Fingerpaints, Flutes, and Finesse: How Arts Education Can Revolutionize The Way Our Kids Think

Recently, I blogged about educational philosophy and how we must strive to teach today’s students to “think great thoughts”. In my blog I mentioned that one of the keys to producing tomorrow’s leaders is to teach students to think in “real world” terms and apply their knowledge to everyday situations through both the interaction with others and the incorporation of technology to solve problems. These types of “thinking traits” are essential in the practice of medicine. As physicians, we must be able to work with colleagues, maintain effective interpersonal relationships with our patients and incorporate cutting edge technology in order to solve complex problems and maximize outcomes. Oftentimes, a great deal of finesse is required to pull both technical and interpersonal excellence together all at once. Medicine today requires a great deal of finesse. Physicians are required to interact not only with patients, but with insurers, government regulators, hospital administrators and community leaders. Webster’s dictionary defines finesse as: “skill in handling a difficult or highly sensitive situation; adroit and artful management.” Finesse is not something that can be taught, it is learned from experience. I believe the arts –both performance and practice–is all about finesse.

This week I had the privilege of attending my daughter’s Middle School Ensembles concert at Ravenscroft School. As I mentioned in a blog a few weeks ago, we are fortunate to be a part of the Ravenscroft community where academic rigor and fine arts opportunities are synergistic The concert included performances by the band, choral groups (both large and small) and strings. The performers were well prepared and the instructors were engaged, dedicated and obviously excited for their students. You could see that many of the students were moved by the emotion of the particular piece they were playing or singing. As an audience member, it was clear to me that the young performers were both emotionally and academically invested in the pieces they were presenting. The concert was incredibly enjoyable. As I left the theatre, I was struck by how fortunate these children are to have Fine Arts education incorporated into their daily school curriculum. Not only are students taught traditional academic subjects but they are able to experience art and learn how to “feel” and to be moved by an artistic performance.

A recent publication by the National Endowment for the Arts discussed how an active Fine Arts education program in schools can affect performance. In the report the NEA used three different longitudinal studies to track the performance of children who were exposed to art education while in school. The findings indicated that students who have opportunities to engage in the arts perform better academically, are more socially conscious and civically aware and have better college and workforce opportunities. I believe that this effect can be best explained by allowing students to create and to engage in activities that both require hard work and preparation but also produce tangible results (such as a well received concert performance). Certainly, children can learn something about mathematics, history and science through music and drama. Even more importantly, students learn how to remain socially connected and (as in the production of a choral piece or a play) dependent on others for success. Harvard University has embarked on an educational project called Artful Thinking. In this project teachers are encouraged to incorporate visual arts and music into teaching in order to enhance the way in which students learn. Project Artful Thinking is designed to help teachers and students connect art and academics and produce a more collaborative and global way of approaching problem solving. In short, the incorporation of the arts into learning can help students learn finesse.

Medicine today requires a great deal of finesse. Educational paradigms are rapidly changing in order to meet the needs of today’s students. Arts education is an essential part of preparing our students to think in a way that will be met with success. An appreciation of the arts helps students relate to others both locally and globally. Certainly, in medicine, it is essential for physicians to relate to other human beings. The ability to connect with patients is critical in achieving better outcomes. An appreciation of the arts bridges cultural, generational and economic gaps–it provides common ground in the human experience. By blending art, drama, music and other programs into curricula already filled with rigorous math, science, english and history we are able to teach our students to think in ways that will ultimately make them better citizens and, if they choose, well prepared for the medical schools of the future. I commend the faculty and staff of Ravenscroft School in Raleigh, NC for leading the way in arts education and teaching our kids finesse!

2 responses to “Fingerpaints, Flutes, and Finesse: How Arts Education Can Revolutionize The Way Our Kids Think

  1. I jsut came across your article while researching visual literacy. I whole heartedly agree with your thoughts on “finesse.” I am a high school art teacher who instills in students to explore, uncover, and make connections about this visual world they live in, and to think in ways that will ultimately make them better citizens. The Arts are important across many disiplines, I wish more people understood that. Thank you for your well written article. Nicki Newton

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