Learning About History and Culture Through the Arts

Very soon, students at Los Angeles County Unified School District schools will be learning as much about Renaissance art or the historical influence of dance as they do about algebra or the theory of relativity. Thanks to a resolution by the Los Angeles Unified School District, which passed last fall, the arts are now on par with other core subjects like math, reading, and social science.

This week, leaders in the field of arts, education, government and philanthropy gathered at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion to celebrate passage of the resolution and to begin the discussion on how arts education will be implemented into the core curriculum. The California Core Curriculum standards mainly emphasize English language arts, math and science.

Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas, whose district includes more than 300 L.A. Unified schools, applauded the district’s step, noting the importance of arts education in all children’s lives. Studies have shown that arts education stimulates and develops the imagination, creates important critical thinking skills as well as expands appreciation of different cultures, viewpoints and traditions. For the past three summers, the supervisor has sponsored several Freedom Schools in the district, a summer enrichment program developed by the Children’s Defense Fund that relies heavily on the arts to teach children the enjoyment of literacy. “The arts, especially with regard to many of this region’s cultures, are never separate from daily life — certainly not from the overall learning experience,” said Chairman Ridley-Thomas. “They are not a luxury; music, visual arts, graphic arts, dance — these truly are at the core of our culture and society.”

The Arts at the Core Plan seeks to restore funding levels within five years to 2007-2008 levels, to begin the recovery from the last few years of devastating cutbacks. The resolution also seeks to increase the number of elementary arts teachers, within 10 years, to be on par with other large, urban districts such as Dallas, New York City, Chicago, Seattle, Pittsburg and Philadelphia.

Teachers will be expected to teach about world cultures, musical theatre, mural painting, modern dance and jazz among other lessons. Students will then be able to experience and learn about the arts through many different personal or cultural lenses.

“For me, the issue of restoring and growing arts education and integrated arts instruction is a matter of social justice and educational equity,” said LAUSD Board Member and author of the resolution Nury Martinez. “How can we not afford to stand and make a difference in education for all our children?”