Student test scores in science from the United States continue to rank 14 out of 17 among the industrialized countries. Since the early 1960s, there have been numerous attempts at educational reform to improve science with most reform movements increasing the exposure to more science. These reforms have not produced the desired results since the Unites States consistently ranks at the bottom. Let me make an observation about the role the arts could possibly play in improving science test scores.
First, numerous research studies have been conducted to show the positive effect music (and the arts) have on helping children learn academic concepts not related to the arts. The most significant study that received national attention was the one called the Mozart Effect in which evidence was provided demonstrating that listening to classical music (or complex music) prior to taking an exam in an academic subject improved test scores. Other studies showed higher scores in math and English for the college entrance exams (SAT and ACT) for those students who have participated in instrumental music. However, for as many studies that have been conducted that show the benefit of music and the arts on academic achievement, there have been just as many rebuttals indicating the research findings are inconclusive.
If we look at the backgrounds of the scientific geniuses western civilization has produced during the past several centuries, there is one common denominator that stands out. Almost without exception, the scientific inventors have had an arts background. For example, Leonardo da Vinci had accomplishments of equal stature in both the fields of art and science. Albert Einstein is known primarily as having one of the greatest scientific minds of the 20th century. But a lesser known fact about Einstein is that he also was an accomplished violinist. And the list goes on. A number of years ago, I compiled an abbreviated list of 80 backgrounds of the greatest inventors in western civilization from the Renaissance through the 20th century. All but two had an arts background.
The conclusion I reached from this observation was that it takes creativity to invent, and it takes creativity to solve problems - and what subject area is better than the arts to learn creativity? If Leonardo da Vinci and Albert Einstein did not have creative abilities, their scientific achievements would have been confined to analyzing the discoveries and theories of others.
Requiring more arts in our school system has not been attempted yet to improve test scores in science. It would certainly be interesting to see if there would be a positive effect in improving problem-solving skills in science from those children who are trained to use the parts of the brain most closely associated with creativity and imagination.
Kerry Hart is dean of the Colorado Mountain College Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs. His education commentaries appear in the Steamboat Today.