City school pupils need more education in the arts

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In a column in October, I wrote about the loss of the arts in our schools.

I told about my own experiences in public schools on the Lower East Side, in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and in Queens, where there were always art components. That was during the Great Depression and World War II.

None of those schools were in affluent neighborhoods. My family was, at best, if we have to measure by the lingo of that day, upper-lower-class or lower-middle-class. After all, my father had a steady job all those years.

But “rich district” or not — not the kind of terms used then — the arts were there.

No more.

Recently, however, there have been some events which I hope can indicate a change for the better.

You read about them first in TimesLedger Newspapers earlier this month. In an informative report, we learned about the situation in Queens. The article was based on a report by the city comptroller.

Some highlights:

• A lack of arts instruction disproportionately affects low-income areas. Surprise!

• 20 percent of public schools lack any arts teachers, including one out of seven middle and high schools, despite state law requiring this in all those schools. Surprise!

• Between 2006 and 2013, spending on arts supplies and equipment dropped 84 percent. How about those English and math tests? Surprise!

The comptroller, Scott Stringer, noted that “we’ve spent so much time over the last 10 years teaching to the test, and lost in the shuffle was arts teachers, arts curriculum and arts space.”

Carmen Fariña, the city schools chancellor, is noted as being “enthusiastic” about the report and wants to work with institutions of higher learning and cultural organizations to move this along.

The new city cultural affairs commissioner, Tom Finkelpearl, the former executive director of the Queens Museum, has the background to not only want to help in this, but maybe get things done in a timely fashion.

If I could get the arts education I received in city public schools when, to say the least, money was tight, why can’t today’s students get the same?

Some years ago, when I was gainfully employed, my work for a major city corporation put me in touch with Dr. Charlotte Frank, who was in charge of curriculum for the then-city Board of Education.

She was and is smart, witty and given to action. I remember at one meeting with her and some of her staff I brought up an idea for a program. She turned to the others and said, “Can we do this? Yes? Let’s do it!”

One of the programs was recognition of teachers who had launched new and effective ways of getting students involved. The reception, if I remember correctly, was at the New York Yacht Club. The teachers were awed by the surroundings.

When Frank got up to speak, she commented on the beautiful facility and said, “Everyone, including teachers and students, should be surrounded by this kind of beauty all the time.”

Perhaps on the front of every school building we should have a banner with the opening lines of “Endymion” by John Keats: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

Read my blog “No Holds Barred” on

Posted 12:00 am, April 27, 2014
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Reader feedback

al from rh says:
Us seniors remember, not only Art, but Art History being taught. We learned the story of all of the famous artists from history. This encouraged us to appreciate different forms of art. The we ere given the opportunity to try and emulate these artists; in our own fashion.

As a VOLUNTEER Girl Scout Leader, in a Queens Public
school; I try to incorporate art in most of our meeting. The girls love to try their hand at different mediums and activities.
By the way, these crafts and art works are usually paid for by myself......There could never be enough Girl Scout dues to cover the materials for all that we do.
April 27, 2014, 9:58 am
Kenneth Kowald from I Sit and Look Out says:
Thank you for your comments. Yes, it seems that at one point in the education of NYC kids, the system believed that all of us should know about the world.
I still don't understand how all of this went down the drain.
But, with people like you, at least some kids are getting the kinds of education all deserve. However, all of us should be concerned enough to make the arts, once again, a source of inspiration for all students.
Kenneth Kowald
April 27, 2014, 4:40 pm

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