Beyond Blending: Music and Arts in Education

ensambles-de-violin-2015We have done it all.

And we have all done it.

Looking to engage our students, we have incorporated arts (and sports and technology and sometimes even cooking) to our teaching. How many history papers can an eight grader submit before loosing interest? How many textbook pages can anyone fill up before the heart –and brain- begin wandering elsewhere (usually very far away from the classroom?)

We are good teachers. We know boredom painfully eats away learning. So we use the arts to make our subjects more enjoyable, to chase boredom away.

Richard Spencer is an award winning scientist – and a Biology teacher. He dances, along with his students, to help them learn complex biological processes. Even the names of his dances are funny: “DNA Boogie” and “Meiosis Square Dance

I am a Social Studies teacher for grades 7th to 9th. I have asked my students to produce and perform drama (and then to film and edit it) about historic characters. They have created art posters (and “marketing campaigns”) to choose the best monarch to represent enlightened absolutism. And sometimes we decide it is Opera day and everyone -including myself- must sing whatever words come out from one’s mouth (I have found this to be very helpful in limiting my speech outcome!)

All this works wonders with students. But still, there is a little something that bothers me. See, as part of The Top Global Teacher Bloggers, I was asked to write an answer to this month’s question:

How can we maximize the value of art and music in education and how can it be blended with more traditional subjects (math, science, history, etc.)?

But if we want to maximize the value of arts in education, we need to think beyond blending it with other subjects.

 When I was a child, my mother insisted that I have a raw egg for breakfast. Everyday. Well, she did not have to insist because I was not really aware that I was getting it. She blended it in a milkshake. Now, skipping the issue of whether this was really a good idea, nutrition wise, the important thing here is that she got what she wanted. I swallowed the egg, every time.

We have all done the blending. We use the arts as a clever disguise for the yucky subjects we want our students to swallow. We get our results, but are we seeing the arts in a utilitarian way?

I still believe that it is great to “blend” the arts with other, more traditional subjects. But that should not keep us from giving the arts their fair place in education. They are not just the means to an end. They are also an end by themselves. Just like reading or math.

In our school all kids learn to paint with oil, watercolors and pastels- and to play the violin. It is as important as any of the “academic” subjects. Yes, we have seen that it increases the ability to focus, improves concentration and develops fine motor skills – all of these very useful gains for the classroom. But even if that were not the case, we would still play the violin.

Because we believe music and art are great for the kids, period.