George Lucas Educational Foundation

Why the Arts Matter - Jerome Kagan

Why the Arts Matter - Jerome Kagan

Related Tags: Arts
More Related Discussions
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share
Jerome Kagan gave the keynote at a conference I attended last spring called "Learning, Arts and the Brain" sponsored by the Dana Foundation. The full speech may be found on the Dana Foundation website at I offer up his reasons here for discussion. 1. The first advantage is that it boosts the self confidence among the children who are behind in mastery of reading and arithmetic. 2. A second reason for an arts/music curriculum, which has a more recent history, may help the middle-class children who have been infantilized by overprotective parents who were excessively concerned with the child’s grades and talent profile. 3. A third advantage to an arts/music program, which might help all children, is based on the fact that the mind uses three distinct forms, or tools, to acquire, store, and communicate knowledge. 4. A fourth advantage lies with the opportunity to provide all American youth with some values they feel warrant consistent loyalty. 5. The fifth advantage of an arts curriculum is that it allows a number of children to work as a cooperative unit when they compose a mural or play in the school band or orchestra. 6. Finally, art and music provide opportunities for all children to experience and to express feelings and conflicts that are not yet fully conscious and cannot be expressed coherently in words. Do you think this is a good list? Or, is it missing something. Dr. Kagan is a psychology professor. How do we respond as artists, art teachers and art enthusiasts? Biography from Dana Foundation Website: Jerome Kagan, Ph.D., emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University, was co-director of the Harvard Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. He is a pioneer in the study of cognitive and emotional development during the first decade of life, focusing on the origins of temperament, and is the author or co-author of more than 20 books, including the classic Galen’s Prophecy: Temperament in Human Nature (Basic Books, 1994).

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

@creativityassoc's picture
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

Thanks for your response, Jim. I agree that it's an incomplete list. That's exactly why I started the discussion. Dr. Kagan is a psychologist and he was delivering a keynote address. I recommend that you look at the whole speech; I have extracted the 6 points, but there is a lot more. He makes very interesting points.

I do agree with #5, however. Building ensemble is an important skill learned through the performing arts. It doesn't preclude having those skills presented in other formats, however. In fact, any place ensemble-building can happen is a positive thing.

Let's build on the list and create a strong list in this forum. If I read your post correctly, your addition is "Skills and ways of thinking required for the conceptual age." i completely agree.

Diane Garmire's picture
Diane Garmire
Gifted/Talented pull out program grades 4, 5, 6 from Spokane, Washington

I appreciate the list you've posted from Dr. Kagan's speech. I was especially interested in #2, "may help the middle-class children who have been infantilized by overprotective parents who were excessively concerned with the child's grades and talent profile." I'm not sure why middle-class children were the only children targeted in this point. Of course I am reading out of context and therefore most likely missing the big picture.

I wouldn't limit the 'holding back' aspect of any economic group of children to middle class only. Also I would not limit the overprotectiveness to parents only. In school there is little time for the arts, many teachers don't allow/have time in the day for creative engagement. We all know why with N.C.L.B. still setting the pace.

What I do agree with is the point being made in #2 regarding the lack of development of the creative aspects of many school children. Attention is given to how the arts fit standards, which in our educational climate is the sine qua non for all we do. But greater than standards are the reasons for giving children arts education even when it is difficult to measure and standardize.

I would think, too, that including the need for aesthetics in a child's education should be addressed in the list that is being discussed.

Annie Rezac's picture

I would like to see #6 expanded upon - or perhaps an additional point that further articulates the importance of arts/music education in developing a student's creative thinking and problem solving abilities. The arts prove a new lens through which a student can view the world. This new view leads to an increased curiosity about the world around them which ultimately leads to an increase in questioning and ideas. Arts/music curriculum develops this creative process which is essential in the education of future global leaders. This creative thinking process is also the heart of Daniel Pink's book.

I also agree that #5 is essential. The arts facilitate cooperation and collaboration. Engaging students in an artistic exercise or process has the unique ability to level the playing field as everyone is asked to contribute and take risks. This is a humbling experience that teaches empathy and acceptance.

@creativityassoc's picture
Director, Education Division, Creativity & Associates

Here's a list by a neuro-scientist who has put together a report on current studies in learning, arts and the brain. This is current research and their indicators:

Specifics of each participating scientist's research program are detailed in the appended reports that can be downloaded from Here is a summary of what the group has learned:

1. An interest in a performing art leads to a high state of motivation that produces the sustained attention necessary to improve performance and the training of attention that leads to improvement in other domains of cognition.

2. Genetic studies have begun to yield candidate genes that may help explain individual differences in interest in the arts.

3. Specific links exist between high levels of music training and the ability to manipulate information in both working and long-term memory; these links extend beyond the domain of music training.

4. In children, there appear to be specific links between the practice of music and skills in geometrical representation, though not in other forms of numerical representation.

5. Correlations exist between music training and both reading acquisition and sequence learning. One of the central predictors of early literacy, phonological awareness, is correlated with both music training and the development of a specific brain pathway.

6. Training in acting appears to lead to memory improvement through the learning of general skills for manipulating semantic information.

7. Adult self-reported interest in aesthetics is related to a temperamental factor of openness, which in turn is influenced by dopamine-related genes.

8. Learning to dance by effective observation is closely related to learning by physical practice, both in the level of achievement and also the neural substrates that support the organization of complex actions. Effective observational learning may transfer to other cognitive skills.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

RED just won the Tony for the BEST PLAY and the best actor: Eddie Redmayne and the best Director. I am so excited because the PLOT is about WHY ART MATTERS!!
It is the true story of the abstract expressionist painter Rothko and how youth and age and students and teachers affect one another's lives.

One of the producers, said in accepting the award that "It is our duty to foster art." WOW, let's get her into our SCHOOLS!!!!

We have to shout this to the world and let every child know this. Also, Memphis is a great show and every teenage knows the music of GREENDAY and the show American Idiot. So sad that the arts are not available to every teenager. We are so culturally deprived. But, let us take this on. The Tony awards in themselves is a GREAT SHOW. THANK YOU ANTIONETTE PERRY!!

Kevin Dengel's picture
Kevin Dengel
6-12 Orchestra; Gahanna, OH

Daniel Pink's book is a real winner, when it comes to a defense for arts education! Also, check out Arts with the Brain in mind. An additional point is that art education teaches people how to be good CONSUMERS of art/music. Quincy Jones stated at the last Grammy awards that art and music sales is America's most exported good, and students listen and interact with music/art on a daily basis - they should know how to identify quality.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Thank you for your support and comments. I am loving Daniel Pink and Sir Robinson. Most districts support music. But, it is difficult to intertwine theatre, film and painting/drawing into the Jr. Hi. With budget cuts, the ARTS are the first to go. I always support Orchestra and Band, and pray that my PERFORMING ARTS APPRECIATION class will not be cut. It is fun to teach and a joy to watch my student's eyes and hearts open.

No one seems to understand until the course is over, and then it is an "ah ha" moment to last forever. There is nothing to compare to learning about the joy of the history of beauty. (yes, I play all the classics in my class when I am teaching! :) )!

Bonnie Kuehl's picture
Bonnie Kuehl
Elementary Music (Pre-K through 5th) teaching in Killeen TX

The arts are so critical to children learning, as we all know. What is equally interesting is that it is in a school system's financial interest to continue supporting and promoting the arts. When one gets to the secondary level, the classes for band, choir, and orchestra frequently include forty or more students at one time. When these ensembles are cut from the schedules, districts frequently need to hire at least two additional teachers for students to have class options.

Additionally, if we want children to be effective sensible citizens, we need to expand their understanding of what life is about. It is most certainly not multiple choice tests that squash creativity. We all know kids who don't do well on test and yet have the potential to be the leaders and inventors of tomorrow simply because they offer us creative solutions. The arts offer the opportunities for cultivating that creativity for all students thus keeping our culture moving forward.

Carol Parker's picture
Carol Parker
7/8 Drama, Film, Honors & Regular Language Arts

Another vital part of teaching the arts is Drama and Speech.
I teach Delivering Speech and Speech Aquisition. The one film I show the 7/8/ graders is the true story of Trauffaut's The Wild Child, from the 17 C book of the same name. The fascination is enthralling and I further extend the story about feral children. This extends itself into child development and parenting. This deepens the discussion into taking children away from tv, and stimulating their brain development more seriously by reading outloud, making puppets, reading plays and creative theatre. It is a fabulous springboard for enriching students imaginative thinking and discussing new ways to learn more creative outlets to interact with one another. It also opens up the world of foreign film as a learning tool and entertainment. This is one of my favorite lessons because everyone loves learning about how they began to speak. The assignment is to find out their first word, what age,their siblings first age and word. Sharing that in class is hilarious! Yet, very few children know that people struggled not speaking. Speaking is essential and an art. The lesson is very profound.

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.