Is Theatre Arts Education Being Sent to the Chopping Block too Soon?

When the average person thinks about theatre, they immediately think big: Broadway, flashing lights, famous stars, entertainment. What they don’t heavily consider is the educational value of the theatre arts. Ever since theatre first emerged into the public school system it has struggled to prove its worth to some. The battle of advocacy in public schools is generally split between athletics and theatre arts; who deserves more funding? Athletics is known for winning this battle in most school districts, leaving the theatre arts to suffer in response. The argument is to ultimately prove that the theatre arts, while also having entertainment value, has educational value that we don’t want our young students to miss out on.

In my life the theatre arts are extremely important. It had such an impact on my high school experience and on my life that I now am an undergraduate acting major. That being said, I am a huge advocate of educational theatre and believe that it should be supported in every aspect. It is my personal experience that students who are engaged in the arts perform better academically, have superior experiences within school, have healthier relationships, and are happier as a whole. This is not to say that the theatre arts should be more supported than other activities or curriculum, but equally prioritized and included. The equal treatment of the theatre arts prompts student bodies to succeed more and bring public schooling to a more well-rounded educational outcome.

Many officials in the field of education share my same views on the integration of theatre arts into public schools. In a book called Studio Thinking 2: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, the author Lois Hetland explores the argument that, yes, the arts are beneficial to our students. In Hetland’s first chapter, Making the Case for the Arts, she states that, “Arts education has always been in a tenuous position in the United States. All too often the arts have been considered a luxury in our schools…” (Hetland 1) but that the true downfall of arts advocacy happened in 2001 with the No Child Left Behind act “because No Child Left Behind emphasized accountability in literacy and numeracy and not in the arts, even though the arts were included as a mandated subject area, the result is even less support now for the arts in many of our schools than there had been in the past” (Hetland 1). Hetland describes what many theatre arts programs have suffered, and although her main focus is on the visual arts the same concept still applies. Many studies have shown correlation between arts involvement and performance in non-arts curriculum, including Hetland’s, as she describes that, “Classroom drama improves reading readiness and reading achievement scores, oral language skills, and story understanding…” (Hetland 2). Although this is only one account of arts education success, it expresses the importance of the arts through specific research and commentary. Research like this increases the positive stance on arts education even more; they are of use and value to our students.

In addition to this, an article from Odyssey.com titled Arts Advocacy Now: The Importance of Theatre In Our Schools Month has a similar view. Annie Barker, the author of the piece, describes that, “The importance of theatre education goes far beyond putting together a toe-tapping production of Anything Goes or thought-provoking Bang, Bang, You’re Dead. It is not about pumping out the next generation of Sutton Fosters or LaChanzes — though that is an added bonus. An arts education creates the next generation of leaders, thinkers, teachers and artists” (Barker 2016). Barker elaborates that theatre is more than simple entertainment and holds true educational value for our students. Even students who don’t choose a career path in the arts can also benefit from a theatre education because “…an education in the arts contributes greatly to their development. Theatre teaches students the importance of public speaking and presentation, creative problem solving and the cardinal rule of improvisation (and life)” (Barker 2016). This further proves that theatre arts provide skills that are imperative to any work field a student chooses. Everyone benefits from being able to speak to and in front of others and that is a main skill taught through theatre.

Another popular opinion is one that opposes theatre arts education advocacy in public schools. This seems to be the common mentality of many people in power within any given school district. The theatre arts are viewed as having no real educational value; just another offered elective. The book Educational Research and Innovation Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education written by Winner Ellen, Thalia R. Goldstein, and Stephan Vincent-Lancrin, share this viewpoint. The authors note that, “Strong evidence shows that theatre education in the form of enacting stories in the classroom (classroom drama) strengthens verbal skills, but there is no evidence for a link between theatre training and overall academic skills” (Ellen, et al 18). They reviewed several studies completed in the U.S. and other countries overseas that led them to the conclusion that “Ultimately, the impact of arts education on other non-arts skills on innovation in the labour market should not be the primary justification for arts education in today’s curricula” (Ellen, et al 20).

Out of all of the arguments I have discussed and exist in the modern world about theatre education advocacy, my original statement still stands: I believe that theatre arts education should be equally supported and included in public schools everywhere. Therefore, I agree with my first source written by Lois Hetland. She argues that arts education is something our young students deserve to be subjected to and will absolutely reap the benefits of being immersed in that type of learning. She substantiates these claims by having her own research to support them. This is why I agree with this source and believe Hetland to have the best opinion out of all of the others.

After having discussed all three viewpoints, I believe the authors of the book Educational Research and Innovation Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education to be the least valid opinion. Firstly, they go against the long stated opinion of the Educational Theatre Association by claiming the arts have no educational value as there is no correlation between arts involvement and better academic achievement. This, however, contradicts the study Lois Hetland performed and was able to conclude that the arts do indeed correlate with achievement in traditional core classes. The fact that the authors of Educational Research and Innovation Art for Art’s Sake? The Impact of Arts Education only used studies recorded and performed by other sources makes their argument seem biased. I just disagree with how they went about their argument and their stance as a whole.

As theatre education helped shape me into the person I am today, I firmly stand to my opinion that theatre arts education should be advocated for. There is research to support this claim and I have the personal experience to further express the importance of theatre arts. Looking at the large scope picture, I have successfully discussed varying views on whether or not the theatre arts should be advocated for in public schools based on the educational value it holds. There is no doubt that the theatre arts do have a very high entertainment value but the educational value it also holds outweighs this and it should be an education that is open and available to students nationwide.