Opinion: The importance of the arts in schools

Students are constantly reminded by their teachers, parents and siblings that they have to succeed in school. They are reminded to do well on their math exam and to study their chemistry notes. Yet, society tends to forget about the power of the arts in education. Why is there so much emphasis on STEM education in schools, rather than the arts?

STEM is an acronym that stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Many schools embrace a STEM education because the fields of STEM offer a wide range of occupations for students after they graduate and can possibly provide knowledge students may need to know, to go into adulthood.

It is essential for students to know basic mathematical skills as an adult, but do students really need to stress over these STEM classes if they don’t need to understand how to balance chemical equations in their future? A STEM education teaches students what to think, not how to think.

Through the arts, students are not taught what to think or what to memorize. They are given the opportunity to interpret things for themselves and create work they are proud of. The arts refers to the field of study that revolves around individual expression, rather than factual information like what one may learn in a science class. It includes, but is not limited to, painting, drawing, dancing, theater, and writing.

The arts teach patience, provide challenges for an individual, and help teach students how to produce work that is symbolic to them, not what is forced upon them. Unlike a STEM education, the arts can teach skills students can continue to use as an adult. The arts can teach students how to be critical of their own work and others’ work, whereas a math or science teacher simply tells a student if they got the problem wrong or not.

The art forms like theater or dance teach students collaboration skills and how to work with others. Yet, STEM does not offer too many opportunities to work together because too much collaboration leads to cheating and plagiarism. An arts education is not only a less stressful one but one that provides students to explore their creative sides.

Dancers Working Together (Photo Courtesy of The University of Texas at Austin)

Having a STEM education is definitely essential for students, but what role does it continue to play in students’ lives after they graduate and move onto becoming an adult? Generally, the arts are lacking in many schools. Perhaps, more integration of the arts in education can provide students a creative outlet that can teach them skills that are useful later in their lives. Or maybe it can take away the pressures of succeeding in these challenging STEM courses. While a STEM education is important, an arts education is of equal value.