By Stephen Dowling, CTD Solstice Summer Program Coordinator
The challenges and opportunities of the 21st century require that we make interdisciplinary curricula a “must” instead of an occasional break from a normal class day. Rather than attend forty-five minutes of math followed by forty-five minutes of history, this generation of students will be best served by courses that help them understand math in the context of language, literature in the context of history, and so on; even more, these students have grown up in an era when one subject area is just a mouse-click or Wiki link away from another. For more on the interconnected, web-based experience of today’s students (and the array of topics linking back to Kevin Bacon!), check out my TEDxNorthwesternU Talk from 2014:
What sense does it make to structure the school day by subject area, they rightly ask, when the world itself is not so neatly defined by disciplinary boundaries?
The arts – which help us see, feel, think, and understand – have a particular potential to facilitate greater understanding of and meaningful connections between difficult concepts and ideas. Courses such as computer music programming, an architecture course rooted in literature, or a mural design course with deep links to sociology and history, provide students the interdisciplinary context their minds have come to expect and crave and help them develop knowledge and understanding in multiple disciplines simultaneously.
A single approach to arts integration won’t work for all schools or all students, but any attempt will require commitment from teachers, parents, and students alike. The very first step is to begin conversation: among teachers, to move beyond “how are you doing?” to “what are you doing?” when we pass in the halls; and parents, to both voice your desire to see more collaboration in your school and help staff find the connections between classrooms that are already there but unnoticed. Great starting resources for inspiration are Eric Jensen’s Arts With the Brain in Mind and Gale Burnaford’s Renaissance in the Classroom: Arts Integration and Meaningful Learning. Both these books contain valuable insight for families and schools interested in deepening student experience through the arts.
Stephen Dowling is the Solstice and Elmhurst program coordinator at the CTD summer program. Prior to arriving at CTD, he taught high school choral music and music theory in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee and received his masters degree in music education from Northwestern’s Bienen School of Music.