Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Rich Get Richer Because They're Smart

It's a forgotten truth, but here's an example of how intellectual activity undertaken for it's own sake can bring great rewards. In 1948, an art teacher at New Trier, a wealthy public school in north suburban Chicago, bought a painting from the U.S. government for $62.50. He used it in his classes for many years, but eventually the painting was packed away in a storeroom. The artist, Stuart Davis, eventually became famous, and the painting is now worth $ 3.1 million. The school must now decided how to spend the money.

It's valuable to remember why this happened. An art teacher who wanted a tool to help him educate his students, who took responsibility for their education, made a small investment in a painting. He didn't blame the parents for not taking their kids to museums; he didn't assume his students would find information on their own. He decided to provide the needed example himself, lugging the painting from where it hung at the school to his classroom whenever necessary.

For having teachers such as this employed at their school, New Trier will net millions of dollars. There is an object lesson there.

Of course, the Washington Post wants us all to remember that New Trier is already an elite school that probably doesn't need this windfall:

But New Trier is considered one of the elite high schools in Illinois. Its two campuses are rooted in the prosperous heart of Chicago's North Shore. An annual budget of $75 million underwrites enviable capital programs, a student-teacher ratio of 14 to 1 and an average teacher salary of $84,151. The 105-year-old school offers more than 300 courses and graduates 98.5 percent of its students, who are overwhelmingly upper middle class and white.

Yes, of course, how silly to forget this iniquity, and how foolish it would be to try and learn any lessons from the art teacher that managed to do so much for his school.

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