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Contribution to an Idea

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How can teachers of the arts contribute to cognitive development? In this final discussion, two ideas are discussed for their potential usefulness to teachers of the arts. The first idea relates to the significance of new discoveries about the brain which offer hints about teaching in the classroom or elsewhere. The second idea relates to ways teachers might modify one or more courses in the arts so that their teaching could contribute more directly to students’ cognitive development.


Cognitive development is, first, a gradual process that proceeds on an enormous number of fronts simultaneously. As individuals explore their environments, each new experience is integrated into the network or sum total of all experiences that have preceded it. This integrated network of life experiences can be thought of metaphorically as each person’s world view, which in turn influences his or her behavior and conscious view of the world.

Although world views change very slowly, teachers are able to influence students’ world views. The arts taken as a whole have the potential to transform parts of each individual’s worldview. Instrumentation can not only connect students with their past and present condition, but it can change their emotional moods. Drama brings new insights to students’ regarding their lives and allows them to feel the joy and pain of others. Literature and paintings connect them with worlds they may never have known existed. The exceedingly rich array of experiences within the arts have the potential to transform students’ sense of themselves within the larger context of humanity.

What then are the roles of teachers of the arts? Teachers provide the language that connects each of the arts with the lives of their students. Language is the medium that makes transforming experiences with the arts possible for students. Through their choices of art to be presented, teachers connect the expressions of artists to the lives of students. Through their experiences with the arts, students have access to the possibilities of knowing what other minds have thought, and how people in other cultures and other centuries have viewed the world.

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