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Volume 10, Number 6
November/December 1994

‘A Slap on the Heart’

Teachers' Expectations and Kids' Achievement in the Arts


Though scholars and educators from Jerome Bruner and Elliot Eisner to Maxine Greene and Howard Gardner have argued for years that the arts are essential to children's development and should be valued equally with core subjects like math, science, and reading, arts education remains near the bottom of the list of curricular priorities in most school districts. It is seen as a frill, or as "enrichment" for the talented few.

The 1990 Kappan/Gallup Poll of public attitudes toward education found that music and visual arts were ranked as important by less than 20 percent of respondents; almost 50 percent, in contrast, said physical education and health should be required subjects. "The arts have tended to be viewed as something that should be available for the inspired or innately gifted, but not very 'useful' for everyone," says Patte Barth of the Council for Basic Education. As a result, school budget cuts in many districts have gutted arts programs. Even in arts-conscious New York City, two-thirds of the public elementary schools now have no art or music classes at all.

Underlying the struggle to promote arts education in U.S. public schools is widespread doubt about how many kids really benefit from such classes. Few educators take the position that the slogan "all children can learn" applies to drawing, singing, writing plays, and playing the violin. Yet the experience of individual teachers offers persuasive evidence that we may be vastly underestimating the potential of many children.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.


For Further Information

For Further Information

P. Barth. "The Arts and School Reform." Perspective 5, no. 1 (Winter 1993). Washington, DC: Council for Basic Education.

Robert DiSena, Council for Unity, c/o John Dewey High School, 50 Avenue X, Brooklyn, NY 11223.

W. Mathieu. The Listening Book. Boston: Shambhala, 1991.

Marsha Pincus, Simon Gratz High School, 18th and Hunting Park Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19140.

Roberta Tzavaras, c/o Opus 118 Music Center, 409 E. 118 St., New York, NY 10035.