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Arts Education Discussed at Askwith Forum

With public schools across the country suffering from severe budget deficits, arts programs are often the first to be cut. Jessica Hoffman Davis, a leading advocate in the field of arts education and former director of HGSE's Arts in Education (AIE) Program, discussed the implications of this phenomenon in the recent Askwith Forum, Why Our Schools Need the Arts.

In his introduction to the lecture, Arts in Education (AIE) Program Director Steve Seidel described Davis as a "visionary educator" for her progressive work in arts education and her role in the creation of AIE. Davis is now leading the way to a new kind of advocacy -- one that stops justifying the arts as useful to "academic subjects," and argues instead for the powerful lessons that the arts, like no other disciplines, teach our children.

She explains this distinctive outlook in detail in her new book, Why Our Schools Need the Arts, and offers a set of invaluable principles and tools for advocates already working hard to secure art's place in education. The book also speaks to those who care deeply about education but have yet to consider what the arts uniquely provide.

During a time when standardized tests are telling students that answers are solely objective, Davis contends that "the arts in education invite students to think beyond the given; to imagine 'What if?'"

"The one adjective that I always hear people use to describe art classes is 'joyful.' Art regularly absorbs and engages students in ways that math and science often do not," she said. But this liveliness sometimes leads critics to separate arts education from "academic education." After all, students cannot possibly be taking their learning seriously if they're having so much fun, right? Wrong, said Davis.

Art is much more than a "pleasurable extracurricular" -- it calls for imagination, agency, expression, empathy, interpretation, respect, inquiry, reflection, engagement, and responsibility. These characteristics are crucial to child development, and very often other school subjects cannot address them sufficiently, Davis contended.

"A work of art is a tangible object, something on which students can focus their emotion, through which they can explore ambiguity, and by which they can develop a connection to the world around them," she said.

Davis said she will not stop promoting the arts until they are fully incorporated into the daily curriculum of schools across the nation. She will continue to work tirelessly until educators and policymakers alike comprehend the necessity of arts in education. "Advocacy is just as much individual as large scale," she said. "We must all work to make a difference in the lives of children around us, and art is one way to ensure just that."