By Julia Barker, Guest Contributor
At an alarming rate, we are seeing more and more of our schools across the nation remove the arts from our public school systems. The great benefits of art, such as promoting academic success and sharpening creativity skills remain, yet the arts programs are still being cut within schools. One of the most inspiring things about the arts is the promotion of social and emotional support for students, including the ability to create a safe space for our children.
In the recent article, “Artful Spaces/Safe Places” by Cindy Bixler Borgmann and Stacy Penalva, the authors and researchers discover that art is a way for our unheard children to speak out and have a voice. Children created “hanging journals” with clay, and were able to tell their own story and narrative through these visual journals. Children were able to create the artifact of their life, rather than write it. Cindy and Stacy were able to listen, and connect in a greater way with children.
Not only as an educator, but as an advocate, it is imperative that we listen to our children in order to support them academically, but it is equally as important that we support them emotionally as well. Our children are extremely diverse. We have all different backgrounds and cultures combined, and it is glorious. But many of our children are also burdened with trauma, hardships, unforeseen circumstances, family issues, homelessness, fear of deportation, abuse, and so much more.
We strive to listen and provide all the support we can to our diverse group, yet often we fail. Our children do not always speak using words, oftentimes our children speak through a behavior–an action or reaction, both positive and negative. Sometimes though, we don’t hear our children speak at all. An extremely powerful tool that we have robbed many of our children of is the ability to speak through art.
Cindy and Stacy found that English language learners have powerful stories to tell, and art is the outlet that our unheard children can speak from, in a language that, if we take the time, we can understand. Art is a gateway for us all to unleash our inner voice. “These hanging journals had culturally significant meaning encoded into the bits of clay that told complex stories of their identity. In a classroom where teachers are taught to unwrap these artworks to hear the powerful narratives of all children, the results can be transformative” (Borgmann & Penalva, pg. 16, 2019). Art is bigger than a simple craft, it has the power to speak and transform the lives of people.
I so appreciate the research and publication of Cindy and Stacy’s work. I now challenge myself to look for and seek out opportunities in the academic setting for my students to create something powerful through a creative lens. Currently my students are affected by the decision to eliminate arts from the school setting and do not have access to a creative outlet to speak or tell their story.
I see how impactful, liberating, and life-changing art can be for a child. I vow to incorporate the arts into my curriculum and classroom so that I can hear my students speak, they can hear each other, and we can all listen and respond as art breaks the language barrier across cultural differences. Art can be a tool to promote a safe space and create acceptance, understanding, and appreciation of diverse identities, breaking barriers.
Julia Barker is an Educational Leadership Master of Arts student in the IU School of Education at IUPUI.