Fresh Voices: The Value Of Arts Education | Graduation Project

Nov 29, 2018

High school junior Zaida Marquis researched the importance of arts education in schools for her graduation project at Isaac Bear Early College. She is the first student, of what we hope will be many, to create an audio product as part of the graduation project. 

Zaida's project was focused on the state of arts education in public school, from elementary school through college. The audio portion of her project is focused on interviews she conducted with Jacki Booth, the Arts Supervisor of New Hanover County Schools, and Daniel Johnson, Professor of Music at UNCW. She also acquired audio from Jazz Band rehearsal at Trask Middle School, engineered by percussionist Wyatt Marquis (her brother).

Listen above and see the transcript below. An edited version of Zaida's work will be aired as a Communique feature. If you are interested in being our next audio graduation project participant, email Communique producer, Gina Gambony

♪ [Jazz Music]

Zaida Marquis: This is a jazz band practice at Trask Middle School. Here, around 20 kids are gathered during the school day to practice jazz songs as a group. This is just one example of an arts program implemented in New Hanover County public schools.

Participation in visual and performing arts has been shown to benefit students in various ways, including increased cognitive, social, and emotional skills. Jackie Booth believes the benefits begin for children in the early years. She is the Arts Supervisor for New Hanover County Public Schools.

Jacki Booth: So the arts, like a lot of things when you're very, very young, are super important. I think that for many people in many cultures, the arts are a way for us to understand how our world works, how to react to our world. And when I say our world, you know, I mean lots of things. I mean the larger world, I mean our communities, our towns, how folks in our communities talk to each other, what issues are important to them and you know, how to fit in or not fitting in depending on your information. But it's a really good way for how we almost learn- hate to call them the rules- but kind of the rules of how to be a citizen. And visual and performing arts are the things that humans communicate those ideas and emotions in a lot of ways. So many students, this kind of communication makes more sense to them when they're younger and not really ready to have the big conversations using big words and stuff and learning concepts. You learn those concepts emotively for your emotions in your cognitive and emotional social development. And that happens most scientifically when students, young kids are in invested in an artistic practice of some kind.

Zaida Marquis: The importance of the arts continues after elementary and secondary school into the university. Daniel Johnson is a professor of music and music education at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He teaches music technology, fundamentals, and his specialty is tuba performance. Like Jacki Booth, Professor Johnson sees value in the arts contribution to human development. He looks at it scientifically.

Daniel Johnson: And a recent study that I read said that the Corpus Callosum, that is the connective tissue between the left and right hemispheres, is thicker or more developed and musicians and non musicians. I think that part of that could be both left and right, hands being busy on the piano or on the guitar. It could be the idea that in music we need to pay attention to dynamics and tempo and our key signatures and rhythmic accuracy and technique. At the same time. We can have all the technique in the world. You can be the most famous technical pianos, but make no music because music is not the technique. Music is what you say with what you communicate with all that technique. At the same time you could have a great musical idea, but if you don't have the right fingering, there's not much music. So technique and the technique is important, but it's not.

So I think that cognitively, yes, there are many benefits to studying music or studying the arts. And I think that sometimes we don't appreciate the cognition, the thinking in music as much as we appreciate cognition in math or science or whatever, because we tend to think that music is all about the feeling it gives you emotionally. Definitely. I think there are benefits to studying music and studying the arts, both for emotional expression, but also for interpersonal, how you can relate to other people and how you can know yourself and intrapersonal. Um, I think that emotionally that's why we attend performances. That's why we watched the movie. That's why we go to the play is not for the lights. It's not for the program that's printed is for the experience. What did that play or concert? How did that make it? Did it make you feel? What was memorable about it?

I think that if we introduce students to music and music education at a young age, it gives them the sort of orientation to see themselves as creators of music or as active. And I say active music because sometimes we think that just listening to the radio or just listening to recordings is not being active. It’s not as involved. I think that we can listen actively, but I think if we have students participate as performers, singers, instrumentalists, they develop a sense of identity and they can really have that musical outlet themselves.

Zaida Marquis: According to Jacki Booth, New Hanover County Schools happen to have one of the best arts programs in the state.

Jacki Booth: In Wilmington we have a very nurturing city counsel and community, a community group that gives to our arts programs, city boards and taxes that, some of them give to us to help supplement our art teachers so that we can afford art teachers.

Unfortunately, arts education does not always receive the support and funding from the government that it should. Although Daniel Johnson teaches at the collegiate level, he believes music is important for young students as well, and deserves to be funded.

Zaida Marquis: And do you believe that the government is appropriately funding arts education programs?

Daniel Johnson: No, of course not. Of course not. I think that the state of arts in schools. Do you mean public school? Yes, public k 12. I think that the state of the arts in public school varies. Generally. We don't fund them enough on a par with the other subjects… I think one misconception is the arts aren't really important as important as math, science and English because for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they're not tested, they're not important… So there is a misconception that music is just for the talented people. Music is for all of us and it is important, I think in the longevity of schooling because it's important for students to have artistic experiences so that they can identify and see themselves as, hey, you know, I can dance, I can draw, I can play the piano or whatever it is throughout their lives, not just for the talented people are not just because I was in the third grade and we had to sing in a choir and all of that.

Zaida Marquis: A lot of this problem also lies in how the government views education. Here’s Jacki Booth again.

Jacki Booth: Education as a whole has kind of twisted what it's meaning is over the years. And originally education used to be, the goal of education used to be to create a well rounded citizen and not necessarily to create a craftsman or a tradesman or a lawyer or anything like that in public schools. It was to create a citizen and now that we are so focused on testing and on people getting jobs, we've forgotten to teach people how to adjust the citizens and humans of the world. So instead of giving kids knowledge and skills and letting them create their own path or moles, we are creating modes for them and trying to suck them into those molds.

Zaida Marquis: This poses the question: What can be done to improve the quality of arts education programs in schools? Moreover, what should the future of arts education look like? One possibility lies in integrating arts into core classes.

Daniel Johnson: My vision for the future is that we have integrated arts education. And what I mean by that is that we have a two way integration, that's the phrase we used two way integration and that is that in the music classroom we teach standards are content from math and science and English and the math class. We teach standards from visual art and music and theater. How can we do that? Well, we look for points of connection. We look for ways, for example, that music has a mathematical aspect called rhythm. We looked for ways that music has a linguistic aspect called and we looked for ways that the visual art has, say a mathematical aspect that we call geometry. So how can those points of connection makes sense for both the arts based teacher and the non art space due to that would be a vision that I would have so that teachers see themselves in a broader picture of broader concept and that they can use those points of natural connection for greater student engagement.

The most important thing, and I think thing that needs to change the most, is that we need to start looking at arts education, not as an elective or a special, but as we need to look at an arts integration model, meaning that we are teaching, we are using art to teach fundamental concepts even in academic classrooms. So that classroom teachers, math teachers, English teachers, science teachers are using art techniques along with any kind of regular lesson planning inside their classrooms to teach things.

Integrated arts programs would allow students to learn their core subjects such as reading, math, and science with the help of the arts, rather than treating the arts entirely as their own subject.

Jacki Booth: So that's the kind of world I'm looking at where we changed the conversation and it becomes less about us and them. Us seeing the artist, you know, that are special and mystical somehow, and them the classroom, the academics, the math, the English is we need to realize that we're all the same thing and that art isn't scary and being an artist isn't scary and it isn't like putting somebody up on a throne. Everyone is an artist in some way. Everyone can learn from art in some way. And that's not to detract from great artists, famous artists who really hone their craft, but it means that there's a little bit of art in everyone and we need to remember that and not make it an us versus them.

Zaida Marquis: That’s Jacki Booth, the Arts Supervisor for New Hanover County Schools, and Daniel Johnson, Professor of Music at UNCW. I’m Zaida Marquis. This is my graduation project.

♪ [Jazz Music]