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To the editor of the Star:
I recently read an article by Steve Mannheimer regarding the uselessness of
elementary art classes in IPS schools. I assume that Mr. Mannheimer was
writing satirically, to highlight the absurdity of commonly held
misconceptions about contemporary art courses. Lest someone take his
remarks seriously, however, I would like to respond to them as if they were.
Cutting the type of art class Mr. Mannheimer describes would, indeed, be no
great loss to a child's education; and I'm sure that (unfortunately) some
teachers do run such sterile and antiquated programs. Poor practitioners
exist in every profession. There are inferior math teachers, doctors - even
college professors and art critics. Fortunately we do not judge the value
of an entire field by the performance of its worst representatives. A
QUALITY art program has benefits too numerous to cover here. In an age of
T.V., movies and computers, society is relying ever more heavily on the
decoding of visual symbols. Indeed, a significant portion of traditional
intelligence tests relies on the processing of visual information. Spatial
learners as well as bright students with certain learning disabilities may
find an art class their best avenue to information, and attendance figures
for many at-risk students are probably higher as a result of such courses.
While there may be art classes where the teacher simply passes out "a box of
crayons and some construction paper", it's probably because the budget
doesn't extend beyond these media. Concepts, however, are not limited by
such restrictions. Today's elementary art program strives to incorporate
mathematics and geometry, science, reading, writing, vocabulary, history,
geography, psychology, philosophy and social studies. It teaches respect
for other cultures, encourages critical thinking skills and problem solving,
and offers productive and socially acceptable ways to express strong
emotions. Study after study indicates that enrollment in quality arts
programs improves a child's test scores in traditionally academic areas. It
also broadens horizons and offers exciting alternative career possibilities.
Finally, Mr. Mannheimer expresses the "elitism" argument: the production and
enjoyment of art are activities predominantly restricted to "rich
northsiders." If this perception were valid (which, fortunately, it is
not), then certainly we should be improving the quality of art programs in
disadvantaged areas, not cutting them entirely.
By putting all of these misconceptions and philosophical inconsistencies in
black and white, Mr. Mannheimer allows us to clearly see the absurdity and
error of such views. Fortunately, the parents and Board of IPS were equally
So far, I have not seen ANY responses to Mannheimer's article on the Op-Ed
pages. Did anybody else write?