Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Arts and smarts

An article from Greater Good Magazine describes the relationship between arts and the development of intellect. Arts and Smarts. And of course the conclusion is what you and I would expect. Howard Gardner describes the effort to justify the arts in terms of benefits to other studies as an "American disease." But I would disagree slightly. The American disease isn't our attempt to find rationale for the arts in what they contribute to other disciplines and areas of cognition. Our real sickness is our addiction to the distorted picture that standardized testing creates of human intelligence. That distorted view blinds us to the value of the arts.

Yes, the arts do all those things that have been described. (Though of course some would inevitably disagree.) They make us better at math and science. They increase our interest in community and history. They improve cognitive skills in a variety of disciplines. Music does make us smart. And the point of the article is that the arts actually do much more. Drawing on two sources, Why Our Schools Need the Arts by Jessica Hoffmann Davis and Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education by Hetland, Winner, Veenema and Sheridan, the article describes a number of these benefits. One of the vital skills that the arts teach is to "engage and persist." The arts "remind children that their emotions are worthy of respect and expression." In a day in which testable right and wrong answers dominate education, the arts teach us to work with ambiguity and to develop respect for other perspectives and judgments. And most importantly "the arts can engage children who might not otherwise be reached by academics."

In other words, while most education is about what we know, and what we can cram in our short-term memories for regurgitation at test time, arts education defines who we are. The real measure of man is not in what he knows, but in what he does. Can we raise children to act with intelligence? We can look at a variety of issues that I have discussed in the blog. We are at a crisis in American education. And it particularly impacts young men through an epidemic of under-performance in academia. And so, what is the fix? Early advocates of manual arts training laid it all out for us. If only we could remember.


  1. Anonymous1:16 PM

    Doug and his readers,
    Scrap Wood

  2. Scrap, that is delightful.