to Encourage School Administrators
to Add Art Elementary Art Teachers
I wrote this letter in response the tendency to reduce studio art experiences for children in public schools. I offer this letter for the benefit of parents, teachers, others who are
looking for ways to articulate their feelings and concerns to state legislators, governors, school administrators, and board
was inspired to write this letter by a specific request from the
Pennslyvania Art Education Association for materials needed to help
retain and add art instruction in our schools.
half the children in the U.S.A. are fortunate to
have art teachers in their elementary schools. At least 40
percent of the elementary schools do not have studio art teachers.
have permission to quote what you wish from this letter. This
letter lists some of the reasons you can use in your appeals to add art
teachers to your schools. I have added a table of contents to help you find the main points in the
This letter was posted February, 2008.
To Whom It May Concern:
letter explains why studio art classes are essential in forming ways of
thinking. It also explains that including art specialist teachers can
be cost neutral.
Studio art, when well taught,
includes practice in asking good questions, in problem finding, in
becoming better observers, in retaining and enhancing divergent
thinking skills, in making thoughtful choices, in developing
imaginative problem solving ideas, in synthesizing diverse information
and experiences, in expressing emotions appropriately, in learning that
skills require practice, in being open to serendipitous solutions that
grow out of accidents and mistakes, in understanding the benefits of
experimentation to discover previously unknown results, and in empathically judging
our own actions as they are seen by others. In good studio
art classes, students learn to coach each other, to persist, to
perfect, to enhance, and to go beyond common or trite solutions. In
good studio art classes, students learn to work in areas for which
rules are unknown or outdated. Students learn to formulate principles
and rules based on the outcomes of their own discoveries. Students
learn to take responsibility, do independent thinking, and stand up for
what they feel is right and true.
Much of what is
happening in schools works against our natural instincts, forcing
conformity and memorization of other people’s ideas and knowledge. Most
teachers rely heavily on behavioral management (rewards and punishment)
to control and motivate students to learn from others for tests.
Independent critical thinking is sacrificed.
art is an efficient way to motivate students to follow their
self-learning instincts to creatively self-construct knowledge. Studio
art instruction relies less on behavior management, and more on the
efficient and effective encouragement and development of our natural
and self-fulfilling instincts to be imaginative, experimental, and
creative. Studio art helps students practice the thinking habits of
experimentation, of questioning, of team participation in critical
analysis, and of self-assessment. In studio art students learn to focus
and learn to think. Studio art teachers teach students how to
generating their own original ideas. Students learn how to synthesize
knowledge, invent, and materialize their ideas and feelings. By
creating art based on their experiences, their observations, and their
imaginations; these students are retaining and growing neurons that are
dying in other children. It is well documented that without good studio
art classes, students beyond kindergarten are rapidly loosing their
ability to think creatively.
indicate that about eighty percent of our divergent thinking ability is
lost between kindergarten and age eight to ten. If we are to leave no
mind behind, schools must provide mind-building experiences to
counteract the dulling effects of drill and rote that are inevitable
requirements of most other parts of the school experience. The teaching
and nurturing of creativity is in the DNA of good art teaching. There
are few other teachers who are able to give invention, creativity, and
divergent thinking as much emphasis and attention as studio art
In many science
classes, students learn to fear unexpected outcomes because unexpected
outcomes are seen as mistakes. Students are expected to do it over or
suffer a lower grade. However, in a true science laboratory just as in
an art studio class, unexpected outcomes are first seen as discoveries
from which to construct new knowledge. The main reason for a real
scientist to repeat an experiment is to confirm a discovery—not to
remedy an error. Experiments in art are primarily used to make
discoveries and construct knowledge. However, in too many science
classes the laboratory work is generally taught as behavior management
to teach the importance of following directions—not the joy of
discovery. Experimentation and discoveries in an art studio class
encourage the instinctive and authentic science instinct in children.
of our own children are now among the most innovative scientists in
biological research—in large part because they grew up under the
influence of studio art thinking habits and because some of their
science teachers provided opportunities to construct new knowledge
rather than only learn what was to be tested.
habits learned in studio art provide the life-long benefits of knowing
the methods and joys of self-learning, of experimentation to discover
truths, of expressing ideas effectively, of doubting assumptions, of
being critical of experts, of taking risks in order to gain rewards,
and of empathically imagining a better world for all through
creativity. Artistic thinking in studio art nurtures our natural
instincts and develops our imagination neurons that help us think about
life’s questions in an unknown world yet to come. Without studio art
teachers these trillions of neurons will not be born and will not be
motivated to grow. They will become dormant, retarded, and die with
disuse. These neurons will have been crowded out by imitation neurons
(mirror neurons), follow-the-expert neurons, and
education that is primarily based on behavior management to instill
other people’s knowledge seems perfect for a slave culture or for
people forced to accept dictatorship forms of government and ideals.
However, it is does not prepare citizens of democracies where
individual freedom and responsibility is essential. Free societies die
without minds that retain their instinctive creative and empathic
natural desires to thrive and to make the world better.
Japan, where academic test scores consistently exceed our academic test
scores, children have double the hours per week in studio art compared
to our children in grades one to three.* When balancing the real costs
against the true benefits, including studio art education is likely to
have a greater cost-benefit ratio than any imaginable alternative in
achieving minds that are well prepared for critical thinking in an
unknown future. China and India are both frantically working at
educational reforms to make their educational systems produce more
inventors and innovators. If we fail to include studio art teachers, we
hasten the day when we become a struggling third world economy.
is budget neutral to allocate funds to include art specialist teachers
so long as the overall number of students per teacher remains the same.
The average classroom teacher has little or no preparation to teach
authentic studio art thinking skills as an integral part of their
curriculum. The only way to save money by cutting art teachers is to
create a less favorable overall student-to-teacher ratio while asking
classroom teachers to prepare and teach something for which they lack
skills and disposition. The inclusion of art specialists provides
coverage that allows other teachers to teach more students and do more
effective teaching in the subjects for which they are best prepared.
When funds are limited it is a particularly wise choice to include
studio art specialist teachers for all students. The net outcome is
better development of core thinking skills. We get stronger minds with
no increase in overall expense unless the overall student teacher ratio
is also improved.
Marvin Bartel, Ed.D.
Emeritus Prof. of Art, Goshen College, 1700 S. Main, Goshen IN 46526
CONTACT (including email and phone number)
Main Street, Goshen, Indiana 46526
*Documentation of hours spent in art instruction in Japan (three sources).
FROM: Makio Kawashima, Art Teacher, Shinozaki Elementary School Art Museum, Japan.
This was my email question to Makio Kawashima:
examples show a great deal of ability and much of evidence of
motivation and much practice. How many hours do children work on
artwork and study art in grades one to grade three in school? (in Japan)
This was the response from Makio Kawashima, 13 January 2008:
How many hours (of art): In one year: 1-2 grader: 70 hours, 3-4 grader: 60 hours, 5-6 grader: 50 hours.
I first became aware of Japan's greater emphasis on art from a film strip I purchased in about 1975.
YOUNG ART FROM JAPAN-A Special Collection. Produced by Henry T.
Kakehashi for International Film Bureau, Inc., 332 S. Michigan Ave.,
Chicago, IL 60604. Educational Advisor: Frank Wachowiak, Professor of
Art University to Georgia. In literature enclosed with the filmstrip,
Prof. Wachowiak decribes what he found in Japan. The following is a
studying art education practices in Japan, professor Wachowiak
discovered that more time is devoted to art in Japanese elementary and
middle schools than anywhere else in the world including the USA.
A two-hour block of time is allotted to art each week in every
elementary school (grades one to six), and one to two hours each week
is required in the middle schools (grades seven, eight, and nine).
the US, every school district has its own schedule, but generally, art
teachers tell me that their children have less than one hour per week.
A significant number of art teachers do not have an art room with a
sink, but have take a cart from room to room. At least 40 percent of
the elementary school children in the US do not have a specialist art
teacher. In many cases their art is taught by the classroom teacher or
in some cases by an art volunteer who is well meaning, but often lacks
any teaching preparation in art education.
teaching at Goshen College, I made a practice of talking to college
students from Japan and askng them what they remembered about their
first three years of elementary school, specifically asking how many
hours per week they had in art. Some thought it had been about three
hours per week, but none of these college students mentioned less than
two hours per week.
to learn about other art
education advocacy sources
Another advocacy letter from 1994 updated in 2004
Killers in the Classroom
How to Draw an
Orchid at age four and three-quarters
The design of an artroom
in your school
Helping students learn to ask questions and get their own ideas for artwork
A drawing lesson that teaches children how to
to foster learning
Learning to Learn, posted February 2008 in response to a California art teacher's question.
See about 100 essays, art lessons, and so on by this author. See 2010 drawing instruction book.
-- © Marvin Bartel,
Ed.D. 2008 Contact
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