Math, Science, Reading, Writing, Thinking– It’s In There

My assistant theatre manager and I went to speak at an elementary school career day today. This is the first time we have been invited although the school has apparently been doing career days for nearly 20 years. They often have the same groups year after year so wanted to change the line up a little this year.

Now if you are thinking a theatre manager talking about his job for 30 minutes is about 27 minutes too long for your average fifth grader, I am way ahead of you. Some of the students had been to the theatre for an outreach performance last week so that gave us an opening to talk very briefly about what went in to getting the performers to the theatre. I squeezed in a stay in school pitch by noting the necessity for good reading, writing and artistic skills in putting a brochure together but then we moved on to the exciting part of theatre–performance and technology.

The sounds and faces actors make when they are doing vocal warm ups is pure gold for getting elementary age kids to participate. I also did a bit about how performers communicate non verbally with body, props and facial features. It was a big hit with the kids and provided the assistant theatre manager photos with which to blackmail me. My consolation was that I got asked for my autograph.

Then I broke out the lighting equipment my technical director gave me for the demo. This really lent itself to our message about the value of education. I used the equipment to illustrate the importance of lighting people from all sides. Then I talked about the importance of math in figuring out how many instruments you could attach to a circuit. We had one bright light that used the limit of 1,000 watts but didn’t cover me from all angles vs. four instruments of 250 watts each that covered my whole body but wasn’t as bright. Which did they like better?

I pulled out some gels and talked very basically about additive vs subtractive color just to introduce the concept of color we perceive directly vs. what is reflected. Gotta know your science. At the student’s suggestion, we experimented using multiple gels to see what the result of mixing them together was. The big finale was putting the portable dimmer we had into demonstration mode to create a chase sequence of our gels.

I take the time to recount some of what we did because of a conversation we had with the Vice Principal at lunch. He volunteered, without anyone mentioning it, that he really wanted more art in the school but No Child Left Behind requirements were inhibiting him. He started citing studies that showed that the arts improve scores in the areas NCLB was requiring improvement.

Boy, it is great when you can eat your lunch and have people make the case you would normally deliver to them for you.

Catching up on my blog subscriptions, I came across this entry by Adam Huttler over at Fractured Atlas

I’m always skeptical of arts advocacy arguments that emphasize the importance of arts as a hobby in support of other (presumably more serious or important) endeavors. You know, like when people claim arts education is important because it helps kids do better at math. That’s great and all, but what’s wrong with the fact that it helps kids do better at art? Why isn’t that enough? Even setting aside the intrinsic value of the arts, the direct benefits to society from arts and culture activities are well documented (economic development, urban renewal, etc.) We shouldn’t have to justify our existence on the idea that, by supporting and practicing the arts, some totally unrelated but positive thing might happen by accident.

I agree wholly with him but would just like to add that people getting better at math, science and reading when they experience the arts doesn’t happen by accident either. The arts don’t existing in a vacuum and magically bestow their benefits. People become better at math, science, reading, writing, critical and creative thinking etc through the arts because the arts require you to use math, science, reading, writing, creative and critical thinking. We know that people have a more positive relationship with the arts if they have had active interactions vs. experiences where they simply watched. I feel pretty confident in claiming, without any statistical backing whatsoever, that students also gain greater benefits in the aforementioned subject areas if they have actively participated in the arts.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


4 thoughts on “Math, Science, Reading, Writing, Thinking– It’s In There”

  1. Then there’s Howard Gardiner’s seven intelligences:


    Of the activities that emerge from these “intelligences” it’s music (the artistic one) that demands you use all six of the other intelligences.


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