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Why Do We Celebrate During National Arts in Education Week?

Date: 12 September 2017

We all know that arts education is good, right?  The vast majority of Americans (90 percent) believe that the arts should be a part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students. Decision makers in the U.S. Department of Education, in every state, from both sides of the aisle – and even from other sectors, such as business and science – agree. So why do we still have to celebrate during National Arts in Education Week?

We celebrate because we can, and more importantly, because we must. As we have seen in the news lately, our country, our state and our communities are facing challenges unlike any we have previously seen. When intertwining the arts in and through education, extensive research (available on ArtsEdSearch) shows that we are better preparing our future leaders to face these challenges. According to a decades-long study by the late James Catterall (to whom we dedicate this National Arts in Education Week), students who participate in the arts during their middle school years are more likely to be civically engaged than their peers who did not have arts education; meaning, they are more likely to vote, more likely to volunteer in their community and more likely to sit on the board of a nonprofit organization as an adult. Similarly, we know that when schools are arts-rich, educators are more interested in their work and believe they are more equipped to teach critical thinking skills.

As our country progresses towards the future – and students, teachers, families and communities grapple with more and more challenging social, economic and technological issues – we must ask: How are we preparing our future generation? We know that the arts play a key role.

Further, we must also question who can access that preparation for the future. According to large-scale, national data from organizations like the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Endowment for the Arts, students in high-poverty schools are more than twice as likely to have no access to the arts and marginalized groups of young people – particularly people of color – face steep systemic barriers to participating in arts learning opportunities. These barriers and other policies perpetuate cultural inequity and racial injustice. Former Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, stated, “This is absolutely an equity issue and a civil rights issue.” Therefore, we work to secure equity in access to arts education and articulate the role of the arts as a pathway to academic success, specifically in the education of students of color, students in rural communities, students who are classified as low socioeconomic status, English language Learners or those who require special education.

So, this National Arts in Education Week, we are here to celebrate the transformative power of the arts. We shout loudly that the arts are a key pedagogical strategy to empowering young people to overcome the challenges they face in life and to fight systems of inequity. We believe that access to high-quality arts education must be addressed in every community to adhere to federal law, to develop skills in young people, and to create more healthy, vibrant and equitable communities throughout the United States.

National Arts in Education Week is an annual national celebration recognizing the transformative power of the arts in education. Passed by Congress in 2010, House Resolution 275 designates the week that follows the second Sunday of September as National Arts in Education Week. Click here to learn more about getting involved.

This post is a guest post by Jeff Poulin, arts education program manager at Americans for the Arts.

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