The arts are important for students nationwide. However, because of budget cuts, some schools choose to remove fine arts from their curriculum. This choice has been the topic of much debate over the years. It’s unfortunate because many students—including myself—enjoy fine arts immensely. There are three main reasons to urgently advocate for arts education: the mental health benefits, the resulting boost in cognitive abilities, and the increased joy it brings to students in school.
Advocating for the Arts
The first and most important reason to protect the arts is its lasting impact on mental health. As a current middle school student, I know that mental health is an increasing priority for many of my peers due to the negative effects of social media and bullying, along with a slew of other things. The news routinely reports how activities that involve performing music with others, like students do in band and choir, can make you feel happier, more satisfied, and more peaceful. From my own experience, after a band concert I always feel accomplished, and I can’t help but smile when I look around at my fellow band members. After successfully playing a challenging piece for the first time, I often feel more satisfied and less stressed.
The arts can also help prevent boredom. I already play the alto saxophone and bassoon, but throughout the school closure due to the pandemic, I learned a new instrument: the oboe. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without my school’s band program lending me that instrument. I can’t imagine not having band, as it has done so many positive things for many students, including me. Yet, more schools nationwide are replacing the fine arts with more time spent on core subjects like math and reading. Without the creative outlets of the fine arts, students will feel more stressed and may end up doing worse in school.
The second reason for keeping fine arts in schools is that it can also help students do better academically and boost cognitive ability. Evidence of this dates back to over 200 years ago. According to historians, when Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence, he would play his violin to relax. Some of the most intelligent people in history, such as Albert Einstein, were introduced to musical instruments at a young age. Most people in my advanced classes take either band, art, choir, or some other fine arts class as their elective, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.
In a TED-Ed video (bit.ly/3Io9j7f), educator Anita Collins explains that when neuroscientists observed people who underwent PET scans play their instruments, they saw that practically every part of their brain was being used, creating new and stronger connections in the brain, especially in the motor, visual, and auditory cortices. The corpus callosum—the bridge between the brain’s two hemispheres—is greatly strengthened when participating in the arts because it requires both motor and creative skills. Due to increased passages reaching between the brain’s two hemispheres, a person can better solve problems in both academic and social settings.
Finally, the arts are a ton of fun! Each day, many of my peers and I look forward to band, art, choir, graphic design, or other fine arts courses. Schools are always looking for ways to engage students, and I think it is important to have activities like the arts at school that students look forward to doing. Personally, band makes me excited for school every day. Last year, due to COVID-19 restrictions and block scheduling, I only had band every other day. On the days I didn’t have band, I started to notice how much I wished I could stay home and not go to school. In contrast, on the days that I had band, I felt more energized and motivated at the beginning of the day. Many of my peers agreed and have said they felt the same way.
Incorporating Fine Arts
One issue that remains a challenge is the funding, or lack thereof, of fine arts in schools. On the surface, it seems easy to rationalize—you can’t exactly remove math from the curriculum, so you take out what isn’t considered “necessary.” While this might be the only way to offset budget cuts, there are still ways to incorporate fine arts in classrooms. For example, instead of having students write a paper about early America, have them use the arts to show mastery of the material taught. For instance, they could draw a comic book chronicling a famous event that happened in that era or write a piece of music in the style of early American music. These would cost school districts little money, if any at all. Even something as minor as including small creative projects in class can aid in comprehension and boost students’ motivation and engagement. Some of my favorite teachers have been the ones to incorporate fine arts in their curriculum.
Without the arts, students like me will have very few creative outlets at school. This absence will result in less engagement in our overall learning. However, even with cuts to funding, there will always be something educators can do to add fine arts to the curriculum.
Nathan Buckwalter is an eighth grader at Fulton Middle School in Fulton, MO.