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Many American students live in fear. Last April 16, 2007, another incident of school gun violence resulted to the massacre of 32 people at the Virginia Tech campus by a Korean student who ran amuck. According to a national survey conducted by the Center for Disease and Prevention, in 2004, about 6% of high school students reported not going to school on one or more days in the 30 days preceding the survey because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to and from school (Youth Violence 2007). Ex-President Bill Clinton once said, “At a time when our society faces new and profound challenges, when we are losing so many of our children and when so many people feel insecure in the face of change, the arts and humanities are fundamental to our lives as individuals and as a nation,” (qtd. in Clark 1994).
Last February 2007, President George W. Bush recommended that the $35.3 million budget allocation of the Department of Education for funding school art programs (theater, dance, etc.) be eliminated leaving non-government art foundations to solely carry the burden of implementing these projects. Removing the budget means serious setbacks in the school system especially on the probable escalation of school violence. The arts are an integral part of learning not only for students to learn how to appreciate them but more importantly because it helps develop social and problem-solving skills that are needed by children as they grow older.
Part of what is causing teenagers to react violently, says Marilyn Watson, program director of the Child Development Project in San Ramon, California, is that they have not “bought into the social system, and that buying-in takes place in elementary school.” (Glazer 1992) Therefore, if we want to lessen the probabilities of school violence in the next coming years, the U.S. has to focus its attention on the younger generation who are still easy to mold towards the right behavioral structures. Young children, if taught well on the basics of social skills and problem solving techniques, can develop into better teenagers and lessen the problem of school violence.
Art is one of the best ways to help children understand problems and hone their skills in solving them. It is also one of the best ways to practice social skills through its projects. If the government will not give enough funding for more art programs in the elementary level, children are given less of the lessons they need to cope with life and reality.
Last 2002, The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities released a report entitled Champions of Change proving that increasing participation of elementary students in the arts helped achieve better problem solving skills. The math, science and language teachers of students who were subject to the tests agree in their observation that the children who got more arts provision gained better abilities on thinking creatively and flexibly imagining ideas and problems from different perspectives, taking imaginative leaps, and layering one thought upon another as part of a process of problem solving. (President’s Committee 2002) In fact, the teachers also observed that the students are also able to express their various ideas in creative ways.
Examples of renowned wise people have used art to help themselves understand concepts when they are trying to study. John Howarth, renowned physicist, says that when he tries to analyze a problem, he makes abstract images in his mind. He dissects or unlayers the pictures in his mind and build and rebuild until he gets the answer to his problem. Albert Einstein also imagined muscular images in his experiments before he was able to develop the theory of relativity. Mozart made his symphonies by imagining them as pleasing dreams.
Another reason why government’s funding of more art in elementary should not be eliminated is because it can help stem the increasing problem of school violence through the development of social skills. When each one’s capability is enhanced, the tendency to become alienated is prevented. For example, when pupils are asked to stage a play, all the individuals in the group are required to participate and share what they can towards a common goal. This initiates building of relationships that help the students get a better understanding of how each one behaves and therefore lessens the probability of alienation.
It is but normal for children and adults to have conflicts with either themselves or society it self. Art projects offer the students ways on how to divert their feelings into positive recreational activities. According to Dr. Robin Gabriels, PsyD of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, art therapy can increase verbal expressions and can redirect expressions into productive forms – a sort of catharsis (Brinkman 2004).
According to Dr. Lawrence Miller (2007), a police psychologist based in Florida, a juvenile perpetrator of a school-related violent act tends to isolate himself from the input of others and enters a mode of self-protection and self-justification in which a violent act may come to be perceived as “the only way out.” Usually, this student has undergone an event or series of events that made him feel humiliated. His first impulse will be to find blame on others and imagine possibilities on how he can take revenge. As these fantasies build up, another event may trigger the child or teenager to implement his imaginations. Sometimes this happens as an immediate reaction and there are times when it is carefully planned. This just goes to show that children with these kinds of psychological profile have not been able to develop good social skills and lack the knowledge or wisdom on how to deal with their problems properly.
The government, in its move to eliminate the budget for art funding in the schools, is relying on the private sector, namely to VSA Arts and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, to implement the projects that children need.
However, studies have shown that the single most critical factor in sustaining arts education in schools is the involvement of influential segments of the community – parents, families, artists, arts organizations, businesses and local civic and cultural leaders and institutions (Arts Education 1999). The sad thing about this is that many of the school communities are not economically fit to provide strong financial back up to the arts education programs. The arts education of the children of these places previously depended on state funding to support the schools them selves. If government support ceases then these programs will also be discontinued.
The arts for many politicians and even common people seem trivial to academic education because it does not seem to require too much thinking. Although many officials do not fully oppose the idea of a stronger art education program in the elementary level, many believe that educators must focus on the currently assessed handicaps of the general student population in the areas of math, science and language. Because of the perceived limitation in the financial side of the matter, critics are pushing for more intensive programs for the three basic academic subjects mentioned. These people are reacting to the reports and research studies that American students have failed to perform above the levels of other modern nations on most of the critical intellectual subjects. In 1996 alone, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP, 73 percent of eighth graders failed to score at a satisfactory level on a national science test, whilein 1994 three quarters of fourth graders failed the NAEP’s reading test (Arts Education 1999). Critics have the wrong notion that math, science and language abilities are the most necessary for these children to be able to find jobs someday. These people have failed to realize that these academic skills are best honed through programs in art.
Art programs are very necessary in every child’s cognitive and social development. The U.S. government must focus on the importance of this aspect of education that can bring many solutions to the problems that is plaguing its society today.
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