For years public schools have been cutting art programs to save struggling schools. Now folks are calling for more guards and more guns to protect children in school. This has been bothering me for quite a while on a visceral level and I have been looking for a way to explain it in words. To me there is something about schools (creativity, freedom, experimentation) and something about guards and guns (repression, control, rigidity) that is essentially incompatible. That is why an article in The Daily Nightly on NBC News.com was such an enjoyable and enlightening break from the dominant news stream of the last month (and years).
According to the article, the new principal at Orchard Gardens, a public school in Roxbury, Massachusetts, got rid of the security guards and reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts. What a concept! It reminds me a little about the old saying about the schools getting all the money they need and the Army having to hold bake sales.
And this was no ordinary school. It was started as a dream school founded in the arts in 2003. It had art studios, a dance room and a theater with cushy seating. But the dreams failed right from the beginning:
Instead the dance studio was used for storage and the orchestra's were locked up and barely touched. The school was plagued with violence and disorder from the start, and by 2010 it was rank (sic) in the bottom five of all public schools in the state of Massachusetts.Then the school brought in its sixth principal in seven years, Andrew Bott.
I know this sounds like some starry-eyed utopian fantasy movie but firing the guards and hiring art teachers really changed the place. The article describes the amazing transformation:
But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement and moivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and the artists' studio.Be sure to read the article. It has wonderful quotes from students and teachers and a fascinating list of posted comments.
Kiera Wilmot, until recently a student at Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida,who put a mixture of toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil in a small, plastic water bottle as part of an apparent amateur science project. The mixture expanded and blew the top off the bottle. [Here is one of many YouTube examples of similar exploits.] No property was damaged and no one was injured.
Ms. Wilmot had consistently good grades and no prior criminal record. She was expelled, charged with a felony and will be tried as an adult. This incredible response to a minor incident resulted from a zero tolerance policy and the presence of police in the school.
As Chris Hayes pointed out:
Nonetheless, recently a handful of public figures have called for even more of a police presence in America’s public schools. In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre demanded “armed police officers in every school in this nation.”
Which approach makes more sense for our students, Wayne LaPierre's or Andrew Bott's?
So artists and art enthusiasts, don't despair, don't give up. We will change the world!
The players tried to take the field -- The marching band refused to yield -- Don McClean, Bye, Bye, Miss American Pie