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To Perceive and to Imagine: Unleashing the Talent and Energy of Teachers and Students

Keynote Address at the Balanced Mind Curriculum Conference,
Focusing on Teaching in and through the Arts
C. W. Post Campus • Long Island University • Brookville, New York

Eric Oddleifson, Chairman

November 5, 1996


The Mission of Education
The Nature of Intelligence
Cognitive Research and the Arts
The Performance Record of Arts-Based Schools
The Benefits of Education Through the Arts
Arts Integration -- What Does it Mean?
The Arts Are Mainstream Education Reform
A Community Dialogue on What Is Valuable and Important
Conclusion The Views of a Practitioner
More About CABC

To Perceive and to Imagine

The Mission of Education

In 1968 Rudolph Arnheim laid it on the line, stating (in Visual Thinking) that perception is intelligence. He wrote that the arts are the foundation for our capacity to think constructively. He believes not only that artistic activity is a form of reasoning, where perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined, but that the unwholesome split between the senses and thought has crippled the training of reasoning power and has led to various deficiency diseases in modern man. He believes that "the arts are the most powerful means of strengthening the perceptual component without which productive thinking is impossible in any field of endeavor." He points out that our entire educational system continues to be based on the study of words, and numbers, having failed to understand that the arts contribute indispensably to the development of a reasoning and imaginative human being.

While clearly stated by Harriet, we both recognize the challenge is daunting, given the social context within which schools are operating.

The Carnegie Commission's 1995 report on adolescence in America presents an alarming picture of a society that neglects and discounts adolescents. The report describes American parents as often dismissive and preoccupied, unable to cope with the troubles of their children. This attitude seems to hold true for adolescents who live in poverty and for those who enjoy every economic advantage but only see their parents while being driven from swimming lesson to dance class to tutoring.

The report describes a culture that is not meeting the needs of its adolescent children. It describes a crisis.

We are not addressing the real issues in schools, those identified by the Claremont (CA) Graduate School study, "Voices from the Inside," published three years ago.

Yet within this environment, educators are being asked to move beyond the basic skills of reading, writing, and math, to teach thinking skills and develop students' personal qualities as well.

In 1992 the US Department of Labor published a document called What Work Requires at School for Workers in the Year 2000. They identified three categories:

  • "Basic Skills" incorporates skills such as reading, writing, mathematics, and speaking.
  • "Thinking Skills" includes creative thinking, the ability to problem-solve and make decisions, the capacity of reason and "see things in the mind's eye" (which I take to mean imagination), and knowing how to learn.
  • "Personal Qualities" they are seeking workers who are responsible, sociable -- able to work with others -- have a sense of self-esteem, and integrity, are honest, skilled at self-management, and exhibit empathy.

The Nature of Intelligence

In this environment, it becomes crucial that we pay attention to Arnheim's and others' findings about cognition and the process of learning. Most people continue to believe that each of us has a single, quantifiable intelligence, fixed from birth and measured through an IQ test. Most of us continue to believe that human cognition (which is the mental process or faculty by which knowledge is acquired) is unitary -- i.e., it is only through the exercise of the intellect, reason, and analysis that knowledge can be gained.

Indeed, the emotions are now seen as underpinning our capacities for constructive thought. Daniel Coleman, science reporter for the New York Times, in his book Emotional Intelligence, reveals new understandings of the emotions as another cognitive system hardwired into our brains. Coleman suggests that emotional intelligence is a master intelligence, or "meta- ability," governing how well or poorly people are able to use their other mental capabilities.

Cognitive Research and the Arts

As the US Department of Labor indicates, imaginative, right-brained capacities are now highly valued in the "high performance" business workplace, both in front line employee and senior management. These capacities, or intelligences, have been described by Yale's Robert Sternberg, and Harvard's Howard Gardner. Sternberg talks of the triarchic mind, where practical abilities (or street smarts) and creative abilities are as important as linguistic, and logical, mathematical capacities. Howard Gardner defines intelligence as an ability to solve problems or fashion products valued in one or more cultures, and has introduced us to his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. Several of Gardner's intelligences are clearly arts based. As Linda and Bruce Campbell and Dee Dickinson observe in their outstanding book, Teaching and Learning through Multiple Intelligences, some schools interpret the Theory of Multiple Intelligences as providing a strong rationale for arts-based programs. With Gardner's claim that visual, musical, kinesthetic, and interpersonal competencies are actually forms of intelligence, arts proponents recommend that dance, music, theatre, film, visual arts, and creative writing be allotted equal status and time in the school curriculum. They claim that the arts provide important symbol systems that represent, interpret, and convey the world. Mathematics, science, and language communicate only part of our human experiences. The arts are necessary to explain other aspects of our life. Students who learn the basic skills and artistic symbol systems gain a more comprehensive picture of the world, while also developing more of their intelligences.

As Wynton Marsalis says, "the arts allow you to live in a greater percentage of the world." Or, as Ken Chenault, Vice Chairman of American Express, commented on what he gained from his 12 years of Waldorf education -- "it has allowed me to feel my consciousness at all times." With, both for him and others, amazingly practical results.


The Performance Record of Arts-Based Schools

As the Campbells and Dee Dickinson observe, "When individuals have opportunities to learn through their strengths, unexpected and positive cognitive, emotional, social, and even physical changes will appear." What is the actual record of arts-based, MI schools?

The Ashley River School in Charleston, South Carolina, which accepts everybody on a first come, first served basis, has the second highest academic standing in the city and county, exceeded only by a high school for the academically gifted -- even though one-third of the students have learning disabilities and the school is located in one of the city's poorest areas. Ashley River's test scores are substantially higher than county and state averages.

The Key School, an arts-integrated school in Indianapolis, and the subject of an ABC Special called "Common Miracles," is viewed as possibly the best elementary school in the country by the National Education Association. It was started by an arts teacher who wanted to offer quality education for all children, using the arts as the vehicle.

At the arts-based John Eliot School in Needham, fourth graders, when tested for critical thinking skills, were first in the entire state.

High schoolers at the FACE school in Montreal achieve at a rate 20 - 25 percent higher on average in hard academic subjects than their counterparts in other Montreal high schools, even though one reason they enroll at FACE is because they are weak academically to start.

In Germany students entering university are allowed to skip their freshman year, if their entrance exam scores are sufficiently high. Forty percent of over 1,000 Waldorf school students interviewed were found to have qualified, compared to a national average of only six percent.

The College Entrance Examination Board announced that in 1993 students who studied arts and music scored significantly higher than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Students who had participated in acting/play production, music performance and appreciation, drama appreciation, and art history, scored an average of 31 to 50 points higher for the math and verbal sections. The Board also stated that students with long-term arts study (four years or more) tend to score significantly higher on the SAT than those with less coursework in the arts.


The Benefits of Education through the Arts

How do we describe the benefits of education through the arts? Howard Gardner believes that training in the arts develops constructive habits of discipline, and mind. Our research reveals other benefits as well, as (shown in fig. 6 below) -- not the least of which is the development of the imagination.


Table II

Education through the Arts

Intensive Study of the Arts Promotes Learning of:

  • Discipline: Good Work Habits
  • Self-Awareness: Self-Responsibility
  • Persistence and Ownership of Work
  • Relationship of Effort to Achievement
  • High Ideals--Positive Adult Role Models
  • Learning as On-Going Process
  • Communication of Ideas
  • Synthetic and Analytic Thinking -- and Relationships
    ("Big Picture" and Details)
  • Active Learning: Learning by Doing

    A PARTIAL LIST . . .

    Source: Stephanie Perrin
    Head Walnut Hill School

 Arts Integration -- What Does It Mean?

When we talk about arts-based schools, we refer both to 'infusing' the artistic intelligences throughout the curriculum, in order to better serve students with different learning styles, and to teaching the arts as discrete academic subjects in their own right.

Infusing the Arts

As Karen Gallas, a first and second grade teacher in Brookline, MA, points out, in her book, The Languages of Learning -- How Children Talk, Write, Dance, Draw and Sing their Understanding of the World, the process of infusing the arts into the curriculum changes both what we study in schools, and how we study it.

How, then do you incorporate arts processes in your professional practice?

The bottles in which you will find the polio vaccine and penicillin are several. I recommend first the late Earnest Boyer's book, The Basic School. Additionally, The Languages of Learning by Karen Gallas, and Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind by Linda Verlee Williams, are outstanding. The largest bottle, with perhaps the most powerful medicines, is Teaching and Learning through Multiple Intelligences, by the Campbells and Dee Dickinson.

We sympathize with this point of view. We have not one, but two great challenges. The first is to incorporate the findings of the cognitive psychologists in general professional practice. The second is to reestablish the arts in the basic curriculum as discrete, academic disciplines in their own right.

The Arts as Stand Alone Subjects

The arts, as stand-alone, academic subjects in their own right, represent powerful alternative models of teaching and learning. The movie, Small Wonders, about one teacher's violin program in New York City's Central Park East, makes this point more powerfully than I ever could in words.

As Horace observes,

Almost every one of Theodore Sizer's Nine Common Principles reflects an artist's perspective: the philosophy of student as worker and teacher as mentor and coach; the belief that every child can think and express herself well; the use of essential questions that cross fields of inquiry; the conviction that doing one thing well is better than doing many superficially; assessment by performance, portfolio, and exhibition.

Students should practice an art discipline to develop tools of thought, to give meaning to facts and to facilitate creative or transformational thinking, as well as to "live in more of the world" -- even though most will not become professional artists.

These tools of thought identified by the Harvard Business School, include analogizing and the use of metaphor, pattern forming and recognition, visual and kinesthetic thinking, modeling, playacting, manual manipulation, and most importantly, aesthetics. Robert Root-Bernstein, a biologist and cellist, believes that the mind and senses alike must be trained equally and in tandem to perceive and to imagine, and points out that few, if any of these tools of thought are in our standard science curriculum.

It is however, the power of the aesthetic which is the most vital. We do not value the arts for what they are because we do not value aesthetic meaning. In a recent, Education Week article Jessica Davis, head of the newly installed arts-in-education concentration at Harvard's Graduate School of Education, asks, "Why must we justify arts learning in terms of other disciplines?" She observes that we should not be trying to transfer something that has value in itself, and suggests that the arts are not valued in schools because our society's own value system is flawed. She suggests that the arts need to be incorporated into every child's learning to provide them with the necessary tools to make and find meaning through aesthetic symbols, and participate across circumstances, culture, and time in the ongoing human conversation that is perpetuated through art.

There are five main points of emphasis in Ron's school:

  • Poor quality work is not acceptable. Kids are expected to work on draft after draft -- perhaps 15 versions of a drawing, map, or illustration, with each draft an improvement. The kids have fewer final products than other schools, but what they have is high quality work, and something of value, of which they can be proud. The process of continuous work and improvement engenders pride in: kids -- it changes the notion of who they are. They realize they can do something of quality.
  • The arts-based approach allows a "structure of critique," as critique is a tradition in the arts. There are no hurt feelings, as it is part of the normal process. Once kids learn models of critique through the arts, they begin to start thinking differently, and to apply it to other areas of their life -- with parents, and the principal. In the classroom Ron asks students for critique of his own performance as teacher.
  • The tradition of the master teacher not as expert, but as the leader of inquiry, is followed. The arts reflect the tradition of continuous learning. The teacher is not expected to be the expert. Experts are brought in to the class periodically, to illuminate certain areas of study. Ron is not the expert, but the master teacher.
  • The arts tradition of exhibition is followed. If in the arts it was all practice, and no recital, no one would work hard, or care. But in most schools that is all children do -- practice. If, on the other hand, everything they do will be exhibited, then they begin to care very much indeed.
  • Finally, the arts' tradition of keeping work in a portfolio is followed. Once a portfolio "culture" has been established, kids develop a need for evidence. "Where is your evidence, your portfolio?" Is the question. Evidence fits scientific inquiry but fits well in the arts as well.

The Arts Are Mainstream Education Reform

Most leading education reformers and many reform initiatives have picked up on the message of Arnheim, Gardner, Eisner, and Sternberg.

The Province of Saskatchewan has mandated arts training, in all the arts, for all children, K- 12, and has been working on getting them integrated into the curriculum for the past 15 years. They understand the power in aesthetic education. A full arts curriculum for each grade is available through the Internet at:

Additionally, an interactive CD-ROM called "Ideas and Inspiration," is available for teacher training, and student instruction, in the visual arts.

Minneapolis has the arts as one of five core disciplines in the curriculum and has developed some useful handouts for parents.

The curriculum of the Edison Project schools, emphasizing both the arts and the use of technology, is showing positive results, according to Education Week.

The Accelerated School program of Stanford's Hank Levin has over 1,000 schools participating, and strongly embraces the arts.

Ted Sizer's Coalition of Essential Schools, in the May 1996 edition of Horace, now proclaims that the arts must move from elective, to essential status

Weaving the arts through the whole Basic School curriculum, and giving more focused time to art instruction, as well, profoundly enriches students' lives and stimulates their minds.

In the Basic School, art is an integral language, with a role to play in teaching all the disciplines. And teachers who themselves are not skilled artists include art experiences in their lessons.

The first goal of the Basic School is literacy for all. The aim is for all children to be successful, not just in reading, writing, and mathematics, but also in the universal language we call art.

The arts are no longer considered frills. The leaders of mainstream education reform have recognized them for what they are, which is the foundation on which the entire educational structure curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment -- must be built.

A Community Dialogue on What Is Valuable and Important




Copyright © 1997 CABC
Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum

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