Why the Liberal Arts
The purpose of art study is not to make artists out of our young people; it is to help them become
complete human beings (York 2004)
A considerable body of international research into neurological function and cognitive development now substantiates what many teachers, artists and parents have intuitively known for a long time – the arts are critical to education and learning.
The arts are basic to a child’s personal, emotional, social and civic development. Only the arts educate the whole person as an integrated individual: educating the senses, the mind and the emotions. The arts educate the soul (York 1998).
The arts can provide young people with authentic learning experiences that simultaneously engage their minds, hearts and bodies. While learning in other subjects often focuses on development of a single skill or specific understanding, the arts regularly require students to multi-task – engaging and nurturing their cognitive, social and personal competencies simultaneously.
‘If only he had the same interest in his school-work as he does in that loud music!’ or ‘I wish she would pay the same attention to her studies as she does to fashion!’ are common exasperations for parents, particularly of adolescents. The arts can draw on popular culture to reach out to many of these students.
It is common for young people who are considered to be low achieving or ‘at-risk’ to become the high achievers in arts learning settings. Often these young people have been ‘acting out’ because conventional classroom practices are not engaging them.
The arts, because of their multi-modal delivery, offer a natural fit for different styles of learning. The arts nurture young people’s cognitive, social and personal competencies. The arts engage all five senses. The arts offer opportunities to learn by seeing, thinking, moving, collaborating, problem solving, speaking, reading, writing, scripting, recording, shooting film/video, visually expressing, touching, molding, modeling, cutting, pasting, shaping, forming, presenting, responding, the list goes on. These opportunities can apply to subjects across the curriculum, well beyond The Arts as a Key Learning Area.
The arts enable learners to deepen their self-perception by having them think through their responses to a variety of real-life situations, and by giving them a practice or ‘dry run’ at testing the consequences of various actions in a safe environment. For obvious reasons, drama is particularly successful in this regard.
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