• Prose and Purpose

    After 25 years on the job, a former provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.


Museum Education

I’m a strong believer that education that incorporates museum experiences and the arts in general is a more fully textured and in-depth learning experience.

April 6, 2014

I’m a strong believer that education that incorporates museum experiences and the arts in general is a more fully textured and in-depth learning experience.  Museums represent and translate the world’s values. 

We are fortunate to have an outstanding museum right on the Hofstra campus.  This year more than 1200 students and their faculty are making curricular related connections during learning sessions at our Museum galleries.  As a result of these experiences, students have created original choreography, documentaries, dramatic presentations, poetry and prose, as well as research papers and lesson plans for teaching others.  Let me give you just a few examples: 

Studying works in the collections facilitates discussions in clinical psychology graduate courses about “assumptions” and the ways in which the process of making an individual interpretation of a work of art is similar to developing interpretations of client narratives and histories for clinical treatment recommendations.  Studying the works of art, and hearing the varied responses to the same work from peers, has a significant impact upon student understanding of their own assumptions and biases. These assumptions can alter a recommended course of treatment for a patient, and/or the willingness to listen to recommendations from colleagues about treatment options from varied points of view and experience.

Students in their course work are challenged to use art works on campus to develop historical narratives, and to create performances that effectively bring those sculptures “to life.”  Examples of these impressive campus artworks include Plato and Socrates in Dialogue, Frederick Douglass Circle, and Benjamin Franklin.  The narratives become Democracy in Performance and connect history, human motivations and democratic ideals, as well as the development of a fully conceived thesis about a selected moment in history, through a costumed dramatic performance for one’s peers.

Our Museum’s reach also includes 500 third graders annually working with authentic objects through our Art Travelers through Time program as well as seniors and families through our Global Expressions program. 

I also have the privilege of serving as president of my local school board.  Let me give some of the examples at the local school district of how museums are integrated into the education provided to our students at all grades.  You will find examples such as these throughout many schools across our country. And here I am focusing just on museums, though the school district provides a comprehensive arts education to all students.

In first grade, students visit the Long Island Museum and explore Long Island history through the lens of school and community.  The highlight of the experience is a visit to a school house set in colonial days.

In fifth grade, students visit the New York Historical Society.  The students have already studied the Civil War and then at the Historical Society examine real life artifacts to better understand how New Yorkers experienced the Civil War.

In sixth grade, students visit the MET and study artifacts from ancient civilizations and also the Museum of Natural History to learn about early humans and the evolution of humans, animals and plants.

Ninth graders study the living environment at the Bronx Zoo as well as at Natural History.

And finally, 12th graders who are studying the Renaissance visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

What is the end result of these and other arts experiences?  In a message from the Educational Theatre Association in the February 2014 Broadway Playbill, they quoted the College Board statistic that “Students who take four years of arts classes while in high school score on average, 91 points higher on their SATs than students who took only one-half year or less.”  They also noted that according to a 2012 Utah State University Survey, 99% of high school administrators agree that theatre programs help improve students’ self-confidence, self-understanding, and self-discipline.   I’m sure that arts education in general would do at least that well.  And I am equally sure that the higher education benefits are also significant.  In addition to personal benefits, arts education helps provide for a more educated, cultured and understanding society and that is good for all of us.

I should note, however, that school budget spending caps (which have become much more prevalent), when there are significant increasingly costly mandates that must be met, threaten to undercut arts education including Museum trips which are essential in my opinion to providing a first-rate education.

I’m biased in that, in addition to serving as provost and being an economist, I’m an arts person.  I am a lifetime member of Hofstra Museum and also belong to the Met, the MOMA and Natural History.  I’m at the museums regularly and at the theater even more regularly as are my two kids.  We need to make sure the museums and the arts are available to all students from pre-K through graduate school.  For many students, especially for economically disadvantaged families, if we don’t provide the experiences, it won’t happen.


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