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.


Kim said...

I am really very curious as to why you think "wealth" or "whiteness" will be part of the selection process for a new public arts school (curious because we have been praying for just such a school for our daughter). As it stands now, chances for our white, middle class daughter to get into any other Selective Enrollment HS's is slim because she IS white and female (the enrolment formulas overreach for diversity and maleness and the applications are very high). If the enrollment is based on potential for theater, dance, music etc (as I understand it is) it would then, supposedly, NOT be using race or economics as a formula. Are you suggesting there are not black, hispanics, etc without interest or potential for any of these disciplines? I think not. While shadowing at the private Chicago Acedmey for the Ats I saw all colors and cultures coming trough to look. Yet the actual enrollment was very non-diverse. That is why a public arts school seems like a godsend. We want MORE diversity in our daughter's school and we cannot pay the private school tuition. I just don't see what about grades and audition/potfolio makes you think it will end up rich and white. I really, really want to know as we have great interest in this school.

Therese Quinn said...

If this school works like the other selective admission schools in Chicago it will end up with a whiter and wealthier student body than the student population of CPS; we only have to look at similar schools in the city to see that. For example, today the CPS "At A Glance" page says that 8.1% of the CPS student body is white and 85.6% of its students are low income (http://cps.k12.il.us/AtAGlance.html).

Compare that to students attending the city's most elite school, Northside College Prep: 36.3% of these students are white and only 31.1% are low income.

I have a great interest in the school, like you. But I know that without equal access to great arts programs in elementary school, most city kids won't be prepared to compete for admission. Right now many of the schools that serve low income students of color focus narrowly on reaading and math skills through rote practice; art comes last, if at all. What will their application portfolios look like?

I'd like this school to teach the arts, not screen for the already arts-enriched youth in our city. Isn't that really what schools should be for?

NANA said...

I'd love to speak with you, Therese, and send some important information about the progress toward a new Performing Arts High School.

Therese Quinn said...

Dear NANA, send me an email at tquinn@saic.edu--I'd enjoy hearing about the school. Therese

Anonymous said...

I also would like some info on this new school. I have a daughter that would love it!

Anonymous said...


Considering you didn't correctly spell the word "reading" (look at how you spelled "reaading" in your last comment)perhaps you should be attending a school that focuses on rote practice reading and math skills before you start judging others and their abilities based what you think "city kids" and "low income students of color" are being taught in the "city schools." You don't know what they are being taught at home, what they have been exposed to in their travels etc...so you really have NO idea what their application portfolio would look like without giving them a chance. To make such a comment shows your lack of respect, knowledge and your ignorance. Not to mention, when making the comment you either could not spell the word "reading" or in your haste to make such a demoralizing statement you didn't take the time to spell check your work. Word of advice...when you think there is a problem with something or someone else...LOOK IN THE MIRROR!

dancer9105 said...

Hey. Could you please send me some information about this school? I would really appreciate it because i'm looking to audition for a performing arts high school. thank you! my email is dancer9105@gmail.com

Therese Quinn said...

Dear Anonymous: I think you missed my point (which is that all students deserve arts education, but Chicago has a stratified public school system, with some arts rich schools, and many arts poor schools; look at data collected by the Illinois Arts Alliance for specifics), but thanks for pointing out the typo--I am a poor typist, I admit. I'll clean that up.

As an update on the school, for all who asked, I don't know when it's opening, but you should be able to find out by contacting the CPS office of art eduction--its Director is David Roche. Please post an update, if you discover anything interesting, such as how to apply to the school.

Anonymous said...

Wow Anonymous,
That was a really inappropriate response. Therese was only pointing out that a majority of inner city youth have not had the opportunities to build their portfolios to the same extent as many wealthier, white youth. More likely than not, their parents did not have the resources to give them private lessons or maybe they weren't exposed to the same opportunities to have the body of work(plays, school musicals, etc.) that maybe someone from a wealthier environment might be able to present in their portfolios. She is not implying that blacks or hispanics are inferior but just the opportunities to qualify are not equitable. I'm sorry you took it the wrong way and I know it's not a color thing for I am a man of color and understood her just fine. While you were giving such a demoralizing response you failed to check your own grammar. While typing "based what you think" you missed the word "on". Jumping to conclusions tend to make you do that. While you're "re-checking", I suggest you check your attitude and you too ought to check the "man in the mirror".

Anonymous said...

I am in Arts Education Administration in Boston and VERY intersted in this school if people could email me. My email is ajvictoria@gmail.com
I went to undergrad in Chi-town!

AJ said...

Could you possibly let me know more about this school?
My email is ajvictoria@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

I would like to enlighten everyone about a wonderful performing arts school: Curie Metropolitan High School for the Performing and Technical Arts. The Dance Department has won many awards with graduates attending North Carolina School of the Arts, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre (NY) and other schools. Look on the website for podcasts, a photo gallery, syllabi and up and coming events. There is something for everyone out there and you don't have to have money.

Anonymous said...

I work with a Russian ballet master and we have toured throughout the country. I have to say that one of the schools with which we were most impressed was The Emerson School for Visual and Performing Arts in Gary, IN. I don't know much about the politics or selection process of the school, or anything about the areas other than dance, but they were some of the most accomplished students we've worked with. The students did not appear to be wealthy and financially advantaged and they were predominantly African-American. I don't know how that fits into anyone's arguments, but it is my two cents worth.

Jovan said...

Hi, my name is Jovan and my daughter is very interested in performing arts. I would love for u to send me some information asap. She's not in highschool yet but we're trying to get a jump start on things. We both look forward to hearing from u soon.

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