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Reimagining Art Education

Most educators today agree that involvement in the arts is associated with gains in math, reading, cognitive ability, critical thinking, and verbal skills. Arts learning can also improve motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. Arizona's state superintendent of public instruction, Tom Horne, even went so far as to say, “If we are worried about test scores and want a way to get them higher, we need to give kids more arts, not less. There's lots of evidence that kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests. The cross over between these core subjects and the arts open up a whole new realm of possibilities for the future of education. Studies continue to pour in regarding the social and academic virtues of art education, and a whopping ninety-three percent of Americans (2010 Harris Poll) are in support of art in public schools. So then, why is it that art programs continue to decline?

The sad state of affairs for art in public schools results from a boom and bust cycle that is invariably linked to school budgets and, more largely, the national economy. Over the past thirty years, the overarching trend has been toward the reduction or elimination of art education in most public schools. Moreover, the schools that are really hurting for art intervention tend to be in average to low-income communities. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found both ethnic and economic inequality in their 2009-2010 assessment of Arts Education in U.S. Public Schools. The results indicated that Black and Hispanic students succeeded at significantly lower rates, not because they lacked ability, but because of an unfortunate lack of opportunity for applied learning of the arts. Higher income communities are filled with parents who have the luxury of routing money into their child’s art education from their own pockets, but what about the kids who lack private funds? Who will defend their right to an art education?

Student in class working on prepackaged art project from Rainforest

Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, a global classroom that is entirely online, has joined the call for a radical change in the educational model of how we teach. In his Ted Talk eight months ago, Khan argued, “Let’s teach for mastery, not for test scores.” He supported his argument by detailing how these knowledge gaps accumulate over time, setting kids up for difficulties in learning further down the road. At Khan Academy, they utilize YouTube videos for lectures and provide supplementary teacher and student manuals through their website, all for free. Kahn developed this teaching model while tutoring his cousins via YouTube in his early twenties. From those humble beginnings, Khan has been able to craft a nonprofit organization that has benefited millions of people around the globe. By allowing individuals to learn at their own pace, they are able to practice skills and concepts until they master them, instead of simply “passing” the minimum requirements.


The Rainforest Art Project has also joined the initiative for practical solutions in and outside the classroom. At RAP, the movement goes beyond an effort to preserve the arts as a lone entity, singled out, and taught exclusively as one subject. They advocate that art be taught as an applied practice or method for reinforcing all other aspects of learning. The New Connections Program was designed to reinforce core curriculum with creative expression. The program responds to schoolteachers’ willingness and desire to foster the arts in the classroom by equipping them with the resources and skillsets they need to provide their students with a quality art education first-hand. RAP interviewed over sixty teachers, and worked closely with several superintendents in the Imperial Valley to create a practical formula for integrating art into public classrooms. They combine one hour per week video art instruction with ready to go, pre-packaged student supplies, all of which are academically aligned to reinforce classroom studies. Additional resources such as student and teacher workbooks are also available. The New Connections program is successfully operating in schools in the Imperial Valley, San Diego and Oceanside. They are currently updating their curriculum in the hopes of reaching the national community with this revolutionary message: there is no reason for any child to be deprived of art.

LEFT: Ayo Elise, Rainforest Art Project New Connections Host

RIGHT: Lauren Grace, Rainforest Art Project Video Art Instructor

If we are innovative and put to use these remarkable new resources that are available to students, we can shift the paradigm to make art affordable and accessible to all. Thus, by utilizing art to its full potential, it can assist the learning process and help children to succeed who are otherwise falling through the gaps of education. Kids who have short attention spans, behavior problems, and suffer from rough home lives can find comfort in feeling the power of their own two hands as they create something beautiful and set it free into the world. Art education benefits not just students and teachers, but also society by empowering the next generation with healthy modes of expression and connection to help them unlock their potential.


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