When a high school eliminated the last-period guitar instruction elective available to students who had attended all of the day's classes, there was a significant dropout of the students who tolerated their other classes to enjoy the pleasure of that guitar class. What a shame at a time when we are experiencing the highest high school dropout rate our country has ever had. For the first time in our history, for students in high school, it is now more likely that their parents will have graduated than they will graduate.
The brain's information intake filter admits only about 1 percent of the sensory input available each second. That means that because all learning enters the brain as sensory input, teachers need to be sure their lesson material "makes the cut."
This involuntary filter in the low brainstem, called the reticular activating system (RAS), gives priority to novel sensory information. First priority goes to novel sensory information interpreted as potentially threatening—thus the need to have a strong classroom community; interventions to reduce states of sustained high stress; and the trust of your students that you will do all you can to intervene when actions by classmates threaten their property, physical, and emotional safety.
The brain, in animals and humans, evolved to better protect the well-being of its owner and species. Expending energy without the expectation of imminent satisfaction is not part of the survival programming of the brain. Effort and attention are limited commodities that the brain parses out to the actions it predicts will be successful in protection or pleasure. To predict the likelihood that effort will result in successful outcomes, the brain uses the outcome of previous experiences.
The current theme of the critical role of the arts in providing students with a well-rounded education that meets the needs of the whole child promotes thoughts about how the arts can "increase students' college-, career-, and citizenship-readiness in all subjects as well as keep them engaged in school and contribute to their social and emotional health."
The arts are not optional, separate entities that can be isolated into short periods of playing with clay. The arts, by nature, are opportunities for creativity. There is creativity for personal expression in art interpretation as well as in artistic production and performance. The increasing buzz about a creativity crisis comes at a time when neuroscience and cognitive science research are increasingly providing information that correlates creativity with intelligence; academic, social, and emotional success; and the development of skill sets and the highest information processing (executive functions) that will become increasingly valuable for students of the 21st century.