Research — Shazammm

Theater and the Child

As someone who grew up performing in school plays, musicals, and choir concerts, it is impossible for me to imagine learning in an educational setting where the performing arts is absent. My high school’s drama club was the only thing that made me want to wake up in the morning and attend class, because it was the place where I could express myself the way I knew best: through acting, singing, and dancing. Calculus or gym class most certainly did not inspire me to come out of my shell, and I can say the same for many of my musically-inclined friends. The performing arts is my life. If my high school did not have a drama department, I would have lacked the creative outlet I depended on most to socially and academically thrive. In short, my mental health would have suffered immensely.

In the article “A symphony within: Frequent participation in performing arts predicts higher positive mental health in young adults,” Eryn Block, Mitchell Wong, Sheryl Kataoka, and Frederick Zimmerman writes, “During young adulthood, childhood passions often give way to higher education and career goals; yet these childhood passions, such as art, may be important to prioritize for mental health… Creative activities have been used for managing depression, anxiety, stress, and mental distress related to chronic illness and trauma, and for promoting positive emotions, social connection, and self-efficacy for people with mental illness.” Of course, not all young people utilize the arts for psychological purposes. However, for those who do, it is safe to say that taking away artistic opportunities would damage their mental health. 

Perhaps one of the greatest benefactors to the performing arts in education is the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, or NCLB. This is a bill that aims to improve the academic success of children in primary and secondary schools through standardized testing. It additionally requires teachers to meet “higher standards for certification” and accommodates subordinated youth by raising their test scores.” In simple terms, it holds schools accountable for the success of their students and assures the public that Congress will do everything they can to provide the best education possible for American children. 

How does this act positively impact the performing arts in schools? It provides students with the resources they need to thrive academically, including theater opportunities. In the article No Subject Left Behind, the authors place a huge emphasis on “scientifically based research” as a part of the No Child Left Behind Act, which incorporates three points: “Defining what constitutes acceptable “scientifically based” research for the purposes of administering our educational system,” “Encouraging and instituting research in arts education activities and programs that meets the procedural definition of acceptable research,” and “Working to ensure that, as a practical matter, important information regarding the real-world growth and development of American children is not excluded from the decision-making process because it has not been collected or formulated in terms of “scientifically based research.” The second point is extremely important to note because it supports the exploration of arts education as a whole, promoting theater departments within educational settings and highlighting the significance of the arts as academic subjects. 

From what I have observed as a teenager growing up in the public school system, all children have some sort of activity outside of school that helps them rewind and express who they are as blossoming individuals. Some students participate in sports, others draw or paint. Some even write stories and poetry. No matter what young people do in their freetime, it is vital for adults to acknowledge their interests and allow them to pursue their interests. As long as their hobbies do not cause harm to themselves or others, of course. 

The performing arts, in fact, is an umbrella term that shelters numerous pursuits – dancing, singing, and acting being the big three. If one were to think about it, the performing arts is a major factor that arouses joy and camaraderie within educational settings. Take high school cheerleading, for example. The activity consists mainly of dancing and chanting. Without the performing arts, what would make of cheerleading? In particular, what would make of high school sports? The games would be less exciting without the cheerleaders cheering the players on. The same goes for merely presenting a project in front of a classroom or reading a play out loud in English class. Both acts incorporate elements of acting, for they involve swaying audiences through speech.

The performing arts affect what students see and do in school more than we know. That is why taking away theater programs would cause catastrophe for the “full child.” In other words, for all children. Not just those who call themselves “theater kids.” If school administrations refuse to fund for or support their theater programs, that means they do not view the performing arts as valuable in the academic world and, most importantly, for children.  

What “anti-performing arts” adults do not understand is that theater arts can actually boost communication skills and self-confidence among kids. In the article “Involvement in the Arts and Human Development: General Involvement and Intensive Involvement In Music and Theatre Arts,” by James Catterall, Richard Chapleau, and John Iwanaga, they write about the benefits of kids participating in theater-related activities, quoting Tony Jackson and Dorothy Heathcote, “Children learn about the art form as well as about other more instrumental ends related to personal or social development. Among the latter, Jackson enumerates learning about, ‘group interaction, discipline, language usage, self esteem, and movement skills.’ Heathcote reminds us also that drama provides situations where we can or must put ourselves into the place of another; thus empathy for others is a possible or likely outcome of the dramatic experience” {1999, paragraph 41}.

It is additionally proven that participating in theater-related activities has the potential to enhance reading skills. Catterall, Chapleau, and Iwanaga compares the reading proficiency of theater kids and non-theater kids, “The involved students outscored the non involved students as of 8th grade; both groups gain skill as they proceed through high school; and the difference favoring students involved in theatre grows steadily to where nearly 20 percent more are reading at high proficiency by grade 12… This seems reasonable in that students involved in drama and theatre, according to our definition of intensive involvement, probably spend time reading and learning lines as actors, and possibly reading to carry out research on characters and their settings. In any case, theatre is a language-rich environment and actively engages students with issues of language” {1999, paragraph 47}. 

With theater opportunities accessible in schools, children have the chance to exercise their communication and language prowesses. The more they expose themselves to activities like performing, the more confident they will feel in their skin. 

To be clear, however, a child’s success in socializing or performing well at school does not depend solely on the theater arts. There are an array of creative activities out there that are healthy and beneficial for children to partake in. Also, every child’s interests are different. However, the theater is a phenomenal place to be a part of. Taking away theater opportunities in schools would also be depriving kids of chances to improve their social skills and self-confidence. The less opportunities they have to work on themselves, the slower it is for them to mature into young adults. 

According to the book “Social Skills of Children and Adolescents,” by Kenneth Merrell and Gretchen Gimpel, there are five common dimensions that form the concept of social skills: peer relations, self-management, academic, compliance, and assertion. I would like to highlight the importance of peer relations in terms of socialization. Merrel and Gimpel define this dimension as appearing “to be dominated by social skills that reflect a child or youth who is positive with his or her peers. Such skills as complimenting or praising others, offering help or assistance, and inviting others to play or interact appear to describe this dimension well” {1998, pg. 12}. It also incorporates the following: “social interaction, prosocial, interpersonal, peer preferred social behavior, empathy, social participation, sociability-leadership, peer reinforcement, general, and peer sociability” {1998, pg. 12}. 

There is a distinct connection between theater and peer relationships. In the article “The Impact of Participation in Performing Arts on Adolescent Health and Behaviour: A Systematic Review of the Literature,” by Norma Daykin, Judy Orme, David Evans, Debra Salmon, with, Malcolm McEachran and Sarah Brain, they detail one case study in particular about the performing arts helping with social skills, “The impact of drama interventions on social skills and interaction was explored in a mixed methods study by Walsh-Bowers and Basso (1999). This study focused on two drama interventions with seventh grade children in elementary schools in Ontario, Canada. The first of these involved 24 students at a rural elementary school in a class of 33 who with their parents agreed to take part in a 15-week drama intervention. This group was compared with a class in a smaller school in the region, which did not receive the drama programme… The quantitative data yielded ambiguous results. However, significant improvements in parent rating of social skills were reported in the intervention group over the comparison group” {2008, pg. 257}. 

In short, theater-related activities produce stronger peer relationships among children and, overall, healthy, well-rounded students. 

It has been proven over the past decades that theater is a beneficial instrument to helping kids reach their full potential in classrooms and social settings. However, there are still school boards in America that do not prioritize the arts in academia. Instead, they evaluate children on their standardized test scores rather than their participation in extracurricular activities. In lieu of assessing raw talent and social skills, school boards analyze their students’ abilities to solve strenuous math problems, or pick out complex themes from old texts in a short amount of time. Things that put students under immense pressure. 

From 2002 to 2015, the No Child Left Behind Act {NCLB} implemented this practice in schools. Its goal, according to Andrew M.I. Lee, “was to provide more education opportunities for students. It focused on four key groups: students in poverty, students of color, students receiving special education services, and those who speak and understand limited or no English… NCLB held schools accountable for how kids learn and achieve. It did this through annual testing, reporting, improvement targets, and penalties for schools. These changes made NCLB controversial, but they also forced schools to focus on disadvantaged kids.” 

The act came to a close in 2015 when a new law called the Every Student Succeeds Act {ESSA} entered the picture, which is still in effect today. But it still encourages schools to test their students on math and reading capabilities. Lee writes, “The Every Student Succeeds Act responds to some of the key criticisms of NCLB. One is that NCLB relied too much on standardized tests. Another is that schools faced harsh penalties when all of their students weren’t on track to reach proficiency on state tests. At the same time, the new law keeps some aspects of No Child Left Behind. For example, states are still required to report on the progress of traditionally underserved kids. This includes kids in special education… States still have to test students in reading and math once a year in grades 3 through 8, as well as once in high school.” So, even though schools are still testing kids, the procedure is not as played up as it used to be.  

Do not get me wrong, though. Standardized testing does assist the academic needs of children in some capacity. For example, test scores help educators identify struggling students, allowing them to properly assess their needs and make accommodations for them if necessary. Test scores are also used to distinguish advanced students from the student body, permitting them to learn at their desired pace. And just like what Lee wrote, standardized testing provides support for disadvantaged youth and kids with special needs. So the practice does have some perks. Especially now that the NCLB has been replaced with the ESSA. 

Still, there are some educators and parents who put too much pressure on their students to succeed on standardized tests. And not because their health will benefit from it, either. Adults have turned the process of standardized testing into a competition between schools. I took part in this “competition” when I was in secondary school, myself. Teachers would dedicate an entire day to go over the material on the tests – material that did not pertain to the curriculum whatsoever. My friends’ parents would force their children to solve nonsensical math problems in hopes that they would achieve a high score, hopefully, recognition from the school. My middle school even had a banner displayed outside the building that boasted about the student body’s overall test score. 

In other words, many educators and parents have warped the definition of standardized testing for kids. They view the practice as a means of showing off their childrens’ intellectual capabilities. Not necessarily to better understand their needs in school. Personally, this is one of many reasons why children have so much anxiety. Too much anxiety and pressure can lead to a disruption in artistic creativity. Especially for those who find comfort in artistic pursuits such as drawing, painting, and performing. Too much public focus on standardized testing and non-creative subjects can blind people from other areas in academia such as the arts. 

Therefore, how should school boards go about this issue? Teachers should understand that most children learn differently. That means there are some students who are stronger than others in certain areas of study. For them to prove their understanding, they must be accommodating to those struggling. Even if that means giving them extra time on tests, showing them new methods of solving problems/answering questions, and providing additional help if need be. Educators must also show support and interest in their students’ passions. That way, children can feel seen for who they truly are rather than their test scores. This goes for parental figures, too. 

Teachers should also always prioritize their actual coursework first rather than the standardized tests. That way, the learning environment will feel like a space of progression rather than a massive study session with no mercy. According to Lee, the ESSA basically states that “under the new law, states may now consider more than just student test scores when evaluating schools. In fact, they must come up with at least one other measure. Other measures might include things like school safety and access to advanced coursework. But student performance is still the most important measure under the law.” Teachers must look at student performance in the classroom first. They cannot merely go by test scores, for many students struggle with tests in general.  

Schools should additionally stop putting so much stress on standardized testing. Yes, it is a helpful thing to have to check the progress of students., and they should try their best on those tests. However, standardized testing, like I said before, should not be a competition as to who is more advanced or whatnot. So, if schools treat it less like a sport, the more students will be able to breathe. It will also allow them to explore their fields of interests more freely.  


Duignan, Brian, Jeanette, N.L., The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. {2008, September}. No Child Left Behind. Britannica.

Block, E.P., Wong, M.D., Kataoka, S.H., Zimmerman, F.J. {2022 January}. A symphony within: Frequent participation in performing arts predicts higher positive mental health in young adults. Elsevier.

No Subject Left Behind A Guide to Arts Education Opportunities in the 2001 NCLB Act. (n.d.). Retrieved April 27, 2023, from

Click to access Involvement-in-the-Arts-and-Human-Development.pdf


Lee, Andrew. {date unknown}. “What is No Child Left Behind (NCLB)?”  Understood.

Lee, Andrew. {December 10, 2015}. “No Child Left Behind Comes to an End With the Passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act.” Understood.

Klein, Alyson. {March 31, 2016}. “The Every Student Succeeds Act: An ESSA Overview.” Education Week.

About Shazammm

I like cake.
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3 Responses to Research — Shazammm

  1. Shazammm says:

    I still need to make revisions on my short arguments, but I put together my research paper in the meantime so I can work with it while revising. I also need to figure out what transitional phrases to use while going into each argument.


  2. davidbdale says:

    You’ve worked so hard and been such a good student, Shazammm, I’m confident you’ll be able to whip this into shape before your final Grade Conference. Currently, it wanders. You begin with a clear focus on the arts, which is the heart of the paper and argument, but your diversion into how NCLB advantages the disadvantaged feels like an odd detour, and your paragraphs on the NCLB and the ESSA lack a clear attitude on your part. Ask yourself for every paragraph: “Do I favor this situation?” or “Do I object to this situation?” Then make it Crystal Clear to your readers which is which.

    I hope that’s helpful.


    • Shazammm says:

      Your feedback does help, thank you very much :} I’m in the middle of revising my arguments now so hopefully by the time my conference comes my paper will be whipped into shape. Thank you again for your feedback!


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