Character and the Arts

Character and the Arts
By Ed DeRoche

Good character is not formed automatically; it is developed over time through a sustained process of teaching, modeling, learning, and experience.
– Maryland State Department of Education

In early March the public celebrated the 110th birthday of Dr. Seuss
I joined the celebration by going to see the Christian Youth Theater’s (Escondido) excellent production of “Seussical—The Musical.”

Reading the “playbill” I noticed this quote:
Research has shown that children who receive regular exposure to the arts are four times more likely to be recognized for academic excellence, to participate in a math and science fair, or to win an award for writing a poem or essay.

Why a statement on research, I asked myself? I found other information that supports the “playbill quote.” For example, Dennis W. Creedon, Assistant Superintendent in the Philadelphia School District, says: “Teaching children about art is as important as teaching them math or reading. People see it as a frill, but it’s not a frill. It’s actually the center of the core. If you cut these out of schools, you are really cutting the heart out of our children and their future.”   Several experts make the case for adding the ”A” to STEM** and for promoting programs that develop children and youth’s artistic/performance skills and talents.

Lisa Phillips (The Artistic Edge: 7 Skills Children Need to Succeed in an Increasingly Right Brain World) writes about the ten skills children learn from the arts (summarized below.) I was struck by how these skills and traits apply directly to the development of good character, to academic achievement, to future careers and success in life.

  1. Creativity – Being able to think on one’s feet, thinking out of the box, examining different perspectives, and how arts program help children practice creative thinking.
  2. Confidence – The skills developed through theater build confidence, help children practice stepping out of their comfort zone and allows them to make mistakes and learn from them in rehearsals.
  3. Problem Solving – Artistic creations are born through the solving of problems. Practicing problem solving develops children’s skills in reasoning and understanding.
  4. Perseverance –. In an increasingly competitive world where people are being asked to continually develop new skills, perseverance is essential to achieving success.
  5. Focus – Recent research has shown that participation in the arts improves children’s abilities to concentrate and focus in other aspects of their lives. The ability to focus requires a balance between listening and contributing, concentration and focus, thinking about one’s role, and how that role contributes to the big picture of what is being created.
  6. Non-Verbal Communication – Through experiences in theater and dance education, children learn to breakdown the mechanics of body language and how those movements communicate different emotions.
  7. Receiving Constructive Feedback –A regular part of any arts (visual, performance) instruction is the improvement of evaluation skills incorporated at every step of the process designed to ensure that critique is a valuable experience and greatly contributes to the success of the final piece.
  8. Collaboration – Through the arts, children practice working together, sharing responsibility, and compromising with others to accomplish a common goal– to understand that their contribution is necessary for the success of the group.
  9. Dedication – When children learn and practice following through with artistic endeavors that result in a finished product or performance, coupled with a feeling of accomplishment and the development of healthy work habits.
  10. Accountability – When children practice creating something collaboratively they get used to the idea that their actions affect other people. Through the arts, children also learn that it is important to admit that you made a mistake and take responsibility for it.
  • STE[+a]M integrates arts with STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education sparking the interplay between left-brain convergent thinking and right-brain divergent thinking.”
  • In mid-March I read about the Balboa Park STEAM Family Day–“an event featuring family friendly activities that combine science, technology, engineering, art and math.”