As an undergraduate at Rice – an excellent school across the board, but particularly known for its STEM programs – I had many encounters with engineering students who disliked studying the arts. They would tell me they simply didn’t see the point – where were the practical applications? With the prestige of STEM in all levels of education, many parents have similar feelings. Why focus on the arts in your children’s education when AP STEM classes and Robotics Team are such useful assets in the college application process?
In response to these pervasive beliefs, a team of education scholars recently published two studies demonstrating the positive effect of exposure to the arts on high school students. The better to convince the skeptics, the researchers constructed the studies on the model of medical tests. From a pool of students with similar backgrounds and similar levels of interest in the arts, they selected a test group, which attended an educational arts event, and a control group, which did not. In both studies, outcomes for the test group of students included a higher average level of interest in the arts, increased ability to think critically about the arts, and increased tolerance and empathy.
While the full studies require a subscription to the journal Education Next, the scholars wrote an article explaining the significance of their findings, which can be read here.
So what does this mean for your child’s education? It doesn’t diminish the value of other subjects, to be sure, but it is certainly a case for focusing on the arts in addition to those subjects. There’s no doubt that AP Calculus looks good on a college application, but so does AP Studio Art, and a student who has taken both will be more well-rounded and have a broader worldview – which is also a tremendous asset in the college application process, albeit a harder one to measure. So in between robotics practices, it might be a good idea to make sure your child has time to see – or even perform in! – the school play. The arts really can be a valuable component of any student’s education.