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Arts and Smarts: Test Scores and Cognitive Development

(Editor’s Note: we are pleased to bring you this arti­cle thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with Greater Good Mag­a­zine.)

At a time when edu­ca­tors are pre­oc­cu­pied with stan­dards, test­ing, and the bot­tom line, some researchers sug­gest the arts can boost stu­dents’ test scores; oth­ers aren’t con­vinced. Karin Evans asks, What are the arts good for?


When poet and nation­al endow­ment for the Arts Chair­man Dana Gioia gave the 2007 Com­mence­ment Address at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty, he used the occa­sion to deliv­er an impas­sioned argu­ment for the val­ue of the arts and arts edu­ca­tion.

Art is an irre­place­able way of under­stand­ing and express­ing the world,” said Gioia. “There are some truths about life that can be expressed only as sto­ries, or songs, or images. Art delights, instructs, con­soles. It edu­cates our emo­tions.”

For years, arts advo­cates like Gioia have been mak­ing sim­i­lar pleas, stress­ing the intan­gi­ble ben­e­fits of the arts at a time when many Amer­i­cans are pre­oc­cu­pied with a market–driven cul­ture of enter­tain­ment, and schools are con­sumed with meet­ing fed­er­al stan­dards. Art brings joy, these advo­cates say, or it evokes our human­i­ty, or, in the words of my 10–year–old daugh­ter, “It cools kids down after all the oth­er hard stuff they have to think about.”

Bol­ster­ing the case for the arts has become increas­ing­ly nec­es­sary in recent years, as school bud­get cuts and the move toward stan­dard­ized test­ing have pro­found­ly threat­ened the role of the arts in schools. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, passed in 2002, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment start­ed assess­ing school dis­tricts by their stu­dents’ scores on read­ing and math­e­mat­ics tests.

As a result, accord­ing to a study by the Cen­ter on Edu­ca­tion Pol­i­cy, school dis­tricts across the Unit­ed States increased the time they devot­ed to test­ed subjects—reading/language arts and math—while cut­ting spend­ing on non–tested sub­jects such as the visu­al arts and music. The more a school fell behind, by NCLB stan­dards, the more time and mon­ey was devot­ed to those test­ed sub­jects, with less going to the arts. The Nation­al Edu­ca­tion Asso­ci­a­tion has report­ed that the cuts fall hard­est on schools with high num­bers of minor­i­ty chil­dren.

And the sit­u­a­tion is like­ly to wors­en as state bud­gets get even tighter. Already, in a round of fed­er­al edu­ca­tion cuts for 2006 and 2007, arts edu­ca­tion nation­al­ly was slashed by $35 mil­lion. In 2008, the New York City Depart­ment of Education’s annu­al study of Read the rest of this entry »

A User’s Guide to Lifelong Brain Health: BrainFit for Life

As the Brain Fit­ness indus­try con­tin­ues to gain momen­tum, and peo­ple explore all the incred­i­ble brain-train­ing tools being devel­oped, we hope that enthu­si­asts don’t take their eye off the impor­tance of the phys­i­cal health of the brain and all the sys­tems it com­mu­ni­cates with. The brain is unique in that it hous­es our cog­ni­tive and emo­tion­al capac­i­ties in the form of the mind. It is a ‘cog­ni­tive’ organ that hungers for stim­u­la­tion from new expe­ri­ences and chal­lenges. Many brain fit­ness pro­grams strive to sat­is­fy this need. Yet the brain is also a phys­i­cal organ that plays by many of the same rules as the heart, lungs, liv­er and kid­neys. To stay healthy and per­form opti­mal­ly it requires qual­i­ty nutri­tion, phys­i­cal activ­i­ty and opti­mal sleep. The brain, espe­cial­ly, relies on a healthy vas­cu­lar sys­tem to effi­cient­ly deliv­er oxy­gen and key nutri­ents and remove waste. In fact, the brain uses approx­i­mate­ly 20% of the oxy­gen we breathe to sat­is­fy its high-ener­gy demands. Giv­en that the brain only weighs about 2% of the body, we can con­sid­er it an ener­gy hog and we must cater to its needs very care­ful­ly.

Nutri­ents play key roles in brain func­tion. Sev­er­al have shown effi­ca­cy in clin­i­cal tri­als treat­ing cas­es of mood dis­or­ders, cog­ni­tive decline and of course ben­e­fit­ing the phys­i­cal health of the brain. Nutri­ents are both the raw mate­ri­als employed in cre­at­ing new neur­al con­nec­tions and Read the rest of this entry »

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