In honor of National Arts in Education Week 2016, we are sharing an essay that Winsor Kinkade wrote for one of her college classes about the importance of arts education in public schools.

So why do we celebrate National Arts in Education Week?? Because "The arts are an essential part of a complete education, no matter if it happens in the home, school, or community. Students of all ages—from kindergarten to college to creative aging programs—benefit from artistic learning, innovative thinking, and creativity. Celebrating National Arts in Education Week is a way to recognize this impact and share the message with friends, family, and communities."

Winsor's essay below is packed with the data that proves arts education is essential for a child's well-being, and the action steps that you can take to advocate for the arts to our leaders, schools and families. Enjoy!

For those familiar with art and music classes, you can agree that amidst the grumbling and difficulty of learning the trade, there is a huge sense of gratification and enjoyment throughout the process. The pride felt after learning the harmony of a song or after completing a piece of art that you have worked so hard on is a feeling we hold in our hearts forever. For young minds, the expression of self and invitation to get their hands dirty whilst finger-painting is irreplaceable. Unfortunately, this amazing creative process is dwindling within our public school systems, especially those with lower income rates. While many people in our nation believe art should remain in public schools, the United States government does not seem to agree--they do not want to accept that art education is exceptionally important for expanding children’s minds. While it is fair to say that studying math and reading is also important to child development as well, a combination of creativity and logic is proven to produce the most well-rounded minds.

When children are encouraged to express themselves and take risks in creating art, they begin to grow in their sense of innovation that will be crucial in their adult lives. They become the kind of people society needs to make it move forward. The tools are set in place to develop children into inventive adults who seek new ways and improvements--not people who only follow directions. Art and music education is essential to encourage the process and the experience of thinking and making things better and more beautiful.

Dr. Kerry Freedman, Head of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University, states that “children need to know more about the world than just what they can learn through text and numbers. Art education teaches students how to interpret, criticize, and use visual information, and how to make choices based on it". As Freedman says, the benefits of exposure to art and music at a young age are innumerable. These benefits include motor skills, language development, cultural awareness, decision making, inventiveness, visual learning, improved academic performance and test-taking skills. Not only does arts education allow for children to think out of the box and develop academically, but it has many personal benefits that go beyond the classroom or office building.  

In fact, studies show that including arts education in public schools builds self-confidence. Through art, children who are stronger in their “right-brain”–the side of the brain associated with creativity, music, and emotion–can find personal fulfillment. According to Lynda Resnick, author of the article “Why Art Education Matters,” art is the level playing field within schools. It does not matter how you look or what background you come from, because with art, everyone can find something they enjoy and are good at. The respect of others’ creations, and our own’s, not only allows for acceptance of others, but the growth of our own self-confidence. This is a lesson that every child needs, especially children who may not feel this excitement or worthiness in other subjects.

Unfortunately, not everyone thinks this way. There is a huge focus in our country’s schools on the “big four”: English, math, history and science. While it is desirable to get kids competent in other things, such as art and music, some do not think it is imperative. Some citizens question whether the arts should have been elevated to the top ten under the “No Child Left Behind” act in 2001. It is absolutely understandable that some people feel that art education is of lesser importance. With a world consumed by standardized testing and a growing need to be one step ahead, music and art can lose their value. In fact, 66 percent of public school teachers feel that arts are being overtaken by the need for math or language arts. While art education cuts in public schools affects the whole nation, they disproportionately affect people of color. There has been a drastic decline in the availability of arts education for African Americans and Latino Americans. Between 1982 and 2008, it dropped from 47–51 percent to 26–28 percent.

Art and music is a necessary building block to these “big four” subjects. Techniques such as motor skills and language development are important for child development. Many preschool programs emphasize the use of scissors, markers, and crayons because it develops the dexterity required in children for writing. Talking about and making art provides opportunities to learn new vocabulary while learning words for colors, shapes, and actions. Art education can actually help the brain make stronger neural connections. Additionally, self-discipline, intuition, imagination, and coordination are just a few of the other positive effects of art education, especially for young students. And while the arts can be seen as an obvious aid to the “main” subjects, it also must be recognized as a vital part of the basic education in our public schools.

The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer. Overall, students with more art and music incorporated in their education do better in school. A study done in the US starting in 1982 continuing until 2008 showed that students receiving arts education during childhood did 50% better in school, receiving significantly less failing grades, and remaining in schools. Not only do children perform better, they are also found to go above and beyond the classroom. A report by Americans for the Arts states that young people who participate regularly in the arts (nine hours each week for one full year) are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, to participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing an essay or poem than children who do not participate.

In a long-term study completed in 2010, James Catterall, a professor emeritus of education at the University of California Los Angeles, found that children who were engaged in the arts showed many positive academic improvements. Drawing on a wealth of data from the National Education Longitudinal Study, he looked at how several hundred low-income students did over time. Catterall was amazed with his findings. Those with high arts involvement graduated from college and completed postgraduate degrees at 40% higher rates than their peers with low arts involvement. Furthermore, he found that these students were less inclined to criminal behavior later in life and had a lower percentage of unemployment. Arts education changes lives. It inspires further education and deters criminal activity in students. These are invaluable benefits to all children, whether they are considered “at risk” or not.

While the National Education Association is instigating financial cuts, it is important not to lose hope. Many people around us agree that art and music are imperative to human development and overall well-being. Certain individuals are standing up for the cause, including Governor Jerry Brown of Sacramento. Governor Brown has been fighting the National Education Association for more money to go towards education in grades K-12. Specifically, he wants the increased budget to support music and art education.

Maybe arts education is important, afterall. The positive effects of arts education go surprisingly further than expected. It creates a ripple effect that touches every corner of children's lives. Schools with low budgets and poor funding are of especially dire need for the arts. The children of these schools are being taught very important subjects with the recent emphasis on the “Big Four”. However, having the supplementary education in the arts allows for long-term positive effects and inspiration for a better life. With your help, we can send this important message to the US government: arts education is a big deal.