2008 by Vanderbilt News, Vanderbilt University’s news site, individuals that were either professional musicians or were not were sampled to compare and contrast the differences in their brains and learning decisions. The results showed that the musicians “more effectively use a creative technique called divergent thinking, and also use both the left and the right sides of their frontal cortex more heavily than the average person” and that those with musical training had higher IQs than their counterparts. What does all of this mean? It implies that musical training may cause individuals to develop more intelligent and more numerous solutions to open-ended, multifaceted problems.
In a very interesting research paper by MK McGovern, the author discusses the benefits of physical exercise. MK McGovern discusses how “[e]xercise exerts its effects on the brain through several mechanisms, including neurogenesis, mood enhancement, and endorphin release” and “how these mechanisms improve cognitive functioning and elevate mood states…” This implies that physical exercise, like the kind you get in gym class or playing extracurricular sports, could improve learning and memory by increasing the creation of new neurons in the brain and could help alleviate stress and anxiety.
There are certainly more advantages and benefits to integrating ASE back into school than those listed and they should all be explored when making legislation that causes teachers to spend more time in a classroom setting than outside, in the art room, or in the band room. Even if these were the only benefits a student could receive from ASE, they are still extraordinary results. The implications that spending more time playing in the gym would cause a child to become less stressed and develop a better memory, the implications that playing an instrument allows a child to become a better problem-solver, the implications that all of this combined could equal higher IQ scores are too powerful to ignore. They’re definitely too powerful to cut out of our school systems.
In 2010 a survey held in California showed that almost half of all of their school districts either cut or reduced their spending on art programs, while others implemented fees to play sports that not all students could afford. With high-stake testing we’re sending a message to our athletes, musicians, and artists that what they’re doing isn’t important. That what they’re doing is extra, added fluff that we don’t need. We’re telling them that unless you’re studying math, language arts, or one of the sciences, you’re an added benefit we don’t have time for.
It’s time to bring the fun back into education. I’ll be joining the online protest on May 1, 2015 and I hope you will be too.