Why Arts Education Matters

Last April while visiting El Dorado High School in Placentia, I observed Mark Switzer’s film production class. One of the older students wanted to tell me something.

“I was just accepted into MIT, and it’s due to being in Mr. Switzer’s film production classes,” she said.

She explained that even though she had excellent grades and that her experience in the arts demonstrated the diversity of her interests on her application, more importantly and unexpectedly, her four years of film production classes prepared her for her responses during the interview at MIT. Her answers to all the questions were based upon her experiences in her media arts/film classes.

For example, she was asked to recall a time she failed, what she learned from that experience and how she had subsequently applied this knowledge. She recalled that the first film she had made had been a failure, and even though this had been an upsetting experience, she had analyzed her mistakes, discerning the elements that had prevented the film from communicating her ideas effectively. She applied that knowledge to the making of her next film, which won awards.

She plans to pursue a career in medicine but says the lessons learned in those media arts classes will impact her future endeavors.

And she is not the only student to see that the importance of arts in education goes beyond the technicalities of learning musical notes or painting techniques.

A music student from Buena Park High School told me that the main reason he attends school – rather than skipping classes – is to be able to rehearse and perform with the school band.

Some parents from Esperanza High School in Anaheim told me how their children developed confidence and their personalities blossomed once they discovered their passions in their art classes.

Through perseverance and grit, students have found the strength to go beyond their fear of being shy in order to communicate their thoughts and feelings to others through the arts. They have developed a sense of kinship among their peers and teachers at their schools and a sense of belonging to their community at large.

Stories may vary from person to person but the essence is still the same: Arts education continues to make an impact on the lives of students.

Leaders in education and business are starting to understand how the arts help prepare students to enter the workforce and succeed in the competitive global market. We need students to be critical, analytical and creative thinkers and effective collaborators and communicators.

Students can no longer rely on just facts and knowledge if they are to succeed, particularly in the present era of global outsourcing. Research has demonstrated that students who study the arts learn how to think critically and creatively, to persevere beyond failed attempts to reach goals, and to work collaboratively with their fellow students.

National Arts in Education Week recognizes the need to support equitable access to arts education for all students. Students coming from limited economic means tend to have limited opportunities to study dance, theater, music or visual arts. We need to be diligent about ensuring that every student has access to quality arts instruction in our schools, particularly those students who are impacted by poverty.

Fortunately, many school districts in Orange County are making a substantial commitment to this effort. As more resources go toward rebuilding and sustaining arts education programs in our schools, we must make sure that all students from kindergarten to 12th grade can participate.

Many leaders throughout the United States have stated that education is the equal-rights issue of the 21st century. If this is the case, we all need to make sure that all students have access to a quality arts education program in their school.

Written by Steve Venz – VAPA Coordinator, Orange County Department of Education
Article Originally Released by The Orange County Register

Contact the writer: 714-796-2258 or varsityarts@ocregister.com

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