Bill Cirone, Santa Barbara Superintendent of Schools

When school budgets get very tight, art and music education tend to be among the early casualties. In a very sad way, it’s understandable. These are the days when every school and every classroom is rated according to how students achieve on standardized tests. You can scan those tests till you grow very weary and you will surely never see mention of a treble clef or a two-point perspective. When tests measure reading, math, and social studies, that is what is taught and that is where resources must be allocated.

What is much more difficult to understand is a political arena and a social context that makes that choice necessary in the first place. It is short-sighted and counterproductive. The arts are not frills — they are essential elements of a complete education, and often provide the very skills and motivation required for school success.

The reasons to include arts in a school curriculum are compelling.

The arts represent a form of thinking that is both sensory and intellectual, and is based on human imagination and judgment. The arts are a form of expression and communication that is essential to the human experience, and truly deserve a regular place in our classrooms. What’s more, the arts provide unique ways of reaching students who may not access knowledge as readily through language and mathematics alone.

In addition, studies also point to higher levels of student involvement and educational achievement among students taking advanced arts courses.

Fortunately, most Americans recognize the importance of this early engagement in the arts. A Harris Poll found that 90 percent of respondents considered the arts vital to a well-rounded education for all students.

Parents seem to recognize that the arts provide a heightened appreciation of beauty and cross-cultural understandings, and that the arts seem to enhance creativity, thinking skills, and discipline. Many young people find great joy in artistic expression. For some, it is an outlet and a source of inspiration. It helps them keep connected to their teachers and their schools.

The benefits of arts education can translate into real advantages, including closing the achievement gaps between groups of students, keeping young people in school who otherwise might dropout, and preparing students for the demands of college and an ever-changing workforce. If we had a magic pill that would do all that we would be dispensing it widely.

In declaring March Arts Education Month, the state board of education stated that arts education is an essential part of basic education for all students, K-12, to provide for balanced learning and to develop the full potential of their minds.

Throughout the western world, arts education is an integral part of a child’s education. Arts education is essential. On behalf of all the children we represent and serve, we should support arts education with all our efforts and resources. Otherwise we will have drained from our schools the humanity, the creativity, the discipline, and the joy that arts can provide to all our children.