• main
  • Currciculum Corner Heading

  • The Arts – “The Fourth R”


    “Art is the signature of civilization.”

    Beverly Sills (cited in BTSD VPA Strategic Plan)

    Former General Manager of the NYC Opera, Chairwoman of Lincoln Center and Metropolitan Opera

    “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

    Pablo Picasso (cited in BTSD VPA Strategic Plan)


    The Burlington Township School District has a long and rich history of supporting the arts in education. In 2009-10, the District engaged in the development of its first program-level Strategic Plan, and chose to do so in the area of Visual and Performing Arts. The Plan is modeled after the tenets of the District’s All Students Achieving Plan.

    The Plan articulates the District’s Core Values pertaining to the Arts: that the arts illuminate the pathway toward individual development; create a safe environment for risk-taking; celebrate diversity and embrace a common human experience; stimulate the soul of individuals, the school, and community; promote professional excellence; and inspire creativity, originality and passion through active learning. The plan clearly states our Beliefs regarding Arts education and assert the Program’s Mission, or Purpose, to provide students with a safe environment to build character, acquire knowledge and develop skills for self-expression, risk taking and creativity


    Our Vision of Arts Education, or what this Mission would look and feel like fully realized, is a program that would be a National model for arts education, valued as a Core Subject that is essential to 21st Century life - a program that energizes traditional educational paradigms, leads the creative use of technology, engages our society in diverse artistic expressions, and is constantly growing and evolving. The Plan established clear and compelling goals and measurable objectives to ensure the realization of our Vision, fulfillment of our Mission, and that we live our Values as we make decisions and take action.

    As stated in the District’s 2012-13 All Students Achieving Plan, the Burlington Township School District considers preparing students with 21st Century Knowledge and Skills a critical objective in order to achieve our Goal of Improving Student Achievement and to realize our Vision of All Students Achieving. Expansion of arts programs for their own sake, and the infusion of creativity and the arts in other curricula are promising approaches to fostering 21st Century Skills for our students.


    However, in a time of shrinking resources and budgets, unfortunately our school community may be a part of a growing minority of public educational institutions who BOTH recognize the critical nature that the arts and creativity play in the educational development OF ALL STUDENTS, AND act on this belief with support for arts education programs. Educational Leadership (*EL, February 2013) reports:

    ·         Six percent of public elementary schools don’t offer music.

    ·         Seventeen percent of public elementary schools don’t offer visual arts.

    ·         Nine percent of public secondary schools don’t offer music.

    ·         Eleven percent of public secondary schools don’t offer visual arts.

    ·         Schools with higher percentages of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch are less likely to provide access to arts education for students.


    Regarding this last bullet, it can be concluded from this essay that this group of students most need arts education and creativity promoted within their curricula. These students are in need of less drill, practice, and testing, and more development of creativity, inquiry skills, and passion for learning. There is good evidence that the U.S. Education system is headed in exactly the wrong direction and is in need of “a U-Turn” (Zhao, EL, 2013). Zhao (EL, 2013) stated,

    “U.S. Education has been put on a path that is reducing its capacity to produce creative and entrepreneurial citizens. After three decades of standards-based reforms and more than a decade of test-driven accountability exemplified by NCLB, the U.S. is near the end of a revolution that effectively turns education into indoctrination, mistakes diversity for distraction, and interprets teaching and student autonomy as complacency with the status quo” (Zhao, EL, 58).


    The February 2013 publication of Educational Leadership (EL) entitled Creativity affirms our belief in Burlington Township of the critical role of Creativity and the Arts in the educational process. EL makes a bold statement in this publication on which policy-makers need to seriously reflect, and consider the impact of current thinking and approaches on the types of students we produce. 


    Asserting that the “essential creativity skills and the grammar of new media are missing from the Common Core English Language Arts Standards,“ EL appropriately calls for schools to “Adopt Art as the 4th R” to “embrace and teach the grammar of new media” (Ohler, EL, 2013). Here, the “new media” refers to “media grammar” or “guidelines people use to develop successful media” (Ohler, EL, 2013). This new media is the language of creation in the 21st Century – the language of the seamless integration of text, music, images, video media, narration, and of course media not yet conceived. It’s a recognition of the world in which our children live and grow, and the world in which new ideas, creations, and innovations are born.

    A push to infuse creativity and the arts across the school curriculum, and a push to grow and improve visual and performing arts programs in and of themselves, are not faddish, nor are these new ideas; but rather, these are economic imperatives of the 21st Century recognized by substantial thinkers for quite some time. Walter Alvarez, a doctor and physiologist, recognized this by sending his “scientifically talented son, Luis, to an arts and crafts school where Luis took industrial drawing and woodworking instead of calculus” (Root-Bernstein et al., EL, 2013). Luis went on to earn a Nobel Prize in physics in 1968. Root-Bernstein (EL, 2013) asserts that,

    “Arts and crafts develop such skills as observation, visual thinking, the ability to recognize form patterns, and manipulative ability” as well as “habits of thought and action that include practicing, persevering, and trial-and-error problem solving” (EL, 13). 


    In order for the U.S. to compete in our global, technological and scientifically-based economy, we know that we must produce the most creative and greatest scientists in the world. Here’s the Arts pay-off: engagement in the arts “provides novel structures, methods, and analogies that can stimulate scientific innovation.” In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink (2006) argues that creativity and the ability to design will be THE commodities of the 21st Century, over pure knowledge and skills. He asserts that,

    “The economy has shifted from one in which most workers needed left-brain knowledge of details and step-by-step procedures to one that demands right-brain creativity - the ability to synthesize knowledge and develop inventive solutions to complex challenges.” (Pink, 2006)


    Pink asserts that we have entered a Conceptual Age in which those who are creators, empathizers, pattern-seekers, and designers will thrive and prosper. Pink states, “these people - artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers - will reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys” (Pink cited in EL, 2013). These 21st Century thinking skills are less likely to be automated than traditional work. There is good evidence that we are already firmly entrenched in such a Conceptual Age. Significantly fewer new jobs between 1998 and 2004 required routine, procedural knowledge or skills (30%) than jobs that required complex, creative thought (70%) (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data cited in EL, 2013). And, the former, “routine,” jobs are in constant peril of being automated or outsourced (Pink, 2006).

    This reality comprises compelling personal incentive for individuals to engage in learning and experiences to hone creative skills and pursue artistic endeavors, and it equates to a moral imperative for schools to support and promote innovation and the arts. These ideas are bolstered by what economist Richard Florida (2012) has coined Florida defines the “Creative class” as people in,

    “Science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music, and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technologies, and/or create content” (57).


    Florida points out that, “during the economic meltdown, the creative class fared better that other segments of the economy” (cited in Zhao, EL, 2013). The Creative Class lost “fewer than 2 percent of its jobs from 2008 to 2010 whereas blue collar and service sectors lost one in six jobs” (EL, 58). In addition, Creative Class workers are seeing their wages increase at rates over 4%, while blue collar workers’ rates are declining by approximately the same percentage (Zhao, EL, 2013). Zhao states that U.S. companies are hiring less, and that traditional jobs are being replaced with technological solutions, likely developed by those in the Creative Class. Florida asserts that the Creative Class flock to cities and communities where creativity flourishes. Can we imagine designing and nurturing such “creative communities” within and throughout our school districts?


    Root-Bernstein (EL, 2013) deduces that “for these reasons, finding ways to foster (and integrate) arts education alongside science education must become a high priority” if we wish to produce citizens who will compete in future economies.

    “The more arts and crafts that scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs engage in across their lifetimes, the greater their likelihood of achieving important results in the workplace” (Root-Bernstein, EL, 2013).


    No longer a “side dish,” Eric Booth (EL, 2013) in his article, A Recipe for Artful Schooling, profoundly concludes that “by nourishing the latent artistry that exists in each student, teachers can spark creative engagement in any subject area” (EL, 22). This is a conclusion that every skillful, experienced classroom teacher with some knowledge and understanding of how the human brain learns has discovered. The acts of performing, creating, expressing, and designing are productive learning endeavors in their own rights; however, they are also and extraordinarily effective as a means of processing and making sense of subject content knowledge and integrating such knowledge into existing neural networks (Wolfe, 2001). This is evident in “oodles” of research on the brain and learning that identifies the three key ingredients to learning: relevance; emotions; and context and patterns (e.g. Jensen, 1998; National Research Council, How People Learn, 1998, et al.). There’s good evidence that when an instructor hears, “I can’t do art,” that’s just bunk, and that the student has simply never been provided the opportunity, cause, direction or encouragement to extract his or her artistic potential. Pablo Picasso stated, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” Booth (EL, 2013) affirms that every individual has latent artistry and if we guide this potential well, we can spark creative engagement in any subject area.”


    As evidence that educators are recognizing the critical nature of creativity and the integration of the arts to success in learning and competitive global and economic edge, methods of actually assessing “creativity” are developing. Susan Bookhart (EL, 2013) states that “we can assess creativity, and in the process, help students become more creative” (EL, 28). In defining creative as “original and of high quality” (Perkins, 1981, cited in EL, 2013), Bookhart asserts that “assignments that require students to produce new ideas or reorganize existing ideas in a new way are likely to foster student creativity” (EL, 30). She offers a rubric and a systematic process for giving feedback on student creativity. Her advice to teachers to foster creativity – “…name, note, encourage, and value the creativity in the work” (EL, 33).
    With a national obsession to test, measure, and hold accountable, i.e. punish, “the United States neglects creativity in its education system” (Ohler, EL, 42). The Common Core Standards are important and provide clear direction about what students need to know and be able to do, but they limit the conception of learning to the 3R’s (Ohler, EL, 2013). Our “new media” world is the world of the web page, video, digital story, “media collage”, and more (Ohler, EL, 2013). Ignoring the need to explicitly develop creativity shall leave our student unprepared for the challenges of the 21st Century (Zhao; Friedman cited in Ohler, EL, 2013). “Standards that don’t address creativity fail to support the United States’ reputation for creativity in the global community” (Ohler, EL, 2013).
    In fact, there are real results associated with integrating the arts in education, and real results for students engaged in arts programs and courses. An analysis of the College Board Profiles of SAT and Achievement Test Takers concludes that, “there is a direct correlation between improved SAT scores and the length of time studying the arts” (National Coalition for Music Education, 1997). Root-Bernstein (EL, 2013) concluded that “four years of high school arts and music classes confer a 100-point advantage over the average SAT score, whereas four years of science confer only a 69-point advantage” (19). This doesn’t mean students shouldn’t take science; it means students should engage in the arts as well, and science teachers, and other teachers and curriculum developers, should find ways to infuse creativity AND the arts in their curriculum and lessons.
     Artists perform, and performance begs innovation, design, and creativity. Arts programs that develop performance skills prepare students with invaluable 21st Century Skills, attitudes and attributes. “The Performance Cycle brings literacy and the arts together to give students a reason to learn” (Landay and Wootton, EL, 2013). Through performance, students develop confidence, concentration, build memory capacity, enhance creativity, think conceptually at high levels, develop the skills to communicate and articulate such thoughts, and experience passion in a connected and meaningful manner. They study, experience, and feel great works and connect to those works in a way nearly impossible in a traditional classroom. Performance is a full-body, full-brain, emotional experience that promotes understanding and learning. It epitomizes the application of current research on the brain and how it learns.

    The “arts…in short, are not luxuries that we can dispense, or dispense with, as the mood strikes us” (EL, 2013). When nurtured and given resources to grow and thrive, arts education fosters “exemplary inquiry-based learning” (Booth, 2013). No - the arts are no longer an “extra,” a “side dish,” a “special,” or an "elective." With the passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the arts are written into federal law. The law acknowledges that the arts are a core subject, as important to education as English, mathematics, history, civics and government, geography, science, and foreign language (BTSD Visual and Performing Arts Strategic Plan, 2010). The Arts are in fact part of the Core Curriculum.

    Starko (EL, 2013) asks, “Do we want U.S. students to become better test-takers – or innovative, 21st century citizens?” (54). If the answer is the latter, then creativity and the arts are economic and competitive imperatives. The maintenance, expansion, and enhancement of arts programs for their own sake, and the thoughtful integration of creativity and the arts in the curriculum as a whole, are absolutely and indisputably critical if our students are to have the competitive edge to thrive and bring prosperity to our great nation in the 21st Century.

    With all this evidence to support the deliberate and thoughtful infusion of creativity in the school curriculum, and the nurturing and growing of arts programs for their own sake, why are we headed in the wrong direction and in need of a “U-Turn?” What leadership must school leaders and concerned educators provide and what actions must be taken to ensure that students are equipped with the skills and thinking habits and patterns of creativity, design, imagination, and innovation so that they and our Nation may prosper in the 21st Century?


    “The study and appreciation of the arts serve as … a unifying force in society...”

    Former President George W. Bush (cited in BTSD VPA Strategic Plan)



    * “EL” citations are from the February, 2013 edition of Educational Leadership, Volume 70, Number 5.