As schools everywhere try to economize, one of the areas that, regrettably, they decide they can no longer afford is the position of the art teacher.
Why is art education so important for our children? Many teachers and parents think that the way students deepen their spiritual dimension is by increasingly learning and coming to understand biblical truths. That is true, of course, but we also deepen our spiritual dimension by learning or doing new things that might seem to be unrelated to faith, such as studying objects through a microscope, gaining a deeper understanding of numbers, or by allowing ourselves to become deeply moved by art, poetry, and music. These activities encourage an appreciation for the significance of human life and for the great mysteries of the Bible and of creation.
The spiritual dimension cannot always be explained in rational or intellectual terms, but it includes a wonderful sense of awe and gratitude. Christians who work to deepen their spirituality in many areas of life find themselves growing in their religious faith. In planning curriculum, Christian teachers want to find many different ways to help children deepen their spirituality, and art education is one of them. In an article that appeared in Mlive.com on May 13,2013, Joanne Van Reeuwyk, professor of art education at Calvin College said, “I believe I can speak for the general community as well as for the higher education community when I say that without the arts, we suffer deeply.” She then gives eighteen reasons why art education is so important in elementary schools.
- To participate in the arts is to be fully human.
- Art is a way of knowing and a form of communication.
- The arts teach problem-solving, risk-taking, creative thinking, collaborative thinking, and innovative thinking. Indeed all of the higher-level thinking skills.
- Art helps form multiple perspectives. It gives voice. It helps us identify and express issues that are global, common to all people groups.
- The arts emphasize value.
- To participate in the arts is to live in culture and in history.
- The arts help make sense of the world. The arts help us pay attention.
- Art nourishes our emotive side.
- Art develops our cognitive abilities.
- Art can be (and often is) healing and supportive.
- Art teaches limitations, boundaries, yet encourages and promotes creativity and innovation.
- Art teaches about how parts belong to a whole—that all parts matter.
- The arts incorporate “big ideas,” and cutting-edge curriculum.
- Art teaches and reinforces community.
- Art celebrates thinking, creating, doing, and living.
- Art teaches us how to pay attention to detail as part of a broader spectrum and world.
- Art helps keep students in school, motivates them, and increases math, science, social studies, and language scores.
- Schools that incorporate the arts show longevity in teachers and enthusiasm on the part of the students.
Van Reeuwyk goes on to say that these are not in any hierarchy.
They are equal in importance and give ample reason for including the arts in all of life and especially in education. With all this in mind, and with the knowledge of how critical our education system is to our future and to our health as a city, a state, and a nation, can we afford to exist with even less artistic opportunities? We aim to meet needs of diversity, to teach all children to live complete and full lives and yet we continue to propose that the arts be cut back or even eliminated when finances are an issue.
It is unfortunate when the position of the art teacher has to be eliminated, but classroom teachers can do their part in attempting to fill the gap. Many teachers at the elementary and middle school level teach students how to draw and paint. But few schools include in the art curriculum knowledge of works of visual art of such quality that they have stood the test of time. Prints of the works of art selected for a particular grade level can be hung in the classroom all through the year. The following artists and their works would be part of an excellent art curriculum.
Pieter Bruegel—The Adoration of the Kings, Peasant Wedding, A Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap