The Arts and Elementary Education: Shifting the Paradigm

Jun. 29, 2009

Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 3 June 2009 , pages 377 - 389.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Most people think of the arts in education as a way of teaching arts skills, and in times when the emphasis is on achieving literacy and numeracy (necessary, but not sufficient, educational goals) the arts can often be seen as 'fringe.'

This paper makes the case that study of artworks in the service of developing perceptive and imaginative capacities is critical to K-12 education, and begins in the elementary grades. Arts skills can also be explored, but it is argued that this is best accomplished in the service of developing these capacities.

For over thirty years, Lincoln Center Institute has been pursuing aesthetic education as defined by the educational philosopher Maxine Greene. Recently, as the Institute began to further define and explore its work, its people developed the Capacities for Imaginative Learning, which can be cultivated not only through the study of artworks, but across the curriculum. The origin of these capacities in the Institute's work at the High School for Arts, Imagination and Inquiry, their relationship to general conceptions of the imagination, and their applicability in the elementary grades are outlined.

This paper describes the beginnings of research on the nature and efficacy of the Capacities in fostering learning across the curriculum. Additionally, research questions are posed at the elementary level.

Research Questions

The questions the Institute's people are interested in generally include the following:

- How will they know if the Capacities for Imaginative Learning, and the kinds of teaching they engender, help cultivate imagination in students over time?

- What are the implications of this for the place of aesthetic education in fostering imaginative learning across grades and across the curriculum?

- How can imaginative learning through aesthetic education be integrated in highly accountable educational environments?

Specifically for elementary education, their focus is on questions such as:

- How does imaginative learning develop over time in elementary-school students?

- How should the Capacities for Imaginative Learning be adapted to make them developmentally appropriate for elementary-schools students?

- What form should aesthetic education for imaginative learning in the elementary grades have in order to serve as the foundation for work in the later grades?

- What kinds of professional development are necessary to make imaginative learning through aesthetic education essential to elementary education?


The questions pursued here and the examples from both high school and elementary school suggest that imaginative learning, nurtured through the study of artworks as well as all curricular subjects, can be a powerful catalyst for teaching and learning in general. Other current trends and findings parallel this idea.

Updated: Dec. 01, 2009