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Arts Instruction is Vital to Innovation and the Economy, Abeles Writes to Obama


Hal Abeles, Professor of Music Education

Hal Abeles, Professor of Music Education

Following is a letter from Hal Abeles, Professor of Music Education, to President Obama. It is one of a series of letters to the president offering education advice for his second term.

In 2008 as a presidential candidate, then-Senator Obama championed arts education, stating
that “reinvesting in American arts education, and reinvigorating the creativity and innovation that is associated with the study of the arts has made this country great.”

More recently, the President’s Committee on Arts and the Humanities (PCAH) reported “…a growing body of research to support positive educational outcomes associated with arts-rich schools,” and that students who graduate from high school “…are increasingly the products of narrowed curricula, lacking the creative and critical thinking skills needed for success in postsecondary education and the workforce.”

Business and financial leaders understand the importance of arts instruction, which promotes innovation, to the economy. As Paul G. Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, has
stated, “the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”

Unfortunately, as President Obama’s education policies have increasingly focused on improving education in the literacy and the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum areas, the place of the arts in the curriculum is diminished. This decline in the opportunity for students to have arts experiences in school is not universal or equitably distributed. Schools in less well-resourced areas are often places where the arts are least available.

If, as many civic and business leaders recognize, the potential of the arts in spurring innovation, providing teachers with more effective classroom strategies, engaging students in learning, and creating a climate of high performance in schools, then will students in well-resourced schools be economically advantaged by their richer arts experiences, and will students in less well-resourced schools be economically disadvantaged by lack of access to the arts?

If Candidate Obama appeared to understand the importance of a strong arts education in 2008, he must now recognize the long term consequences of the education policies of his first administration. Cutting arts from school curricula is likely to lead to a workforce that is less able to compete globally than it would be with strong arts programs in the schools.

In his second term, President Obama must reinvigorate arts education in schools, insuring that the United States will continue to produce creative and innovative leaders.

The views expressed in the previous article are solely those of the speakers to whom they are attributed. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the faculty, administration, or staff either of Teachers College or of Columbia University.

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