Art is good for elementary schoolers

I went to elementary school in California amid serial budget cuts. First went the school buses. Then went the art program. The music program got scaled-back. I think the activities for gifted students went away for a few years and came back. In any case, why do we need art education? Why not focus on math and science — the kind of skills that prepare kids for real jobs? Here’s one answer: the Boston Globe reports on a study of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders that found visiting a museum and associated classroom activities improved kids’ critical thinking skills. Interestingly, Garrison Keillor remarks that that’s such an obvious result, it wasn’t worth the Department of Education’s $750,000 of funding.

Well, sometimes it’s important to restate the obvious, in study form. Our economy does not value the fine arts very well. I’ll bet we wouldn’t have many museums if it weren’t for a small number of extremely wealthy individuals who had, or who’s heirs had, liberal arts educations. I have often wondered about the utility of art and whether such lavish museums are worth supporting. Here is at least one way to think about the benefits: observing, evaluating, and trying to talk about art is a complex cognitive process that kids(/people) should practice.

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