Arts are an important factor in education

By Katie Finlon

“Use the talents you possess, for the woods would be very silent if no birds sang except the best.”

Henry Van Dyke’s words surprisingly apply to me. What’s sad is this quote may no longer apply to students in a growing number of public schools.

This my life story in a nutshell:

I’ve been involved in everything from theater performance to tap dancing to color guard to drums, and now I get to write about it all.

In the middle of that performance arts chaos, I learned there was a very good chance that my elementary school district back in my hometown would cut funding for the arts in public schools. That meant a lot of kids wouldn’t be exposed to a life I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world.

I understand that if the money’s not there, it’s not there. There’s very little a single person—or even an entire town—can do about it, especially with Illinois’ financial situation.

That didn’t stop the people of my town from trying, though.

Naturally, the Board of Education understood the town’s concern, but they just could no longer supply the arts in public schools. In my town’s case, that only birthed many independent organizations, volunteering or paying, that would have the same education approach, just not in affiliation with the school district.

So the arts in youth didn’t completely die for us, they just began to cost more. It’s frustrating, though, when so many people think the only option is to completely eliminate a certain activity or department.

Then schools like Harriet Gifford Elementary School in Elgin and Mitchell Elementary School in Chicago began using a revolutionary curriculum: arts-infused education.

But what is it? Why would you use that?

First of all, it’s not a complete substitute to instruction solely in the arts, but it’s proven to make for very well-rounded and cultured students. Basically, the school keeps the standard subjects—math, social studies, science, etc.—and injects various art forms in its curriculum.

For example, instead of just math, students in these schools now learn math within the context of music. Instead of learning about science alone, these students learn science within the context of dance. Instead of learning about different cultures by studying a textbook, students might study a culture by its paintings.

It’s a relatively new concept still, but I have faith in it, and I hope future superintendents do, too.