This year, NCTE’s theme for its 2015 Annual Convention is Responsibility, Creativity and the Arts of Language. As Program Chair Doug Hesse states, “Fully literate lives need creativity as well as competency.” In multiple position statements, NCTE recognizes the value of incorporating the arts in education, particularly in the English classroom. An NCTE Guideline on Reading, Learning to Read and Effective Reading Instruction notes that teachers provide effective reading instruction when they “Provide regular opportunities for students to respond to reading through discussion, writing, art, drama, storytelling, music, and other creative expressions.”
The NCTE Position Statement on Interdisciplinary Learning, Pre-K to Grade 4 recommends that interdisciplinary Pre-K to Grade 4 curricula should “Use multiple symbol systems as tools to learn and present knowledge. These can include symbols used in language, mathematics, music, and art…”
“New and innovative technology…suggests new ways of teaching and learning, including how we teach composition…Modalities such as print, still images, video, and sound, along with the arts, and popular culture all have the potential to inform, enhance, and transform the composing process. Music, art, print, dance, video, photography…might be tools used to facilitate the composing process, or they might be some of the products and/or artifacts created within the composing process.”
Given our stance on the role of the arts in literacy learning, we are concerned that states and districts are cutting the visual, dramatic and musical arts in order to provide more time for reading and math and to reduce costs. This shortsightedness fails to take into account the fact that the arts reinforce understanding of mathematical concepts and learning to read, write and speak. Access to the arts is also important to provide a more equitable playing field to all students.
Robert Putnam, the author of Our Kids, The American Dream in Crisis, spoke at a recent event about states’ disinvestment of collective assets, predominantly impacting the poor. In the past, public schools offered athletics and the arts to their students, providing “soft skills of teamwork.” Increasingly, access has been limited due to budget cuts, testing, and the imposition of fees, discouraging those less able to pay to participate.
Disinvestment in arts may slow students’ acquisition not just of “soft” skills but also of more traditionally academic ones. According to a recent article in the Washington Post, emphasizing that the arts are not “just a separate set of skills,” “the President’s Commission on the Arts and Humanities has tied investment in arts education to gains in test scores in math and reading,” particularly in struggling schools.
At a time when it may seem that literacy is getting a greater focus in K-12 education, it is worth keeping an eye open to what is not getting the attention. English teachers know that literacy is not an isolated set of skills. The arts not only enhance and improve learning, but open new doors for all students to follow their passion and to excel.