No swastikas for school version of ‘Producers’

A New York high school is staging The Producers, which features a deliberately terrible show within a show called Springtime for Hitler, but swastikas are verboten.

“There is no context in a public high school where a swastika is appropriate,” South Orangetown Superintendent Bob Pritchard told CBS2’s Tony Aiello.

What about a history textbook?

“It’s satire, not supposed to be taken seriously,” Tyler Lowe, a high school performer, told CBS2. He said as a young Jew, he’s not offended by the swastikas in the show.

“I personally think Mel Brooks would be honored that the controversy is going on,  but I think he would be disappointed by the censorship,” Orangetown resident Lenora Mesibov said.

In the Mel Brooks comedy,  producer Max Bialystock and accountant Leo Bloom try to put on a sure-fire flop to avoid paying back investors. They figure a musical glorifying Hitler is just the thing, but audiences find it hilarious.

If the superintendent can’t handle a swastika, why did Tappan Zee High choose to put a musical that includes lyrics such as “Don’t be stupid, be a smarty, come and join the Nazi party?”

All reading and math makes Jack a dull boy

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David.

All reading and math skills — without exposure to the arts — makes Jack a dull boy — and not much of a reader, argues Jay Greene. “More research is beginning to show that a broader education, including the arts, may be essential for later success in math and reading as well as the proper development of civic values and character skills, including tolerance, empathy, and self-regulation.”

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers are spending less time teaching music, art, dance and theater, research shows.

Long-term success in math, reading and science depends on the general knowledge and fine-motor skills learned through the arts, studies show, Greene adds.

Researchers urge teaching children “a better understanding of the world”  by improving science and social studies instruction and building foundational skills through “the arts, music, dance, physical education, and free play.”

Greene’s research has found that “field trips to art museums and to see live theater” not only build general knowledge, they “change student values to promote greater tolerance and empathy.”

10 low-earning college majors

Anthropology leads Kiplinger’s Worst College Majors for Your Career. It combines low pay and high unemployment. Anthro majors are twice as likely as the average college graduate to end up working in retail in a job that doesn’t require a college education.

Unemployment rate: 6.9%
Recent grad employment rate: 10.5%
Median salary: $40,000
Median salary for recent grads: $28,000
Projected job growth for this field, 2010-2020: 21%
Likelihood of working retail: 2.1 times average

Many anthropology graduates “are studying a culture they didn’t expect: the intergenerational American household, as seen from their parents’ couch.”  Nearly a third of recent grads are in low-paying office or sales jobs. Recent graduates average $28,000 per year, less than the median pay for someone with only a high school diploma. Students interested in foreign cultures would do better to major in international relations, Kiplinger suggests.


Fine arts, film/photography, studio arts, graphic design and drama/theater also are low-earnings, high-retail majors.  Also on the list: philosophy and religious studies, sociology, liberal arts and my major, English.

I’d guess that arts and theater majors understand they’re going to struggle to make a living. Do sociology majors know their odds?

Ann Althouse quotes from Kurt Vonnegut’s A Man Without a Country:

If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don’t have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I’m not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.

I’m not sure writing bad poetry constitutes practicing art or enlarges the soul.

Nearly all schools teach art, music

Music and visual art are nearly universally available in public schools, writes Robert Morrison, founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research, in School Band & Orchestra Magazine.

The data hasn’t changed much since 1994 for music and visual art. Dance and theater instruction has declined in secondary schools and is rare in elementary schools.

Ninety-one percent of elementary schools employ specialist music teachers, according to a federal report.

Via Common Core.

What is arts education?

Just recently, In August 2009, Secretary Duncan made a rather vague plug for the arts, in which he stated that “the arts can help students become tenacious, team-oriented problem solvers who are confident and able to think creatively.”

If that was all the arts could do, I would shrug my shoulders. What about teaching students to sing in three-part harmony, or perform a Shakespeare monologue? What about the student who works for hours on the light and shadows in her painting?

The arts certainly have side benefits. They may draw out the abilities of a student who has not performed well in other subjects. They teach discipline and persistence. Students come to know the joy of taking part in something beautiful, of mastering difficult material and seeing it come together. And through this they may also be reading, building vocabulary, working with abstract concepts, learning about measure, rhythm, proportion, and time, and much more. The arts draw a school community together; there are few events as exciting as the opening night of a play, when the auditorium is packed with proud parents and siblings.

Beyond that, the arts prepare students to participate in cultural life, as performers, audience, or both. Without arts education, many children will know only the culture of the Internet, the iPod, and TV—rich resources in their own right, but limiting if you don’t know what to look for. Without the support of young people, many local cultural institutions will close. We will be left with whatever culture we can find on our individual screens.

So we need arts education, but what is it? What constitutes a strong arts program in schools? We can devote a certain number of hours to the arts, but what should happen during those hours?

Arts education consists of several overlapping categories.

First, there is knowledge of the arts: the study of music theory and art history; the reading and analysis of plays, and so forth. This sort of study can exist on its own, or it can be part of arts, history, and literature classes. Either way, it can enhance students’ understanding not only of the arts, but also of history, literature, and science.

Second, there is experience of the arts: watching a play, listening to music, looking at a painting, watching a photographer in the darkroom, and so on. Experience may also consist of making art: making a clay sculpture, playing a simple instrument, taking part in a class performance, or learning a simple dance.

Third, there is the discipline of the arts: the practice of working on something and seeing it take shape and improve. This could take the form of learning to play an instrument or to sing with phrasing; developing a role in a play; practicing the drawing of specific objects; or perfecting a dance step. Most serious work on plays or music takes place after school and requires substantial independent work as well.

Fourth, there is artistic creation, for instance: composing a piece of music, writing a play, or choreographing a dance. While this is difficult to do well or teach well, children should be given a chance to try.

Which of these categories cannot be left out? Which should take priority? What does a good arts program look like?

Many of us, myself included, look for schools that have excellent plays and concerts—that is, where students are at a high level of proficiency in the arts. But such a school may depend on students’ outside preparation. It may draw students who have had instruction elsewhere—in private lessons, music schools, church choirs, outside theater programs, and summer camps. The students performing in the plays may be a small percentage of the entire student body—a talented and privileged few. That in no way detracts from the school’s accomplishments in the arts, but it is not the same as an arts curriculum.

Readers, what makes an excellent arts curriculum, in your view? If you were looking for a school with a strong arts program–where you might study, teach, or enroll your child–what would you be looking for?

And here’s a harder question: Suppose students had one period of music and one period of art per week (one period=45 minutes). Under those circumstances, what sort of arts instruction would benefit the students the most?

Diana Senechal