Art education may help prepare future lawyers (and mediators)

Art teaches habits necessary for adult work lifeEducators and parents have long accepted the notion that introducing children to art fosters creativity, builds cultural literacy, and makes for well-rounded human beings.

Art education however may in fact achieve far more than that: namely, help children develop important skills and habits necessary to the work they will ultimately do as adults, according to a recent study described in a Boston Globe article, “Art for our sake: School arts classes matter more than ever – but not for the reasons you think“. Two researchers with Project Zero at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, describe the surprising results of their study and the implications they hold for the future of education.

They discovered that art teaches children key “studio habits of mind”, including persistence, expression, and the ability to make clear connections “between schoolwork and the world outside the classroom”–in other words, to see real-world applications for the lessons learned in class.

Researchers noticed something important at the very beginning:

The first thing we noticed was that visual arts students are trained to look, a task far more complex than one might think. Seeing is framed by expectation, and expectation often gets in the way of perceiving the world accurately. To take a simple example: When asked to draw a human face, most people will set the eyes near the top of the head. But this isn’t how a face is really proportioned, as students learn: our eyes divide the head nearly at the center line. … Observational drawing requires breaking away from stereotypes and seeing accurately and directly…Seeing clearly by looking past one’s preconceptions is central to a variety of professions, from medicine to law [emphasis added]. Naturalists must be able to tell one species from another; climatologists need to see atmospheric patterns in data as well as in clouds. Writers need keen observational skills too, as do doctors.

The authors conclude:

For students living in a rapidly changing world, the arts teach vital modes of seeing, imagining, inventing, and thinking. If our primary demand of students is that they recall established facts, the children we educate today will find themselves ill-equipped to deal with problems like global warming, terrorism, and pandemics.Those who have learned the lessons of the arts, however – how to see new patterns, how to learn from mistakes, and how to envision solutions – are the ones likely to come up with the novel answers needed most for the future.

How well did your own education prepare you to master those habits?

(Photo credit: Carlos Paes.)

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