A winning case for beefing up the quality of arts education in the United States appears this week in OpinionJournal (WSJ). The article by Dana Gioia, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, is a condensation of his commencement address at Stanford earlier this year.
Some choice bits (emphases mine):
We need to create a new national consensus. The purpose of arts education is not to produce more artists, though that is a byproduct. The real purpose of arts education is to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society.. . .
If you don't believe me, you should read the studies that are now coming out about American civic participation. Our country is dividing into two distinct behavioral groups. One group spends most of its free time sitting at home as passive consumers of electronic entertainment. Even family communication is breaking down as members increasingly spend their time alone, staring at their individual screens.
The other group also uses and enjoys the new technology, but these individuals balance it with a broader range of activities. They go out--to exercise, play sports, volunteer and do charity work at about three times the level of the first group. By every measure they are vastly more active and socially engaged than the first group.
What is the defining difference between passive and active citizens? Curiously, it isn't income, geography or even education. It depends on whether or not they read for pleasure and participate in the arts. These cultural activities seem to awaken a heightened sense of individual awareness and social responsibility.
The complete article may be viewed in the July 19 edition of OpinionJournal.