A new study out of the Harvard Graduate School of Education is sure to put some arts advocates on alert.
Those who value the arts as part of a formal education have spent the past couple of decades arguing their merits as schools cut "frills" to meet tight budgets.
One of their best recent weapons has been the "Mozart Effect" - the claim that music could boost spatial skills. It came to be associated with grand claims about the arts' ability to produce little Einsteins, and soon had parents buying classical CDs for their infants and thrusting wee violins into pint-size hands.
Now Harvard is offering a needed dose of reality.
In their review of 188 studies that related certain art forms to academic achievement, researchers Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland found "demonstrable links" between music and drama exposure and increases in specific cognitive skills. But they were unable to draw a connection between many aspects of arts education and higher academic achievement.
The result, hopefully, will not be to encourage schools to drop arts programs. Instead, the authors remind us, the arts should be seen simply as a key part of a well-rounded education.
Why should arts have to prove themselves only in relation to better math scores? Just like other subjects, drama or music can be a key to turning some kids on to school. The arts teach discipline (like sports), and can deepen understanding in other areas.
That should be enough - and educators shouldn't ask the arts to boost bottom-line results in other subjects. That only sends the message that such pursuits are merely an adjunct to a narrowly drawn concept of education.
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