Windmillin'

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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

The problem in a word

Well, two: “single women.”

“I am available to share a platform with Congressman Amash. My campaign isn’t about battling the Republican incumbent. My campaign is focusing on messaging to women, especially single women, what they appropriately expect government programs can do to help them and those who depend on them.” – Bob Goodrich, Democratic candidate for the Third Congressional District.

This might have had a chance against a Brian Ellis who wanted to be a truer-than-true Republican, less so with Amash with his maverick reputation, who has invested significant energy on the National Security Administration (NSA) and away from social conservative issues.  Counting on single women for victory is not unlike the imagined path to deficit control through austerity measures alone. There are no magic bullets here, only the hard work of coalition building.

 

 

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , ,

What’s Wrong with Brian Ellis

By all lights, Brian Ellis is a nice guy. Nice family. In fact he keeps reminding us of that constantly, his wife Joan, his three wonderful blonde daughters, his time on the EGR school board. And if the robocalls are any indication, his friends like him, too.

Ellis is running for Third Congressional District against Justin Amash, the enfante terrible of Congress, Dr. No, the libertarian scourge of all that isn’t pure, our own Savonarola on the Grand.

As Ellis defined himself on Facebook,

I am running for Congress because we deserve a representative who will work for solutions, reflect our values, and listen.

This word “deserve” is the give away. It promises nothing except perhaps a kind of entitlement. The laundry list that follows reveals that “deserve” is mostly about being nice and very little about working for solutions. Among the stances are the typical  ones, the sort that can be found from nearly any Republican candidate: balanced budget amendment, end Obamacare, more fracking and drilling, Second Amendment.

If this is all that “deserve” includes, then nearly any old Republican would do. And that is precisely the problem with Brian Ellis. Instead of separating himself on the basis of what he would work for (as opposed to merely oppose), he chose the safer route, that of simply being one of the many. That’s safe, but it is not likely to win at the polls today.

 

Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , ,

Revenge of RTW

For a measure “with no organized opposition” as the press would have it, Prop 1 has sure stirred up the activist community. Until very recently, most of the opposition was through the com boxes at Michigan Radio or at the Bridge. There, one could almost see the opposition coalescing, with talking points emerging, links to the relevant analyses expounded, and a growing conviction that this was more about special interests than With the election tomorrow, it is useful to locate where the opposition to Prop 1 lies.

Overtly, the opposition has focused on what are essentially unfunded aspects, the $500 million finally needed, repurposed from expiration of business tax credits. The non-partisan Citizens Research Council summarizes the impact thus

The reimbursement provisions contained in the package are not cheap, and the State of Michigan will forego an increasing amount of its general fund/general purpose revenue in future years in order to hold local governments harmless from the PPT reforms.

But the approach of lost opportunity costs, or even of the independent authority that is part of the measure as implemented per Public Act 80 — even this does not quite capture the emotional quality of the objection. For some it is ambivalence as to the substance but a caution about the vagueness of the drafting of the proposal. Elsewhere it is a more direct distrust of the Legislature. This is even true of those who modestly favor the measure as the best of a bad deal. As one elected official in that camp expressed it

local governments (and those of us who utilize their services) are significantly screwed if this doesn’t pass and it goes back to Lansing. I have no confidence that they will come up with anything close to this.

Whether as ambivalence or distrust the common theme is that of wariness. And for others it is a far sharper sense.

The Legislature and the Governor (and to a certain extent their corporate backers such as the Chamber) are seen as not trustworthy. The validation and championing of the measure by  Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and  cities up and down the state gain little traction. And that lack of traction almost certainly rests with the lame duck session of 2012.

The possibility of bipartisanship had existed with a tacit agreement that the Governor would establish certain fundamental limits to the actions of the staunch Right. It came with an implied agreement that Democrats would be willing to join in some of the Governor’s proposals over against the staunch Right. It was as much a commitment about process and voice as it was over content.

The RTW legislation upended that. Decisively. It was a victory, however, that came at a price of alienation. The vote for Prop 1 appears to be a ratification of the very coalition that won RTW (and proclaimed it, too, as job creating measure). The business community gains, but the tax burden shifts to the individual tax payer.

There are few places where voters can really voice their displeasure at the corporate mindedness that has dominated state government for the past for years. Prop 1 gives them just that opportunity.

 

 

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , , , , ,

Why He Lost

In  the end, Mike Tuffelmire proved to be a better Catholic than a neighborhood activist. Tuesday, Senita Lenear cruised to an easy 59-35 victory on an 1100 vote margin. Given the very low turnout, the results were probably to be expected.  The race is perhaps better thought of as competing affirmative votes, rather than as divvying up of the electorate (aka zero-sum”). There were always more votes to be had, so the failure in the Tuffelmire vote is best seen as a measure of strength for his ideas, his sales, if you will.

And the bulk of that margin took place in the four square miles that make up the Ward’s NW corner, a region roughly bounded by Wealthy, Sylvan, Burton and Lafayette.

Four Square Miles

Most of the Lenear margin came here. But this wasn’t Tuffelmire’s problem. To understand how he lost we will need to look elsewhere.

Going into the race, one could divide the Ward into three rough clumpings. There were neighborhoods that were African-American and broadly poor, often living in housing stock that was pre-WWII; people lived there because of socio-economic constraints; these are the Constrained. Then there were the “first ring” suburban precincts, built up in the 40s and early 50s — these were then and now, the First Homes for families, typically bungalows and some old colonials. Then there are the Suburbs, initially built out as ranch houses (note the difference between east and west side of Plymouth), the move-up neighborhoods, the middle class, for the most part post-1960 construction. In this mix there are some outlier neighborhoods: Heritage Hill, Ottawa Hills, the subsidized apartments out at Eastbrook or in back of Town and Country (44th SE).

Constrained, First Homes, Suburbs: this is the physical and political geography of the Third Ward. In his literature and approach, Tuffelmire aimed at the First Homes neighborhoods, places like Alger Heights (Pct 72-74), Mulick Park (59),and Boston Square (75). He spoke of better representation, concerns for public safety (property crimes) and of fiscal prudence — all themes that should resonate. These neighborhoods would give him an edge over the Constrained neighborhoods — principally African American and rather solidly for Lenear. The Commission would be won in the Suburbs.

That at least was the apparent strategy. Only it just didn’t work out that way.

Let’s Do the Numbers

The First Home neighborhoods didn’t respond.

  • Mulick Park (59): one in eight vote; Tuffelmire lags by 68 votes
  • Boston Square (75): one in fifteen vote; good news, Tuffelmire runs 25 votes behind.
  • Alger (72-74): one in twelve vote; Tufflemire gives up 63 votes.
  • Ken-O-Sha (65): one in twelve; Tuffelmire keeps it close, lagging by 21 votes.

Note, the problem is not the lost votes but the missed connection. These were to be the natural connections, but the message missed.

Where Tuffelmire did show strength were in the Suburb precincts going out Burton:

  • Indian Village (55): 11 percent vote, Tuffelmire actually tops Lenear by 3.
  • Ridgemoor (54,69): 14 percent vote, Tuffelmire lags by only 3
  • IHM (77): 13 percent vote and Tuffelmire lags by 20.

These neighborhoods are shaped by the presence of two Catholic churches (IHM and St Paul the Apostle) — Tuffelmire grew up in IHM, and retained the support of members there. Away from these Catholic neighborhoods, Tuffelmire struggled.

  • Pct 53 (Raybrook, Calvin College): more Christian Reformed, positive on City issues; Tuffelmire surrenders 68 votes
  • Pct 56 (east side of Kalamazoo, Brookside CRC) with 58 (mostly condos, Breton/44th): 13 percent vote, Tuffelmire drops 69
  • Pt 57 (Sherwood Park): this is the last standing suburban school in GRPS; one in eight vote and Tuffelmire comes short 32.
  • Pct 68 – 71(Ottawa Hills): one in eight vote, but Tuffelmire comes short by 128 votes, in many ways the most disappointing showing of the race.

What Did He Miss?

Three things likely combined to doom the campaign.

First, the neighborhood message did not motivate. To win, Tuffelmire needed to make a case that things were really broken at City Hall. There was potential in the message, but he did not have it tuned to sufficient intensity to motivate the dissatisfied. Ironically, the issues that could have been pursued (Roads, economic development, transportation and continuing integration of services), broad City-oriented issues, were the ones that a local campaign passed by. The Big Picture would have helped.

Second, there were the public schools. The Four Square Miles, noted at the beginning, are the core of the GRPS sending community on the SE side. The likely reason for voting for Lenear is because of her identity with GRPS. This also explains the the win in out at Sherwood Park.

Third, let’s call it diversity. It certainly trumped the progressive politics. Within the broad CRC/Calvin mix is an affirmative response to diversity, best expressed by Rev. Al Hamstra on MLive

Two words influenced the Rev. Albert Hamstra’s vote for Lenear: “Black female.” The Christian Reformed Church pastor said “it matters to me to have diverse people in leadership.”

This is also the likely reason for the Raybrook vote, and probably much of the Ottawa Hills vote, too. What the Tuffelmire campaign missed was a connection to this CRC community. Without it, then the community votes for its perception of the common good, the broad and good vote. Issues of perceived racial (and sexual) justice become important when there there is a missing personal connection. This alliance of justice, as it were, explains why the Ward has consistently voted for conservative African Americans.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , ,

The unspoken contest

The best thing that happened to Senita Lenear in the Third Ward campaign was the silence of the Republican Party. In the last serious contesting for the Third Ward, the GOP jumped in on the side of Patrick Miles Sr. in his race against Scott Bowen, former chair of the Democratic Party. That battle was fierce and expensive, and it polarized the Democratic community: with the GOP on the other side how could they not support Bowen?

As it is, this year’s contest has seen the Democratic vote split between Lenear and Mike Tuffelmire, with African-Americans and a few other Dems supporting Lenear, and more progressive Dems lining up behind Tuffelmire. Given the make-up of the district, this split is likely to doom Tuffelmire — at the very least it has given him a head-wind in terms of reaching out to the high-voting precincts south of 28th and east of Plymouth.

Under the surface other tensions seem to be lurking. It’s flavor can be seen in this comment on MLive

If an individual moves to or re-locates into a community for the perceived purpose of running for an elective office, then that person is considered to be “carpetbagging”. This, it seems, describes Tufflemire if he has just recently, this calendar year even, moved into the Third Ward to run for this seat. This is the “white elephant in the room” and speaks to a lack of integrity in the process if Tufflemire and his supporters are attempting to commandeer this election by basically lying about how long Tufflemire has been a resident in the Third Ward.

While the question of residency in the Third Ward is a relatively minor one (Tuffelmire has long experience in the City generally), the sense that a status quo is being threatened or over-turned is palpable.

Part of the tension is certainly racial (see “white” in “white elephant” above): Lenear represents a new generation of leadership in the African American community, she has received a blessing of sorts from the existing commissioners, and she would be the first African American woman to serve on the City Commission. How could one oppose this?  So we see a fair amount of identity politics at work. The question as to whether Lenear is the best representative or messenger for African-American politics in the City is a more difficult one, not least because some of her supporters are quite to her left.

Another part of the tension surely lies in the issue of gentrification. Tuffelmire’s chief supporters are those who are part of the redevelopment along Wealthy Street and East Hills; young urbanists; entrepreneurs; activists. This tension between the reviving neighborhoods, and the older (and poorer) African American neighborhoods to the south has been simmering in the City. The tragic story of the D&G Party Store captures these tensions. Tucked into the issue of gentrification is that of political power. The rise of the new neighborhoods has brought new voices to the table: owners, developers and the like. The older neighborhoods that were once minority are being shifted, if not pushed out; the success of the redevelopment understandably grates at residents. Does money flow only when white people take part?

And finally, there is the question of political agendas. Tuffelmire and his supporters represent a new politics, or perhaps better, a more robust politics that is moving out of Heritage Hill. When one looks at the issues, it is clear that the primary battleground in the Third Ward this year has been in the part of the district that belongs to the 75th State House seat of Brandon Dillon. Since redistricting, this seat is safe. The tension between Tuffelmire and Lenear is the beginning of the tussle for who will succeed Dillon: will it be someone out of the minority community? or someone out of the progressive neighborhood networks? Or could it fall to bridging figure such as 19th District county Commissioner, Candace Chivis?

Further complicating the political reality is the nature of two other seats: the slightly marginal D of the 76th State House now held by Winnie Brinks, and the 29th State Senate seat, Dave Hildenbrand being the incumbent. Republicans look at the center right stance of Lenear and see a potential candidate (this according to conversations with local party members). Would she go partisan? Her list of significant Republicans endorsements at least give a crack of possibility here, although the presumed commitments she has made to her supporters likely militate against it. For now.

So, if you listen carefully to the race, you can hear the scrape of political chairs being shuffled around. The Tuffelmire-Lenear contest represents a beginning of the reshaping of our City and state politics.

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lessons from the Third Ward race

On Tuesday, Grand Rapids voters will decided on a new city commissioner. And there’s a choice:  one an activist, one a civic leader, and  one out of her element. A month or more ago, it looked to be a fairly heated, even interesting race. As we turn towards the election, the race now looks somewhat bland, at least as the usual horse race goes. And for one, perhaps an opportunity lost.

But first, to review.

By all lights, Senita Lenear is the choice of the civic establishment. She has garnered support from a wide range of civic leaders, including both Democrats and Republicans. This fits her previous experience on the School Board where she earned a fair amount of credibility moving from the perception as a protege of Bernard Taylor to real independence in the post-Taylor period. As she explained to Wood-Tv, she was asked by the Mayor to consider running for the commission seat.

From her work with the school board she has earned the respect of the African American community. Being the wife of Dallas Lenear, one of the pastors at New Hope Baptist, certainly doesn’t hurt in this matter,either.

Her positions are what one might expect: use connections to lobby for the City, act with integrity (this poses a small question: who is it that is not acting with integrity on the Commission? — a vague sort of stance, actually), work with the budget, and in the Wood-Tv interview, address violence — particularly recent gang violence) that has been troubling the urban neighborhoods of the Ward. These are safe positions, consonant with the view of the City Commission as a civic board, and implicitly appealing to the alliance between the African-American community and the residual Dutch of the far suburbs. She’s safe.

In this context, Mike Tuffelmire is for all intents, the challenger. He is younger, a combat veteran and resident now in South Hills (originally from the Mulick Park / IHM neighborhood). His core base has been the new urbanist, local-business advocates that have revitalized East Hills, the Wealthy corridor and downtown. Key support also comes from Democrats, progressives, and the anti-Taylor cluster on the the school board. The support network is younger, more urban if not “Downtown” than Lenear’s. It can easily be misconstrued, as MLive did the other day, labeling Tuffelmire a “marijuana activist” for his work on the Grand Rapids Decriminalize campaign.

The  campaign has focused on community engagement, on getting the neighborhoods heard. The campaign platform is more direct, concrete: stronger neighborhood representation, attention to violence (Tuffelmire separates violence into two categories: the direct violence of the core city neighborhoods, and the property crimes farther out), smarter budgeting, and attention to infrastructure along the business corridors. As with Lenear, these are positions that reflect his community.

Both are clearly competent and knowledgeable about the City. Both are likely to bring new perspectives to the City Commission. Yet this has been a surprisingly bland contest — how is that?

First, the neighborhood focus of both campaigns simply ignores the make up of the far ends of the Ward, out where the  votes are. While in older neighborhoods (say pre-1950) there are strong identities and even associations, as one heads south of 28th, or east from Plymouth the character changes. These are largely suburban in layout and civic orientation. This is especially bad news for Tuffelmire, since the same suburban/civic orientation has these neighborhoods thinking in terms of Downtown, and general managerial competence — this is the strong suit for Lenear. These are also more reliably conservative in vote, another potential disadvantage for a more progressive candidate.

This is not to say it can’t be done, but only that if signs are any — or at least the first — indication, neither campaign has been especially successful in connecting.

Second, there is an absence of big picture vision in either campaign. How do we build a City that supports our neighborhoods? How will we engage in economic promotion? What will we do about our streets? Other infrastructure issues. Tuffelmire begins to get close to this; Lenear settles for pictures of the Calder (a nice subliminal touch) to indicate her Downtown sympathy.

Third, status quo issues. Here, the Tuffelmire campaign likely missed how much they were going to run as an insurgent. To be the alternative, one must make a critique of the present situation. Lenear’s presumptive role as successor is the barrier.  Again, the diversity of the Ward enters in here: change for the better in the suburban neighborhoods (e.g. Ridgemoor, Shawnee, Sherwood Park, Ken-o-Sha to use the school names) will have a different feel than those who live in the core neighborhoods along Eastern, Kalamazoo or Wealthy.

Fourth, campaign experience. The Lenear campaign has experience, and a fluency in front of the camera. The number of supporters also means that networks can be leveraged. Tuffelmire has shown a greater facility with digital communications, but has not properly thought through the issues sufficient to make the case. A challenger campaign cannot afford to coast, it has to push. What is perhaps most distressing is the let-down after the Fourth. Whether it came from self-doubt, money, time the result was that mid-July there was a pause.

And Fifth, the missing. One of the most interesting aspects of the entire campaign has been the silence of certain communities. Neither campaign has shown any ability (or perhaps interest) in reaching into the old Dutch community. Although no longer as strong as it was a generation ago, the names are still important. Likewise, both campaigns have only a sprinkling of Hispanic names — again, this speaks to the limits of their own networks. And finally, there notable actors who are obviously interested in the outcome, but studiously neutral: the commissioners of the Second Ward (Rosalynn Bliss, Ruth Kelley), and the district’s other state representative, Winnie Brinks.

At this point, with the final weekend upon us, it would seem to be Lenear’s to lose.

 

 

 

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , ,

Pulling on a Political Scab

Something is under James White’s skin. Perhaps it is only the robo-call by school board president Wendy Falb, but the irritation may run a little deeper.

The schools and the City need to work hand in hand, so it’s no surprise that as the Third Ward race heats up, school board members take sides:  Maureen Slade, Rev. Nathaniel Moody and recent member Jane Geitzen for Senita Lenear; Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, and Jon O’Connor  for  Michael Tuffelmire. I the support for Tuffelmire fears a potential polarization, or more accurately an alienation. In response to Falb’s robo-call, City Commissioner Whites took to the press.

(Falb)  “runs the risk of polarizing her own board, the parents and the community” by actively campaigning for the opponent of her former board colleague, Senita Lenear, in the city race.

At first glance this a peculiar accusation, since White himself is also on board with the Lenear  campaign. As White further explains in the article, the endorsement threatens the necessary working together of city and schools.

“The school district must work closely with and gain support from city, county, state, and federal sources.
“It is unwise to do harm to those relationships by embroiling the school district in the political arena where it has never been before.”

Never before? Even reporter Monica Scott finds herself wondering

Mr. White thinks that the GRPS board has gotten more political and said he didn’t like the direction it is going in. Do you think the board is more political now or the same as in previous years?

Given the sort of controversies that have roiled the school board over the years, the present board is far from the divisive mode of even a few years ago. What is characteristic about the board is its general public unanimity, in part because of the strength of Superintendent Neal. If anything, the addition of John Matias promises to keep the board functioning in a productive fashion.

However there is little danger of a rift breaking out between the schools and the city. Here, White’s complaint sounds stretched, but underneath there are a couple of very real issues at work.

First, is the question of class.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Family Language

Monday night, the GRPS School Board chose John Matias as the new member. And from his interview  it was easy to see why. He demonstrated a rather well-integrated understanding of what the task was before GRPS. Of all the candidates, he showed the greatest familiarity with what was happening in the schools. More than a simple familiarity, he also conveyed an appreciation for how the schools themselves are made up of communities. For him, the sadness in the Transformation Plan was the impact it would have on the communities those schools represented. And he’s right.This is the needle that the schools are trying to thread — the need to be sensitive to parents who have invested in the schools, and the administrative discipline necessary to deliver on the promise.

On MLive the commentators thought that perhaps  Matias was  the pick going in, that this was something of a show. Formally, this was an odd comment, given that Matias’ Hispanic roots never made to the press. And looking at the panel, three others had far more public resumes with the kind of civic visibility.  Their presentations, however, were hampered in various ways, often by simply the manner of speaking — too jocular, too fast, or too stiff.

Now what will Matias actually bring to the table? If his manner and experience is any indication, it will be plenty. First, he has a conciliatory style that will certainly be an asset as the Board continues to wrestle with the challenges. Second, he will likely bring a greater voice to parents in the system. At present, the Board tilts to the professional class, folks whose children are in or have been in City High School. Matias knows that community, but his work at Burton with parents gives him access to other parental voices. These are the voices of those who may be poor but have big dreams for the children. They’re strivers. These are the real future of GRPS, those who believe.

And as any conversation with parents reveals, there continues to be a disconnect, particularly in the Hispanic community — another plus for Matias. Often the parent voice gets framed as objection, or a defensive huddle. Matias calmer voice and manner suggests another possible path to go. It is the language of family. It is the possibility of listening.

When the school board chose John Matias they chose to listen. And whether they realized it or not, they chose to also change how they will speak.

Filed under: Community, ,

Known by the Company They Keep

The numbers alone indicated the interest in Grand Rapids Public Schools. The quality of the candidates spoke volumes about  the community’s assessment of the present condition of the schools. Basically, it’s all good.

Missing from the pack were those with obvious chips on the shoulder. Or those with the anti-tax crowd that once populated the board. There were not the candidates of “no” or of opposition to the direction of the schools. This is due in large measure both to the board, and the GRPS superintendent, Teresa Weatherall Neal.

Last Monday, the Board whittled down the list to six finalists, and looking at them one can begin to see the outlines of what the Board’s concerns are for the schools.

Our six candidates include:

Tracey Braeme, assistant dean at Thomas Cooley Law School, but more importantly, daughter-in-law of long-time head of the Grand Rapids Urban League Walter Braeme. Her obvious strengths are connections with one of the GRPS core constituencies, and with it a real feel for the questions of poverty and race.

C.J. Shroll, a current business consultant, but he brings more than 20 years of workforce development at Grand Rapids Community College — he was also instrumental of the Advanced Tech Center on the campus. The first appeal here is obviously how to improve Grand Rapids Public School graduates.

Paul Ippel, recently retired head of Network 180. The connection with the justice system and with rehabilitation makes his background especially attractive as the schools face the challenge of dropouts. One of the ongoing needs in Grand Rapids continues to be that of opening the doors to more possibilities to those who are minority and poor.

John Matias is a therapist and community schools coordinator. The mental health aspect also dovetails with the themes of Paul Ippel — clearly for some on the board, the question is not simply schooling, but promoting a broader community health. Of interest here, Matias also has two students at Grand Rapids City High School.

Jamie Scripps is best known as an environmental lawyer. She is the youngest of the panel, and so could bring a solid voice for younger families in the district. She is also perhaps the most political of the six with clear connections to the Democratic party (her husband Dan Scripps served in the State legislature, 2008-2010, representing Traverse City). At the same time, like Matias, she brings a certain middle class vibe that represents the growing edge of the GRPS transformation model. Her interview will be interesting.

Mohan Krishnan, is also relatively young, and is the director of Children’s Services for Hope Network. There is some immediate appeal as to background, even more, his work with children could make an important contribution as the schools look to roll out more early childhood programs.
In short, six solid professionals, each with significant accomplishments — and there were others (professors!) left off this list — give a picture of the sorts of questions on the Board’s collective mind. The issues at hand appear to be how to effectively intervene with high school dropouts. Is it a matter of underdevelopment with the early education? A failure to connect with the minority profile? (Here, the hidden question will be which of the six will be most in tune with Hispanic concerns). The question of emotional health, of the soft connections that make the schools more than places of schooling, but real communities — that’s here. And finally there is the question of economics: how do we help our students succeed?
Tonight, we will find out more about the direction of our schools. In the meantime, it’s something of a rich man’s problem, for once the reveling in a kind of social wealth.

Filed under: Community, , , , , , , , , ,

Oh, for Art’s Sake!

Charlsie Dewey at the Business Journal notes the transformation of arts education. Or more precisely the separation of arts education from the school curriculum. And it’s not that the school community, or the community at large is indifferent to the benefits of the arts.

In the last several years there has been a strong push by educators and those involved in the arts communities to emphasize the value of arts education. Numerous studies have shown that students who receive an arts education — either through dedicated discipline classes like music, painting and creative writing, or through integrating the arts with other disciplines like math or science — are more successful academically.

And it’s not like the arts are only for the kids. Dewey notes the economic impact of arts in Michigan: an Art Serve survey found arts accounted for more 16 percent of Michigan’s total tourism — likely more, since the survey only covered 10 percent of arts organizations.

With that impact, you would think that arts might have a higher place on the curriculum, but no. Instead what we have are arts organizations stepping up to fill the gap left by receding dollars and commitments. Is this the wave of the future? Perhaps.

Whether economically troubled schools that have had to cut or end arts education classes can find a way to integrate the arts into the core curriculum and preparations for standardized tests remains to be seen. It does seem like a new model for delivering arts education to kids and young people is on the horizon.

But it’s not new.

Call this the AAU model of arts education, the love child of privatization and high stakes testing. We can no longer afford our arts generally because of the cost, so let’s fob it off on the community. This is in silent accord with the tacit philosophy of education at work in the State. Elite, liberal arts education for those of the better-off suburbs and their private counterparts, and a more vocational/careerist model for the poor. The strivers of course, are caught in between — for a lucky few there are the programs.

This is the very opposite of the vision for public education that has driven our schools.

The place of arts in the curriculum is a political and philosophical statement. It is an assertion that cultural goods belong to everyone, and not simply the property of a few.  The arts are not an adornment to a life, but help shape, even define a life.

Arts education lays the groundwork for self-governance. In our arts, we create the free inner space, a self-awareness and empowerment, that is the prerequisite for self rule. The excellence of arts not only shapes how our understanding, but finally empowers — as any parent who has ever put up a picture can tell you.

Without art, we end up with the circus, entertainment as a consumer good. The small and private screen. Arts education would give our children something more: the world. They certainly deserve it.

[A shorter version of this also appeared at Written and Noted]

Filed under: Community, , ,

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