The Exquisite Language of the Arts


All too often, arts education is regarded as a whimsical activity rather than a serious academic subject. In the December 1987/January 1988 issue of Educational Leadership, former U.S. Commissioner of Education and President of the Carnegie Foundation Ernest Boyer argues that the arts should be considered in both an intellectual and imaginative context.

Read the article: It’s Not ‘Either Or,’ It’s Both (PDF)

For Boyer, art—like any form of language—can be explored on an academic level. Children can learn about art history, rules of perspective, and the connections between creativity and culture. But, as much as art stimulates the intellect, it is also a way to explore the human spirit. Understanding the arts on both levels is crucial. As Boyer notes, “[O]ur children need to see clearly, hear acutely, and feel sensitively through the exquisite language of the arts.”

As ASCD focuses on the Whole Child Initiative, Boyer reminds us that arts education can play a vital role providing in a well-rounded education for all students.

In “My Back Pages,” we look at important issues through the historical lens of the Educational Leadership archives. ASCD members can access EL issues from 1943 to the present by signing in at


  1. Thank you for bringing this short essay to the surface again. Funny how the needs and trends he identified have not changed much in 20 years.
    We would do well to spend more time with this prescient educator. His book, “The Basic School” is still as relevant today as it was nearly 15 years ago.


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