The importance of the arts

We moved to Columbus from New York in 1970. Our three kids attended Berwick Elementary School. A few months after our arrival, the Columbus school district was deciding whether to slash music programs because the budget was very tight. I testified at the hearings, practically begging the board to keep music in the schools for all of our kids.

Music and the arts are not frills. They are really basic ways of learning and have worked effectively to help people communicate, learn, create and celebrate for thousands of years (in fact, those were some of the points I made in my presentation).

Happily, music was not eliminated from the curriculum. It was a close call and, sadly, such threats are not infrequent. The arts, historically, are the first to go when money is tight. They are thought of as frills. Without advocacy, say goodbye!

Fast forward to present times. We are in need of educated citizens who are called to work in the fields of technology, science, engineering and math. There is no question about that challenge. To meet that goal, educators and those in related professions created a curriculum stressing these areas. They call it STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics). It is widespread in schools across the country, and I am sure it is effective in inviting students to follow those career paths.

But something was missing: The first letter of the alphabet. How could arts be left out of a serious academic offering to our children? Arts advocates, citizens and organizations lobbied for the arts to be included as basic components of learning. STEM became STEAM, and many schools nationwide are joining that exciting new combination of academic goals and programs.

They realize that not only are the arts important by themselves, bringing meaningful activities and adventures to classrooms, but the arts also are good for the economy: They provide successful and effective learning experiences that enhance all subjects, while helping communities and businesses flourish. I think of the arts as the connective tissue of the human spirit. Without the arts in our lives, we are detached from a well-rounded existence.

Pioneer neuroscientist Marian Diamond spent her life studying the brain, notably Albert Einstein's. She found that the human brain is not static. No matter a person's age, the brain can change as a result of enriched experiences. These experiences not only stimulate the brain, but also improve the immune system.

What experiences could be more stimulating and enriching than the “A” in STEAM? Join me by believing in and advocating for arts-rich lessons of learning.

“Mamaloshen” is the Yiddish term for “the mother tongue” and we have adapted it here to represent the wisdom of Columbus arts educator, author and all-around inspiration Mimi Brodsky Chenfeld, who is on a mission to help parents raise happy, healthy, creative children.