Monday, December 22, 2008

Art's uncivilizing mission

Steel roller bearing factory, XiangChun, China

Not really. This is a spanking new high school in Los Angeles, dedicated to the arts.

Inspiring, isn't it? Ugliness is truth, truth ugliness; that is all ye know in the Los Angeles Unified School District, and all thy students need to know.

Central High School no. 9 is a source of pride, the Los Angeles Times reports — "believed to be the second most expensive public high school ever built in the United States," and located in the state that is rattling the tin cup in the halls of Congress because it has never turned aside a money-gulping project.

And why should it? Californians know they are made of finer stuff than the common cloth, live in God's multi-cultural paradise. Steven Spielberg tells them so. Besides, Central High School no. 9 is a blockbuster. Literally: it will transform a seedy patch of downtown L.A. into a "campus" with star quality.
Few will question whether the campus itself is capable of fostering excellence. At a cost of $232 million, it is one of the crown jewels of the Los Angeles Unified School District. That's clear from the moment you pull into the multilevel, 300-car garage. Up a broad flight of stairs, the campus' main buildings offer three dance studios with sprung maple flooring. A professional-quality, 950-seat theater. Music classrooms with acoustic tiling and special whiteboards designed for musical notation. Floor-to-ceiling windows with motorized blackout shades. Ceiling-mounted projectors in every classroom, allowing teachers to display lessons from computers.

Track lighting in the hallways to illuminate student art. An outdoor atrium for firing Japanese raku pottery. And the school's centerpiece, a conical library whose dazzling interior swirls upward to an off-center skylight. All that, and a tower that looms over the 101 Freeway like a severed limb of the Iron Giant.
I don't know what the Iron Giant is (probably a reference to a character in the kind of movie I avoid), but by gum, I'm impressed. A 300-car garage. Track lighting. A library cone — will it have any books, or just DVDs? — with a kinky skylight. Kewl.

Imagine what Beethoven and Rembrandt might have accomplished with such lavish facilities at their disposal in their tender youth.

But, the United States being the United States, and L.A. being L.A., there's trouble in this "expensive social experiment," as the Times calls it. Everything is political. The school was designed as a plum for a "community … in which we have thousands of very talented students but who lack the social capital and the access to quality arts training," as a school superintendent says. Translated from sociological jargon, that means it was intended to draw its students from inner-city 'hoods and turn cinder-block-wall graffiti artists into canvas graffiti artists.

But some school board members think this gem of a school should have an outreach program to recruit students from less deprived areas. Others will have none of that.
"For 27, almost 30 years, these kids have had a 65% dropout rate, a very limited outlook for their future," said Maria Casillas, president of a nonprofit foundation that promotes parental involvement in schools and a member of an advisory board established to support the arts high school. "And I don't know that the cost of these buildings actually pays for the pain and suffering that we have created . . . for these kids."
Ms. Casillas, don't get me wrong, I know we can never make up for our failure to tax ourselves from here to the moon so we can provide welfare to these underserved communities, bestow citizenship on every cute little niño and niña born at public expense, treat the community for free in hospital emergency rooms, launch a hundred programs to persuade the youth of Aztlan to take up midnight basketball instead of gang banging, but … who is "we"? Have "we" run public service adverts on radio and TV, placed ads in buses, urging Jose and Estella to drop out of school? What exactly is the pain and suffering that "we" have created for them?

Anyway, here's your $232 million high school. It's a start. Try to find it in your heart to forgive us.



zazie said...

I tried to post a coment yesterday, in which I wondered whether Keats would have liked our modern version of his poem, despite its being so fitting to the picture you show in this post ; I can't imagine a reson why this comment should be censored ; as I also mention the French counterpart (Jack Lang) of the people you name as guilty for that ugly building, maybe that was censored?

zazie said...

sorry for the misspelling, or mistyping...this is due to a lack of sleep!

Rick Darby said...


Jack Lang, former French culture minister, oui? I seem to remember one of his contributions to French culture was sponsoring Jerry Lewis film festivals.

Anonymous said...

This puts me in mind of a Federal judge-ordered effort some years ago to make the Kansas City School District a bastion of minority learning achievement. As I recall, the judge more or less decided that he would personally oversee the development of a new school that would provide the minority community with such a stellar place for learning that they would surely close the performance gap between blacks and whites. He was apparently convinced that the reason blacks lagged in performance was that they just didn't have good enough facilities or teachers. So this judge ordered the city to spend some millions and millions of dollars building a school with the latest computer technology and so on...and it made absolutely no difference at all. After a very short time the high technology sat unused, moldering away, being outdated.

It amazes me that the left can continue, year after year, to blame poor minority school performance on a lack of money being spent on them. Vast amounts of money are spent each year, some multiple of what was spent per pupil in the past, and still the results are no better. And yet the next year you can count on the left to again claim that the problem is not enough money being spent.

I asked a very liberal woman friend of mine once about this. She is a teacher herself. I asked how the liberals could keep asking for more money when they never demonstrate any success with the last batch of money. Her answer was: I understand the point you're making, but we have to try. So, I guess, we are doomed like Sisyphus to endlessly, endlessly try.

zazie said...

honestly, sponsoring Jerry Lewis film festivals would have been something very intelligent, coming from him ! When he was in charge of our "culture", he loved promoting fashions (a pink suit, with a "Mao"-collared shirt), opening new departments in our universities (street-dancing, rap, graffiti) to encourage a "renewal" of arts, and "ejecting" the long-time inhabitants of a splendid flat on the top-storey of a famous building with a superb view over the city! I know the right word is "expel", but the way it was done....
It is neither strange nor amusing to see that your leftists use the same language as ours ; one of our teachers'unions (we have got a lot!) is famous for demanding "des moyens" again and again ; of course the results get worse, and the worse they get, the more money those teachers demand...and get! ....

Elaine Supkis said...

Loved your commentary about the school building. About the arts: they are more like the old Maoist schools or Soviet art without the human figures. Isn't this pathetic?

leadpb said...

Not ugly-- intriguing! (sarcasm/off)

An innovative and costly school implanted on the wrong side of the tracks to attract and help those disenfranchised youths? Bravo! But I see the echo of my "bravo" cheer coming from the predators who will be attracted to this place like a magnet, perhaps with even greater jubilation than the students themselves. Drug peddlers, rapists, you name it, the geography is ideal.

Just ask female students at USC about how safe they feel getting to and from campus. Though it must be conceded that that school seems to keep going just fine in spite of its dicey neighborhood.

Merry Christmas to you, Rick and your readers.

zazie said...

And now, they BREED....I have just learnt that one Valérie, daughter of Jack Lang, is an actress (???never heard of before!) who openly supports illegal immigrants when they "occupy" a church in Paris, demanding to be "regularised"....Do you have such "celebrities" in the USA?

Rick Darby said...

Thanks for your comments, all.

The message I get from the high school's architecture is post-civilizational. "We've given up on beauty, given up on ideals, given up on stopping the colonization of Los Angeles by 'undocumented' immigrants and their instantly citizenized offspring. All that's left is bribery, throwing money at a failure of socialization, hoping some of these proto-gangsters will respond to fawning over them by supplying them with the latest technology."

Zazie, most of our film and theater elite "support" illegals, knowing that their own lives will not be affected. They are generous in "giving" middle class and working class neighborhoods to the invaders.