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Arts Integration Isn’t Enough

Katherine Damkohler

Integration across academic disciplines can strengthen a child’s learning. When teachers reinforce content through a variety of approaches it helps children retain information and fully appreciate academic concepts. However, one academic discipline cannot fully convey the fundamentals of another.

For instance, a History teacher cannot expect to effectively relate the scientific processes of an electrical current to students by teaching them the historical biographies of Nicola Tesla and Thomas Edison. And yet, many educators apply this approach of substituting subject instruction to the artistic disciplines.

I have seen too many schools refrain from hiring an arts teacher because they have been lulled into thinking that training a classroom teacher to integrate the arts into their lessons serves as an acceptable substitute for bringing a full-time arts instructor on staff.

Sending classroom teachers to summer arts integration institutes or having them work alongside a local professional artist is a wonderful way to provide professional development to teachers. However, these programs alone do not qualify classroom teachers to be the primary arts instructors for their students.

The arts are not learned through osmosis. It takes years to master an art form. Learning how to read music, play an instrument, perform dance, or create theatre takes both discipline and skill. It takes even longer to learn how to effectively translate that artistic knowledge to others and develop natural skills in students. Universities offer masters degrees in Music Education, a focus devoted entirely to the process of teaching music to others.

To suggest that a teacher trained to teach History with no prior musical knowledge or experience, is qualified to teach Music after a six-week integration seminar disrespects the fact that Music itself is an academic discipline.

It also suggests that it is permissible to dilute the quality of artistic instruction for students, which reveals an implicit admission that the arts are somehow less important than other academic disciplines.

It would be unreasonable to request that an individual with a Music Education degree would be equipped with the necessary skills to teach French without true knowledge of that subject, and it is just as unreasonable to request that a French teacher teach Music without true knowledge of the subject. How can a person be expected to teach a language he or she does not speak?

Classroom teachers should enrich and enliven their lessons by integrating the arts, but we cannot expect them to simultaneously serve as classroom teachers and primary arts instructors. In order for students to fully meet the arts standards, schools must invest in qualified and effective arts educators.

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