Fine Arts is defined in the Encarta Dictionary as being, “any art form, for example, painting, sculpture, architecture, drawing, or engraving, that is considered to have purely aesthetic value” (Encarta, 2004). Though this definition is used in relationship with the arts in the regular world, in regards to teaching, fine arts is defined as a subject beneficial, not essential, to the learning process and is often phased out because of lack of time, little learning potential, and no money. Fine arts is simply seen as painting and drawing, not a subject studied by an academic scholar. Writer Victoria Jacobs explains, “Arts in elementary schools have often been separated from the core curriculum and instead, offered as enrichment activities that are considered beneficial but not essential” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 2).
What is missing in classrooms is the lack of teacher knowledge of the benefits of maintaining an art- based curriculum. Teachers “have very little understanding of the arts as disciplines of study. They think of the arts instruction as teacher-oriented projects used to entertain or teach other disciplines” (Berghoff, 2003, p. 12). Fine arts expand the boundaries of learning for the students and encourage creative thinking and a deeper understanding of the core subjects, which are language arts, math, science, and social studies. Teachers need to incorporate all genres of fine arts, which include, theater, visual art, dance, and music, into their lesson plans because the arts gives the students motivational tools to unlock a deeper understanding of their education. Teaching the arts is the most powerful tool that teachers can present in their classrooms because this enables the students to achieve their highest level of learning.
From 1977 to 1988 there were only three notable reports demonstrating the benefits of art education. These three reports are Coming to Our Senses, by the Arts, Education and Americans Panal (1977), Can we Rescue the Arts for American Children, sponsored by the American Council for the Arts (1988), and the most respected study, Toward Civilization, by the National Endowment for the Arts (1988). These three studies conjured that art education was very important in achieving a higher education for our students. While these studies proved the arts to be beneficial to the learning process, it was not until 2002 when the research analysis of Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development “provided evidence for enhancing learning and achievement as well as positive social outcomes when the arts were integral to students’ learning experiences” was taken seriously by lawmakers (Burns, 2003, p. 5). One study, in this analysis, was focused on the teaching of keyboard training to a classroom in order to see if student’s scores on spatial reasoning could be improved. It was then compared to those students who received computer training which involved no fine art components. This concluded that learning through the arts did improve the scores on other core curriculum subjects such as math and science where spatial reasoning is most used (Swan-Hudkins, 2003).
This study shows how one little change in the way students are taught through the arts can have a powerful impact on their learning achievements and understandings. Another study showed at-risk students who, for one year, participated in an art- based curriculum raised their standardized language arts test by an average of eight percentile points, 16 percentile points if enrolled for two years. Students not engaging in this form of activity did not show a change of percentile (Swan-Hudkins, 2003). Though this may not seem like a big increase, at- risk students were able to use this style of learning to better understand their learning style thus bettering their learning patterns. The most interesting case study in this analysis involved the schools of Sampson, North Carolina, where for two years in a row their standardized test scores rose only in the schools that implemented the arts education in their school district (Swan-Hudkins, 2003). Teaching the arts needs to be incorporated in every teachers daily lesson plans because, based on these studies, students who are taught through the arts raise their test and learning levels.
Due to the high volume of attention President Bush’s, No Child Left Behind Act, has required in schools, teaching the arts is left behind. Another reason for the lack of arts in the classroom author Victoria Jacobs explains, “Given the shrinking budgets of school districts around the country, art specialists and art programs have disappeared from many elementary schools” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 4). Fine arts are being seen as non-educational or an extra-curricular activity. Therefore, when there is a lack of money in school districts, this subject is easily being cut. Teachers need to find a way to incorporate the arts into the classroom rather than rely on outside activities and Jacobs suggests teaching “through the arts… with a means of using the arts successfully and in a way that it is not just “one more thing” they must include in the curriculum” (Jacobs, 1999, p. 4).
The arts can open the minds of students in ways mere reading and writing will never be able to accomplish. Yet, the point of teaching this subject is not to teach about the arts, but to teach through the arts. Jacobs explains,
Teaching though the arts requires students to engage in the act of creative art. For example they might draw a picture, write a poem, act in a drama, or compose music to further their understanding of concepts in content areas other than the arts. Teaching through the arts helps students experience concepts rather than simply discussing or reading them. This approach is consistent with educational theories that highlight the importance of reaching multiple learning styles or intelligences. (Jacobs, 1999, p. 2)
Teaching through the arts can be done in many different ways depending on the teacher’s interests, but truly is the only way to reinforce the students learning experience. In a time where budget cuts and new learning laws are being established, teachers need to be more informed and educated on the negative impacts of the loss of the fine arts programs.
Three, veteran teachers at a public elementary school did a case study which involved teaching through the arts. They believed “our students had to experience cycles of inquiry wherein they learned about the arts and through the arts, and that they needed to see teachers of different disciplines collaborate” (Berghoff, 2003, p. 2).