Letter 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 members. I 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.

About 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.

You 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 letter. 

--by Marvin Bartel, Ed.D. - Author bio - Contact 

This letter was posted February, 2008.

Table of Contents

To Whom It May Concern:

This 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 In good studio art classes, students learn to work in areas for which rules are unknown or outdated.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.

Studio 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.

Studies 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 teachers.

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.

Two 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.

Thinking 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 fill-in-the-test-bubble-on-the-answer-sheet neurons.

An 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.

In 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.

It 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)


1700 South 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:

Your 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 direct quote:

In 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).

In 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.

While 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.

Resource Links to learn about other art education advocacy sources

Another advocacy letter from 1994 updated in 2004

Creativity 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 draw everything
Classroom rituals 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 

REPRODUCTION RIGHTS AND RESTRICTIONS: You are permitted to copy any parts or all of the above letter if you are sending or presenting to descision makers such as administrator, school boards, legislators, parent groups, and so on. This includes the right to include the letter in no-cost handouts at closed meetings or open public meetings. YOU ARE NOT PERMITTED to publish from this page in any publication that is offered for sale and you may not post this letter or page on the Internet without permission from the author. Links from your site to this page are welcome.