Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Fine and Performing Arts High School Coming Soon to Chicago—But Probably Not for You

Yesterday I attended a meeting about a new, still-in-the-works, fine and performing arts high school for Chicago. The meeting was held at the Chicago Community Trust. The school founders want to be part of Renaissance 2010 but aren’t sure yet if the new high school will be a “performance” or a “contract” school. They’d like the flexibility to hire non-certified teachers, but want the school to be “highly selective” (don’t they see the irony in that?). Auditions, portfolios, high scores, the whole screen-out process—that’s what they are aiming for. They only want “talented” students. But what looks like talent is usually just privilege.

Oddly, the school planners said several times that this school would be Chicago’s first and only fine and performing arts public high school. But I work with another one, which my employer, the School of the Art Institute, partners with—the two-year-old Multicultural Arts High School, in Chicago’s Little Village neighborhood. Maybe this school doesn’t count to the planners because it isn’t selective. Any youth living in the school’s boundaries can enroll, and everyone enrolled makes art and learns to see themselves as artists. In other words, it’s really a public school. A city school. A school for everyone, not just the children of the wealthier, whiter, and more connected than average city families, which are the students who attend Chicago’s selective admission schools.

Maybe it’s a new Oprah syndrome—what DOESN’T she influence? Start a school! Give it your name! Claim its successes—and to make sure you have some, only let in the already successful! It’s a tried and true strategy; read The Chosen by Jerome Karabel to see how well it’s worked for the Big Three—Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Those schools thrived for decades by screening out Jews, women, and “pansies,” while admitting wealthy, white, Protestant men. Did I say wealthy? That was the primary criteria.

And actually, wealth will be the primary criteria at the new fine and performing arts high school, too, if, in the end, it is a selective admissions school. Why not just make it a private school, like the Ivy League joints? Then, use our public funds to fully and equitably fund art education for all of Chicago’s public school students, not just for the “talented” few.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Radical Education Work at Jane Addam’s “Hull of a House” Museum

Last night’s forum, Anti-Gay Pledges and Teacher Education: A Dialogue About the Tensions Between Private Beliefs and the Public Good, was beautiful to behold. About 25 people participated in the event, which took place at the Jane Addams (pictured here with her life partner, Mary Rozet Smith) Hull House Museum on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, but no “official” Wheaton reps showed up. They sent a letter that arrived four days before the forum, to say they wouldn’t be there since they hadn’t helped plan the forum. But that is exactly what they were invited to do, two months earlier; they just didn’t ever contact us. Too bad for them, though, because we aimed to “speak with the expectation that we would be heard, and listen with the possibility that we could change” and the chat was wide-ranging and lively.

A queer teacher who grew up in Wheaton (or, as she said they affectionately call it there, “the 9th circle of hell”) talked about the distance of Wheaton College faculty and administrators from the lives of the school’s students and grads; a Chicago public school teacher described how changes in employment structures and the ongoing weakening of the Chicago Teacher’s Union contract have made queer teachers even more vulnerable; an administrator reminded us that we have to press the state and professional organizations to change, because they shape what happens in our public schools—if they ignore sexual orientation and gender identity, you can bet most schools will, too. After hearing why people came to the forum and what they wanted to talk about, we broke into small groups and talked about these and other questions:

Private Practices, Public Educators
What are the consequences when a private agency (NCATE) sets standards for public education?

Should private colleges with discriminatory “covenants” be supported (accredited) by the state to produce teachers for public schools?

Why are non-normative sexual and gender identities considered “private” and not worth public protections?

The Profession
What is the responsibility of the education profession--teachers, teacher educators, professional organizations, administrators—to challenge discriminatory practices, even when these are embedded in private institutions?

If “multiculturalism” can’t be or at least, isn’t consistently used to include sexual and gender identity in schools, what frameworks can be?

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell?
How is resistance to challenging and changing these policies connected to other movements for justice and equity for all, including LGBTQ, people?

What are the consequences of the distinction Wheaton makes between “acts” and “beliefs”—“love the sinner, hate the sin”?

Youth, Schools, Teachers
How do discriminatory policies—like Wheaton’s— contribute to the dehumanization of LGBTQ bodies in schools?

What effect could knowing their teachers believe they are condemned have on LGBT youth—would this knowledge be damaging emotionally, academically, or in other ways?

The forum ended with plans—we are only just starting this project, so join us. You can hear the large-group parts of our discussion online:


I mourn Matthew Shepard’s actual death, caused by the unimpeachably civil ‘we hate the sin, not the sinner’ hypocrisy of the religious right, much more than I mourn the lost chance to be civil with someone who does not consider me fully a citizen, nor fully human.
Tony Kushner, 1998

Thursday, February 08, 2007

$0 - $10,000: Art Education Budgets in Chicago Public Schools

No joking. That’s the range that I’ve heard about from my student and cooperating teachers in Chicago’s public schools.

Zero to ten thousand

At one extreme are teachers who are given no funds to run their programs; they have to scrounge for the money and supplies to teach their classes. These teachers write grants, ask parents to donate what they can (like the bars of soap in this picture, for a carving project), dumpster dive, and solicit donations from local shops, in addition to teaching, curriculum planning, professionally developing and living.
From crayons and paper, to tempera and brushes—they get the money or the materials donated or they end up buying the stuff their students need themselves.

At the other extreme are teachers who have $10,000 to spend for class supplies. Supplies for their own classes, not a whole school's or department’s.
In between are teachers at schools that ask parents to pay fees for art and teachers who have fluctuating budgets (one year $400 split with another teacher at a school with 500 students; the next year $800 per teacher at the same school).

This is all in Chicago, all in public schools. This is what shapes the art educational experiences of our children. There’s no parity. No equity.

No kidding.

What’s the range that will inspire change? I think 0 to 10,000 should do it.