We are witnessing education grow to be dangerously competitive before our very eyes—if the recent college cheating scandal doesn’t frighten you, maybe you should rethink what higher education (and the college application process) means to you. And every year it seems like students and their parents are worried about college at an earlier age. At the rate we’re going, kindergartners will be required to enroll in SAT prep courses by 2020.
Now more than ever, everything high school students do is all for college applications. While the varsity athletes, yearbook creators, debate team captains, student government presidents, and community service pros might not sit at the same lunch table, they all have a common goal: acceptance to an elite university. And while colleges across the country pride themselves on accepting well-rounded applicants, America’s schools aren’t very good at producing well-rounded students. Arts departments in schools are continuously being left behind in terms of funding, especially in this time of diminishing subsidies for schools as a whole. In the recently released 2020 budget proposal, the Trump administration requested a $7.1 billion cut in education funding. Thankfully, in past years, Congress has disregarded these massive requests, leaving education in the hands of state governments, but it’s outrageous nonetheless.
On the 2020 budget proposal, one of the listed programs proposed for elimination is Arts in Education, alongside Innovative Approaches to Literacy,, and Comprehensive Literacy Development Grants (not to mention important non-arts programs such as the Special Olympics). On top of all the outside pressures put on students of all ages by parents, teachers, coaches, and even friends, all students should have the opportunity to engage in some sort of creative program at school.
And while arts education might focus on developing the right brain, hard data and left brain statistics help explain the importance of keeping creativity in schools. There is a plethora of evidence that both artistic and musical training allow for quicker, more well-rounded development of children’s brains. Art classes make way for various benefits, such as improved academic performance and motor skills in elementary-aged children, but even more importantly, they play a significant role in mental health. About 25 percent of teenagers currently suffer from anxiety disorders, which is a statistic that is getting higher every year.
And the truth of the matter is that, even without all the statistics regarding cognitive development and memory formation, art (whether it’s music, painting, or dance) is always fun—no matter how old you are. The arts don’t have to provide some sort of scientific benefit or mathematical function—what’s important is that art classes provide a level playing field, time for utilizing a different side of the brain, an environment for engaging with other students in a more casual classroom setting, and what might be the only moments that allow for true creativity and self expression in a school day.
Even more than, say, physical education classes, art classes are the only place in school where students are truly equals from the start (remember being the last one picked for a team in PE?). Advanced art classes are rare and usually only exist in high school. Art in education provides a location exempt from college-talk or AP comparisons—it allows for students to coexist away from the warzone that takes place in every other aspect of high school.
Over the last 15 years, education funding has seen a rapid decline—and arts programs are usually first to feel the effects. As tensions within schools are running high and reports of anxiety and depression are on the rise (up to 49 percent of high schoolers reported experiencing heavy stress on a daily basis), this is certainly not the time to be eliminating programs that have the potential to help students cope with extreme stress.
In this age of increasing pressures and heavy competition within schools, students of all ages should have access to art and music classes. Opportunities for self expression in a school environment can prevent the early onset of anxiety and depression in students, and there is even evidence that lower-income students who are involved in the arts are twice as likely to graduate college than their peers without arts exposure.
Luckily, the chances of these proposals being passed are slim. But it is incredibly unnerving that the American government is not investing in programs that contribute to the holistic cultivation of the minds of our country’s children and teenagers. Creativity is important and needs to be instilled at a young age: By investing in creativity, America is investing in a generation of future innovators.
Featured Image by Ally Mozeliak / Graphics Editor