Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Can the Statehouse Do for the Arts?

The Writers’ Center of Indiana had a booth at the Penrod Art Fair Sturday before last and despite the on-again/off-again rainy weather, we had a great time talking to people about the Center and what’s on offer there—which is a lot.

In the afternoon, during one of the sunny patches, a local legislator came by the booth with his handler, who introduced him. “What Can the Statehouse do for the arts?” the legislator asked—then added with a meant-to-be charming grin. “Besides money.”

He was a Democrat and Democrats at least give lip service to the importance of the arts, so I’m pretty sure he meant, “What can the Statehouse do for the arts—in addition to better funding as opposed to in lieu of the crappy funding we have now. But having spent the better part of the last two years trying to keep the WCI alive with virtually no funding at all, his question just didn’t seem all that charming to me. And I’m so totally disgusted with politics right now—all politics and all politicians—that I told him just exactly what I thought.

The arts need to be everywhere, especially in schools. Making and studying art teaches kids how to think—the kind of creative thinking you need in the real world, not the kind required to second-guess a bunch of multiple-choice questions on a standardized test. Art is all about process, like life, and the long process of trial and error, the dawning realization that it’s trial and error that creates—well, everything. Committing to it, embracing it is what predicts how well a student will do in life, not his SAT scores.

And speaking of what standardized test scores predict. I recently learned that one way future prison capacity needs are predicted is by looking at fourth-grade reading scores. Ponder that.

Choice? Run this so-called fabulous idea out to the end and it’s not too hard to figure out that all it really does is allow parents with enough savvy to play the system to get their own kids into the good schools, leaving the kids whose parents don’t have a clue about how to get them what they need in the worst ones. Plus, say you’ve got ten fabulous schools in a school system and, suddenly, every parent did figure this out and decided to choose them. The best you could offer them is a lottery. Not choice, in my book. In fact, many of the best schools in the Indianapolis Public School system already have lotteries, some have long waiting lists. Second choices being pretty abysmal, families who can afford it often opt for private schools.

Charter schools? Do the research. There are some good ones, there are some really, really bad ones. But the real problem is, schools aren’t businesses. Education isn’t about profit and loss and competition. It’s about creating an environment that engages the minds and hearts of young people and prepares them for the world they’re stepping into.

I didn’t swear, which (I guess) was a good thing. I felt like it, though.

But I did swear (a lot) when I saw this front-page headline in the Indianapolis Star a few days: Library system never has had ‘cutback like this: 26% reduction in hours is expected to save $1.5 million, help avert closings.”

NOTE. This in a city that just taxed us to build Lucas Oil Stadium for the Indianapolis Colts at the cost of more than $700,000,000 in 2008—with $60,000,000 dollars left to pay on the demolished RCI Dome. Not to mention recently forking over more than $13,000,000 to the Indiana Pacers who were unhappy with the deal they’d cut when the city taxed us to build Conseco Fieldhouse for them to the tune of $183,000,000 in 1997 and threatened to leave town. In anything but sports, this would have been called blackmail.

And we can’t come up with a measley $1,500,000 to keep our libraries open.

Come on, people! Get a clue about what matters.

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