Success and Belonging Through the Arts

In my last post Why Support the Arts? I noted six points summarized from an article “Willingham: Six Practical Reasons Why Arts Education is Not a Mere Luxury” (Washington Post, November 23, 2009) by cognitive scientist Dan Willingham. Developmental psychologist Jerry Kagan presented these points during a 2009 conference called “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain.” This post is in regards to the first point: The arts offer students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

As I have discussed before in this blog, the arts bring to the formal educational setting, a sense of place and possibilities for struggling students as well as those more able to achieve in the traditional school setting. The arts provide all students with new avenues for learning, multiple ways to be successful and a healthy sense of actually belonging at school.

The arts… offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

In his address Kagen estimated that around 95% of students are capable of doing the work needed to obtain a high school diploma. But the dropout rate stays at about 25%. He says that many of these students quit public education because they decide, usually at a very young age, that school is not the right place for them. He continues that “This decision is based largely on their perception of their performance in reading and mathematics.” The arts, Kagan argues, offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

In my experience in working with schools to implement comprehensive arts education programs, and as a former K-6 art specialist, I am aware of a boat-load of anecdotal evidence to support this reality. Time and time again, I have witnessed a turn-around attitude among “problem” students who come to see themselves differently through the arts. What’s more, their teachers come to see the student differently as well.

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