Art Education in Future America

An in-depth look at parental perspectives on the impact of visual arts education.

It is projected that in the near future, the current United States minority groups including those who identify themselves as multiracial, will collectively become the new majority in the United States. Educators will be faced with restructuring the curriculum to meet the needs of non-English speaking and bilingual students, the new majority.

As a researcher, educator, and administrator, I was interested in exploring the parental perspective in art education, in order to understand how attitudes toward the visual arts impact the cognitive, social, and emotional development of children. My premise was that learning in and through the visual arts offered not only higher order thinking, cultural, and social reinforcement for all students, but also, the ability to accommodate the English language learner without compromising his or her native language and self-identity.

Although the visual arts in schools is sometimes portrayed as an encore subject, because of the general emphasis on English and mathematics, my contention is that art instruction is vital in fostering an innovative and inventive spirit because of its design method which captures creativity and makes the class world-relevant to all students. Rather than focusing on discrete skills and rote memorization, the visual arts uses project-based teaching which fosters creativity, problem solving, literacy, and collaboration.  Moreover, the visual art has its own symbol system which makes it accessible to all learners.

The parent is the child’s first teacher and parent involvement is critical to the success of students in their academic, social, and emotional learning. As educators, we seldom ask parents what they think about their child’s education. My research utilizing Q-methodology compared the attitudes of Hispanic and non-Hispanic parents toward the visual arts from two multi-cultural school districts on Long Island, in an effort to find out if there were certain similar models of belief about what learning in and through the arts accomplished. Although the research would need to be replicated on a larger scale, several interesting perspectives from Hispanic and non-Hispanic parents concerning the importance of art education emanated from the study.

Empirical and qualitative analysis suggested that Hispanic parents valued the intrinsic nature of the visual arts.  Creativity, creative thinking, imagination, self-esteem, expression of emotions, and open-mindedness were important aspects of art education which help students to grow and develop. Hispanic parents viewed the arts as a “life skill” and the essence of their culture. Non-Hispanic parents also valued these social, emotional, and psychological indicators, but also included the academic purpose of art and the role of the visual arts in fostering literacy, student learning and career readiness.

When individuals perform an art task and are engaged in visual arts learning, attentional networks are activated and this fosters cognitive performance, memory, and learning. Viewing a piece of art requires looking time for thinking and this reflection enables students to make meaning through connections, as students express themselves and explore their own inner language.

Parents suggested that art programs which are multicultural in nature allow students to learn diversity, to understand history, and to learn cultural differences. The visual arts are a medium where students create through original and creative works. This enhances self-exploration and risk taking. Art education promotes an asset model of education.

Parents seemed to view art education as part of a multi-modal approach to education. Integrating art in the classroom and studying art as a discipline may provide a way to differentiate instruction for all different ability levels and learning styles, utilizing a symbol system which supports divergent and creative thinking.

Imagination, creative, and critical thinking appear to be linked to training in the visual arts. These elements are vital to today’s workforce in order for our future leaders to be career ready in the global market place. As part of professional practice, it is incumbent upon educators, administrators, and policy officials to support art education, not as a frill, but as an important discipline in the curriculum.

This study enhanced my position of the essential need for quality art education programs and for finding support for these programs. From a parental perspective, art education may serve as a platform to teach to and through the personal, cultural, and intellectual strengths of all ethnic group cultures. For this reason, the author recommends that more educators be trained in designing curriculum in and through the visual arts and in co-teaching with a visual arts instructor.