Today I attended an assembly with the 2nd grade class in which I volunteer. As I arrived at the office to sign in, the secretary asked me which grade I help, and upon hearing my answer she informed me that the assembly was a puppet show. Not exactly filled with enthusiasm at this point, I headed toward the classroom to wait with the students to be called to the auditorium.
I was expecting two people to be on stage with small, handheld puppets, perhaps based on characters from a children’s book, telling a story with the hope of encapsulating the attention of K-5 students. Instead, we walked into the auditorium to find three incredibly large puppets – an owl, a giant sun figure, and a figure resembling Mother Earth – along the walls and a curtain drawn across the stage. As the assembly began, I quickly learned the name of the puppet company that was very quickly changing my sour attitude toward puppetry in general: Paperhand Puppet Intervention. Their show consisted of a whole host of puppets, from a lion to a crying baby to a T-rex, as well as many others. Their message? That art is a wonderful way to express oneself, and puppetry encompasses so many different art forms.
Credit: Paperhand Puppet Intervention
The importance of art education cannot be overstated. According to sculptor Magdalena Abacanowicz, “Art does not solve problems, but makes us aware of their existence.” One of the most important lessons we can teach children is how to express themselves and their own feelings; art provides an avenue through which to do this. Whether this comes in the form of sculpting, painting, drawing, dancing, acting, or any other medium, art allows students to set themselves apart by tangibly demonstrating their values, beliefs, and interests.
As a guy who’s from eastern North Carolina and receives daily comments regarding his accent, I can honestly say that prior to college, I had very little appreciation for the arts. I acted in one play – Oliver! – when I was little, and that was the end of my “career” in theater. But two different aspects of my life have taught me its importance over the past two and a half years: college and working with children. College has broadened my horizons and proven to me that there is much more to life than the things that interest me alone. It has given me a deeper appreciation for expression of self, no matter what that expression may be. Working with children constantly reminds me that every life matters, and if we are to instill this same belief in students, art is essential.
However, like any argument, there is always an opposing side. I stumbled on an article that calls mixing academics with “extracurriculars” a “problem.” What do you think? I believe art is a crucial component to any education, but I of course still value the importance of math, reading, science, and social studies. Schools should give students the opportunity to experience art and other elective courses along with traditional academic ones, because as we all know well, every student’s needs and desires are different.
Students need art because they deserve to share their thoughts and feelings in whichever way they please. They need art because it encourages students to create, to question, to inspire. And they need art because it serves as a reminder to students that they matter in their own individual ways.