“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
This quote is attributed to Albert Einstein who, in my humble opinion, has said some of the wisest things that have ever been said about education. When I read this quote, I can’t help but liken the intuitive mind of which he speaks to the arts and the rational mind to “reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic.”
One of the easiest traps to fall into when attempting Arts Integration is to make the arts a slave to the core curriculum. Those involved in the arts are constantly trying to justify their existence by showing evidence that reading and math tests scores have been positively affected by student involvement in the arts. While there is often a correlation, we need to be sure that we are not involving students in the arts simply to increase standardized test scores. Make not art the servant of the tests!
The easiest way to avoid that is to be certain that your lesson contains objectives for both the art form and the core curriculum area, activities to support both objectives, and assessments that really indicate achievement of both objectives. For example, just the other day I went to visit a second grade teacher who had the brilliant idea of integrating language arts with theater through a lesson on synonyms and antonyms and pantomime. This teacher carefully reviewed pairs of words discussing what made them synonyms and antonyms and what the individual words meant. This topic had clearly been previously covered. He then paired up the students giving them each a set of words that were either synonyms or antonyms and instructed them to create a pantomime for those words.
It was a wonderfully engaging activity for the students and when the pair of students were clear in their pantomime, it was a wonderful illustration of synonyms and antonyms. The synonym pantomimes looked very similar and the antonym pantomimes looked quite different. The language arts objective was clear and observable. However, many of the students did not effectively pantomime their words so it made it difficult for the “audience” to determine whether the words were synonyms or antonyms.
If the students had a chance to warm-up their bodies, an important actor’s tool, and had an activity that focused solely on how to perform an effective pantomime with exaggeration and use of facial expression, gesture and posture the performance of the synonym and antonym pairs would likely have been more rich and effective in communicating the words to the audience. The students would also have learned how actors use pantomime to communicate meaning.
In our zeal to improve test scores for language arts and mathematics and in our efforts to make learning the core curriculum engaging and meaningful, let us not make art a faithful servant. Let us remember the inherent value of the arts, the gifts they have to offer each child and teacher, and how much more effective their relationship with the core curriculum can be if the students are equipped with the depth of art knowledge and skills needed to complement the subject with which they have been paired.