Many people are aware of the need for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) programs in schools, but not everyone recognizes the paramount importance of arts education when it comes to fostering critical thinking skills. Understanding how the arts support critical thinking skills requires examining the benefits of the arts.
Kent Bonacki, a grant writer and researcher who has also worked in software and technical writing, explains the need for arts education in the schools and how these areas of study help students learn critical thinking.
The Arts in Education
Programs like music, visual arts, and theater help students to develop skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. Rather than “frills” that are not necessary for education, arts education should be considered one of its pillars.
Unfortunately, many areas around the country are suffering from budget cuts caused by restricted education spending. Oftentimes arts programs are the first to go when the budget is under pressure.
Critical thinking is not the same as being critical. It is a skill that requires independent and reflective thinking. It means understanding how to pull information together into a coherent whole. Critical thinkers understand that they can question assumptions and ideas rather than simply accepting what they are told.
When educators foster critical thinking skills in students, they will give them a foundation upon which to build intelligent responses to the challenges they will face in their lives. The various forms of arts education have different impacts when it comes to critical thinking skills.
The Visual Arts
Some people mistakenly believe that critical thinking gets in the way of artistic expression, but this could not be further from the truth. Critical thinking includes the ability to break the rules and create new ways of making things happen. Without the intellectual confidence needed to try new things, art students will not be able to explore the full extent of their creativity.
Art education encourages students to make close observations of the world. Art is multi-layered and complex. Its interpretation can vary from person to person. Thinking about the implications of a particular interpretation can lead to beneficial classroom discussions. When students are given the opportunity to explore and create, they will become better at critical thinking in general.
The benefits of music for a student’s overall education are many. Music, whether it is choral or instrumental, helps to teach important life skills. Music helps to teach students how to manage, how to be a team member, and how to work with people with a variety of talents and skill sets.
Students in music programs learn how to solve problems using a wide array of methods. They learn how to be self-sufficient and direct themselves for optimum performance. Music also gives young students confidence and the ability to believe in their own skills.
One of the most important ways that music teachers foster critical thinking skills is to encourage students to come up with their own answers. Students need to develop their own plans when it comes to helping them be better musicians. Teachers can provide guidance but should not provide all the answers.
Music is in itself highly related to mathematics. Rhythms and notes follow mathematical rules. The connection between music and math may also help students become better critical thinkers.
Drama programs are another exciting way for students to build critical thinking skills. Applying creative expression and using their imagination lends itself to increasing a student’s overall intelligence and ability to think for themselves.
Students who participate in drama programs learn how to work as a team. Each student has their own defined role in the ensemble, from the students on stage to those who are in the lighting and sound booths.
Every student who participates in drama and theater programs has the ability to make their own interpretations of the written word. Each student has their own particular perspective and applying creativity to personal expression is one of the main ways that drama builds critical thinking skills.
Gaining the ability to have insight into a character’s perspective is another way that drama fosters creative thinking. Understanding another person’s or character’s perspective broadens the mind. Drama also builds problem-solving skills.
The Arts and Critical Thinking
Artistic expression, whether it is in the visual arts, music, or theater, requires a unique level of skill. Understanding how creativity is related to critical thinking is important to judge the value of an arts education.
Thus, arts programs need to be protected in public schools even in times of budget cuts. Education experts like Kent Bonacki understand the importance of the arts and can help schools implement these programs for the benefit of all students.