Last year, Jonathan Kozol came to UNCA to do his thing--speak about the injustices of the public school system, point out the obvious flaws and the tragedy of the inner-city child who might as well be blind, deaf, and dumb for all the government cares. How is it that we know these things and talk about them and almost cry over them and yet we do nothing?
Well, the place I'm staying in New Orleans used to be a middle school. SGT Beauregard Middle School. I actually wouldn't have guessed that had I not been told outright. It's not that the place is completely decrepit or run down or filthy. It's that there's just this air of nothingness. Whoever built the school was obviously just building the bare minimum necessary for a school to exist. I remember something Jonathan Kozol said at his talk that I will never forget. Aesthetics matter.
I've always believed this to be true, but I had never even thought about it. Why is the home improvement industry so huge? Why is art important? Why do people care what they, their homes, the childrens' homes look like? Because aesthetics make a place bearable. They make a place worth living in and loving. Aesthetics is human expression, and when you take away that expression you take away the humanity. Why would a child want to learn if they think that school is somewhere you go to be bored hour after hour? Aesthetics don't necessarily make the task of learning easy...but god damn, how difficult must we make it. I'm not talking the Hilton hotel here. I'm just talking about some decent adornment--enough to keep a child intrigued.
And so, what was a school is now a dormitory style lodging for Americorps and Habitat for Humanity volunteers. I feel like I'm at summer camp again. The austerity of the place lends itself to that feeling. But at least summer camp has its games and distractions. I sure as hell wouldn't want to go to school here.