Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Comprehensive Curricula: The Importance of Regular School-Based Fine Arts Learning Experience

After the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, school districts across the US responded by emphasizing data-driven instruction in math and reading. The pressure on schools to deliver higher test scores resulted in children taking a lot of standardized tests throughout the year (Nelson, 2013). In business, the bottom line is profits and losses. In schools the bottom line is high stakes test score results. Schools are now run like businesses. Sadly, this emphasis on test scores has led to a reduction of children’s learning experiences through arts education, particularly at the elementary level (Sabol, 2010). 

Over the past 14 years I have served AEAI in the area of advocacy, while awareness of the importance of fine arts learning has increased, we have continued to observe the degrading of fine arts programs in numerous ways across Indiana. The state has little information on the vitality of art programs that exist in schools under its auspices. Fine art programs can be cut out of the curricula or reduced by a thousand little cuts. Art and music teachers can be replaced by non-credentialed individuals. Children can be hauled out of fine arts classes required to do missing class-work. This situation has not gotten any better (Parsad & Spiegelman, 2012). Children’s time in schools where annual testing takes place means students are likely to spend lots of time preparing for standardized tests leaving little room for anything else. 

In order to prepare children for high stakes tests their teachers must employ a curricula that covers lots of testing content in a short amount of time. Inside the information processing structure of test driven curricula, students are told what information to learn, when to learn it and how they will learn it. Hiding behind the final test score tally is a learning experience where children are fundamentally disempowered, coerced by authoritarian fear to learn content in a behaviorist experience whose schedule and organization structure they had not consented to participate in. For significant numbers of children, this situation leads to disengagement, stultification and the school to prison pipeline.

If children’s unique developmental pathways would optimally benefit from the intensive data-driven experience they now endure, children’s school-based anxiety, the bullying crisis, and school violence dilemma would be no more. Blaming cell phones is an easy out for these crises but one has to ask the question, why are children in school affected by these issues not in love with their learning?

Human beings are hard-wired to use their hands and whole bodies, integrating the imaginative and emotional realm in their learning. My view is that more opportunities for authentic, time sensitive learning, emergent curriculum, multi-sensory learning, creative self-expression and alternative assessments should be provided in order to alleviate harmful psycho-emotional conditions correlated with the intensification of standardized testing curricula. Cognitive behavioral therapy in schools is a peripheral intervention designed to normalize the child’s response to a toxic curriculum that causes stress and anger. Expanding fine arts education, the humanities and alternative assessment is the antidote to this situation and has never been more important when considering the intellectual growth and physiological well being of children in schools. We cannot afford future failures of imagination.


Aftunion. (2014, June 26). AFT report shows the high cost of overtesting. Retrieved from

Parsad, B., and Spiegelman, M. (2012). Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (NCES 2012–014). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Sabol, F.R. (2010) No Child Left Behind: A Study of Its Impact on Art Education. (n.d.). 
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