In Utah's quest to provide an elevated education, it must not neglect the arts.
Numerous studies link rigorous adolescent engagement with music, theater or other art forms with improved reading comprehension, mathematical achievement and critical thinking skills. The College Board, the organization responsible for the standardized SAT college entrance exam, released data showing that in 2015 those students who had four years of high school arts and music courses scored a full 92 points higher on the exam than students with a half year or less of exposure.
The Utah State School Board, however, voted in August to remove arts courses, among other classes, from the required list of middle school classes that districts must offer. While we support increased flexibility for students to choose courses that better fit their needs and skills, we have previously remarked that there should be stronger reasons for removing basic elements of a broad-based education. A better option that balances the principle of educational choice while meeting fundamental academic elements might be for students and parents to opt out of a course rather than be required to opt in.
Tenacious public comments following the original 9-6 vote led to a motion in October to delay implementation of the new policy while the board contemplates its next move.
The interlude now gives Utahns a chance to reflect on the merits of these courses and what role they should play in educating the state’s adolescents.
The arts run deep in the Beehive State, which consistently produces top-tier musicians, artists and theater and dance companies. To potentially limit a students’ exposure to these opportunities will likely stunt the state's success. Those especially vulnerable to the change are students from lower-income households who maybe don’t have the financial means to rigorously pursue artistic outlets, as well as those whose families are less-engaged in the student’s educational choices.
High costs and the perception that the arts are nonessential make them an easy target for the chopping block. Resources are scarce, and given the choice between funding a marching band or, say, improving mathematics courses, the decision often becomes easy arithmetic.
With the important push to advance STEM education in order to compete with the world’s top tech countries — the state and Utah's business community have launched STEM initiatives in recent years — music and arts are sometimes unwittingly relegated to playing second fiddle. Yet to thrive in the 21st century economy, the arts must be viewed as complementary to science and technology.
While introducing the latest Apple iPad prior to his death, Steve Jobs remarked that “technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.” That marriage of science and art is what helped Jobs partner with University of Utah grad Ed Catmull and launch a low-key company named Pixar into the spotlight. Catmull’s knack for programming, coupled with a propensity for artistic design, revolutionized the animated film industry.
Utah’s Silicon Slopes can benefit from a symbiotic relationship between the artistically minded and the scientifically gifted. As more tech companies settle along the Wasatch Front, we hope that Utah students are primed to be their top candidates by integrating science with creative designs and inventive problem-solving. Rather than regarding the sciences and arts as separate fields of study, schools can benefit from understanding the intrinsic exchange between the two. The study of one enhances the study of the other, and together they mold students to better tackle the problems of tomorrow.
We recognize Utah schools for incorporating more computer science and web development courses into the required curriculum to meet the demands of an increasingly technological world. But it would be a step backward for school boards to encumber the opportunity for Utah students to stretch their minds and sharpen their skills by making arts part of an immersive education.