Brian Kisida, Cari Bogulski, Anne Kraybill, Collin Hitt, Dan Bowen, and I have a new piece in Education Week about our studies measuring the effects of culturally enriching art experiences on students. The piece summarizes our research on what students learn from going on field trips to an art museum as well as to see live theater. It also goes into greater detail on how those experiences affect critical thinking and the desire to become cultural consumers (people who go to art museums and the theater when they grow up). This article is part of a special section Education Week has published on arts education.
But the main thrust of our new Ed Week article is the argument that arts education badly needs funding for quality research on how the arts affect students. We write:
None of this research will occur, however, until defenders of the arts recognize the need for it. Arts advocates can no longer rely on weak studies that simply compare students who participate in the arts with those who don’t. Such studies are pervasive, and the claims they make are likely overblown. Skeptics can correctly wonder whether the research truly demonstrates that the arts make people awesome, or if awesome people are simply attracted to the arts. To convince skeptics of how the arts can influence a student’s trajectory, future studies will have to adopt rigorous research designs that can isolate causal effects.
Art collectors are bidding up prices, and enormous fortunes are devoted to acquiring and displaying art. It makes little sense for arts patrons to spend a fortune acquiring and commissioning masterpieces, while failing to demonstrate the benefits of the arts with quality research. To determine whether there are important social benefits derived from arts activities, money should be invested in funding rigorous research, which can be expensive.
If the arts and culture are to remain a vibrant part of children’s education, arts patrons will need to step forward to help pay for the kind of quality research that shows not only what those benefits are, but just how significant they can be.