“There is not a life in this room that you have not touched, and each of us is a better person because of you. We are your symphony, Mr. Holland. We are the melodies and the notes of your opus. We are the music of your life.” —Gertrude Lang, “Mr. Holland’s Opus” (1995)
Impact. That is what every arts educator hopes for when they greet a new crop of students. To impact their lives through the art form they love. Whether a student develops an appreciation and love for the arts, decides to pursue it as a career, or just discovers something within themselves they may not have known without experiencing the arts, it all comes down to impact.
A few weeks ago, we had an opportunity to see this impact on a national level as people all over the world told their stories during National Arts in Education Week. The #BecauseOfArtsEd hashtag gave us a chance to reflect on our story and how it was shaped by the arts. Like many of you, I was excited to post stories about the educators we work with and add to the tapestry of stories across the country. The response to our educators was overwhelming. After posting about a local teaching artist and retired secondary drama teacher, one young lady stated, “This woman is amazing! I am so thankful to have had her as a teacher. She’s one of the reasons I’m pursuing my dreams!” Another individual commented, “[She is] literally the person who started me in performing arts.” Clearly, this teacher had an impact on her students. But not every student of a theater teacher is going to become an actor. Where else do we see that impact?
We also know that the arts help to teach empathy. In two separate studies at University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, researchers placed over 10,000 students into various groups to measure the impact of visual arts and drama. Here’s what they found:
These cultural experiences improve students’ knowledge about the arts, as well as their desire to become cultural consumers in the future. Exposure to the arts also affects the values of young people, making them more tolerant and empathetic. We suspect that their awareness of different people, places, and ideas through the arts helps them appreciate and accept the differences they find in the broader world. Arts experiences boost critical thinking, teaching students to take the time to be more careful and thorough in how they observe the world. Noticing details in paintings during a school tour, for example, helps train students to consider details in the future. (“Arts Education Matters: We Know, We Measured It,” Education Week, Dec. 2014)
We are living in an era where teaching children how to become empathetic, caring citizens is more important than ever. The arts give educators an opening to connect with students in ways that standard curriculum doesn’t always allow. We have to find ways to increase the opportunities for students to be exposed to the arts. They are our symphony.