Art for art’s sake

Art classes don’t improve students’ academic skills, conclude two researchers. Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland of Project Zero, an arts-education program at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, argue “art education should be championed for its own sake, not because of a wishful sentiment that classes in painting, dance and music improve pupils’ math and reading skills and standardized test scores,” reports the New York Times.

Their new book analyzes visual art classes and finds benefits — just no effect on reading or math achievement.

“Students who study the arts seriously are taught to see better, to envision, to persist, to be playful and learn from mistakes, to make critical judgments and justify such judgments,” the authors conclude.

Some studies have found students who take art are above-average students. Winner and Hetland see a chicken-egg problem: “academically strong schools tend to have strong arts programs” and “families who value academic achievement also value achievement in the arts.”

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Comments

  1. Two years ago, my school eliminated art. Now, I can’t say achievement scores decreased, due to this, but I can tell you that students and teachers missed art class.

    We got it back last year, along with a wonderful mural on one of our hallway walls, thanks to an enterprising art teacher.

    Sometimes, we just need to forget about data and consider the human factor. I can’t draw a stick figure, but I know art is important to life.

  2. Andy Freeman says:

    > Sometimes, we just need to forget about data and consider the human factor.

    Feel free to consider whatever you want as long as you’re paying for it.

  3. Andy,

    Do you think there’s no value to having art classes?

    (I think it’s weird that people were trying to sell art to improve other test scores, but art classes for the transfer of artistic cultural knowledge seem like a very valid objective for public schools to try to deliver.)

    Are you of the “if it isn’t of immediate practical utility it’s a waste” school of thought?

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Art, music (jazz and vocal) and drama are what keep my older, now high school senior, interested in school. Whoever came up with this non-sense should recommend schools stop athletics and see what happens. Geez…

  5. Do you think there’s no value to having art classes?

    Is the research valid? If it is then art classes are of no value, all opinions to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Let’s put the shoe on the other foot: demonstrate the value in art classes to the goals of public education. Not your certainty or your fretting about a cultureless society but measureable improvements to the educational goals of public education as a result of art classes.

    A better question though, and a broader one, would be “has anyone ever demonstrated the value in art classes to the goals of public education?”

    Since the answer is “no” – otherwise art education proponents would be shoving the proof of the value of art classes down the throats of critics – the only reason there are art classes in public schools are the proponents who aren’t put off by the lack of evidence to support their views.

  6. Is the research valid? If it is then art classes are of no value, all opinions to the contrary notwithstanding.

    Sorry, but that is not what the research says. Saying “it doesn’t affect reading and math positively” is not the same thing as “art classes are of no value.” Of course, if you think the only purpose (as opposed to the first purpose) of public education is to teach reading and math, then your definition of “value” is consistent. Sad, pathetic, and opposed to the public good, but consistent.

  7. Mike,

    That was kind of what I was trying to get at.

    I don’t know of any study that ever measured the benefits of art on a culture period, without even getting in to art classes, but that doesn’t mean I think art is without value.

    I also have never seen a study about the presence of oxygen in the testing room of students who receive high test scores, but I’m pretty sure it’s important.

    I don’t really think art equals oxygen, but I think that cultural knowledge is important. I suspect we could measure the cultural cohesion of countries that explicitly teach aspects of cultural and decide if quality of life is generally better, but even then, I suspect you’d be looking at correlation rather than cause.

  8. Andy Freeman says:

    > I also have never seen a study about the presence of oxygen in the testing room of students who receive high test scores, but I’m pretty sure it’s important.

    >I don’t really think art equals oxygen, but I think that cultural knowledge is important

    Important? How about valuable.

    Now do the work to test said hypothesis.

    Teaching reading and math does have value. Of course, if we costs more to teach it than said value, we have a problem.

  9. Andy,

    So you hold the position that art classes have no value because they don’t improve reading and math?

    I think that it’s as hard to really establish the value of teaching math and reading as it its to test the value of art.

    We assume that the public schools teaching of reading and math makes a more literate and employable citizenry and work force, but have you ever seen as study that proved it?

    Why would a similar assumption be faulty because it involved the cultural value of art?

  10. Sorry, but that is not what the research says. Saying “it doesn’t affect reading and math positively” is not the same thing as “art classes are of no value.”

    That’s exactly what it means. If they can’t read who cares what creative realms are opened by exposure to fine art and the cultivation of the creative spirit? They’re illiterate and their lives are blighted. They’re permanent residents of society’s bottom tier.

    Of course, if you think the only purpose (as opposed to the first purpose) of public education is to teach reading and math, then your definition of “value” is consistent.

    Oh, you want to know what I believe to be the purpose of public education? You should ask so I can save you the chore of supplying my answer.

    The purpose of public education is absolutely to teach reading and math. After you get those insignificant tasks out of the way, by all means, indulge your dreary conceits at public expense.

    Sad, pathetic, and opposed to the public good, but consistent.

    What have we here? An oblique literary reference? How artful!

    Save it for someone who hasn’t had an opportunity to observe the terrible toll the unpurposed public education system exacts.

    If it takes one dollar of funding away from making certain that every kid who’s physically capable of learning to read, learns to read then I’d scrap every last “enrichment” program nationwide.

  11. So your position is that public schools should teach reading and math only?

    Interesting.

    No history, no science, no writing?

    If I thought we had to choose, reading and math are more essential than art, but it’s not an either/or choice. We can choose to teach reading, math, and art.

    And as I believe often gets presented here, throwing more money at education doesn’t make achievement rise, so why would money shifted from art to reading matter?