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.