Elliott Eisner on the value of arts education

Why do we under-value art in schools, under-funding it, cutting it out in lean times, not testing for it, etc.? It must be that we don’t as a society recognize its effect on students’ cognitive development.http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=-2754433793634835877&hl=en&fs=true

In this extremely irritating video (because of the avaricious host and the slow, affect-less delivery of the guest), the emeritus professor of Stanford’s education school lays out the case for keeping the arts at the center of a smart curriculum.

Some highlights:

  • exposure to the arts stimulates and refines students’ cognitive development: “the arts are a primary resource for the development of mind”
  • experience in the arts frees students to think beyond “fealty to the rule” of one right answer: “the arts don’t have single simple answers”
  • teachers should strive to teach aesthetically–not “anesthetically”–with no feeling
  • to experience the arts fully, one must bring more to them–diversify ones understanding with contextual information allows you to have a more rich, connective experience

I would remind readers of Socrates’ opinion of musical education, explained nicely here by Michelle:

A central feature of the early moral education is to harmonize the various parts of the soul. This comes out quite explicitly in the discussion of instruction in music and physical education. With respect to music, Socrates says that they must take care to expose the youths to the right types of music (the music with the right harmonies and rhythms) “because rhythm and harmony permeate the inner part of the soul more than anything else, affecting it most strongly and bringing it grace, so that if someone is properly educated in music and poetry, it makes him graceful, but if not, then the opposite” (401de). While music makes the student graceful (enhancing the philosophical part of the soul), engaging in physical activity strengthens the spirited part of the soul. Thus the goal of the education is to offer the right combination of physical and musical education so that the spirited and philosophical parts of the soul are of the appropriate strength and relation to one another.1 Socrates says that “the person who achieves the finest blend of music and physical training and impresses it on his soul in the most measured way is the one we’d most correctly call completely harmonious…” (412a).


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