The journal Education Next is highlighting two recent studies by Jay P. Greene and colleagues that find a measurable improvement in kids’ empathy for others, academic knowledge, and a greater taste for culture after the children visited art museums or watched classic live theater.

The art museum authors comment on the marked decline in children’s exposure to quality cultural experiences given the drastic increase in testing anxiety thanks to state and federal mandates on public and private schools.

Some schools believe that student time would be better spent in the classroom preparing for the exams. When schools do organize field trips, they are increasingly choosing to take students on trips to reward them for working hard to improve their test scores rather than to provide cultural enrichment. Schools take students to amusement parks, sporting events, and movie theaters instead of to museums and historical sites. This shift from “enrichment” to “reward” field trips is reflected in a generational change among teachers about the purposes of these outings. In a 2012‒13 survey we conducted of nearly 500 Arkansas teachers, those who had been teaching for at least 15 years were significantly more likely to believe that the primary purpose of a field trip is to provide a learning opportunity, while more junior teachers were more likely to see the primary purpose as “enjoyment.”

The authors of the theater field trips study made similar comments:

As schools narrow their focus on improving performance on math and reading standardized tests, they have greater difficulty justifying taking students out of the classroom for experiences that are not related to improving those test scores. Schools are either attending fewer field trips or shifting toward field trips to places they know students already enjoy. When testing is over, schools are often inclined to take students on “reward” field trips to places like amusement parks, bowling alleys, and movie theaters.

This study randomly assigned groups of children to see either “Hamlet” or “A Christmas Carol” (which, by the way, are both part of Redeemer Classical’s curriculum). It was the first high-quality study ever conducted to attempt to gauge some effects of exposing children to live classic theater. The graph below provides a simple summary of the results.


Here is a similar graph from the art museum study:


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