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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, March 3

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This week's question was submitted by Kate. Thank you!

Q: I was recently told by an architectural historian that one of the reasons Chicagoans know so much about, and take so much pride in, the many gems of local architecture for which the city is so justly famous, is that for many years the Chicago Public Schools ran a history-of-Chicago curriculum that was organized around a study of the city's architecture... I was told it had been discontinued in the last 10 years or so. I'm wondering if you could find out when it started, who was behind it, and why it was discontinued?

When I received this question a few weeks ago, I first turned to my local expert on the Chicago Public Schools system -- my mother, a veteran teacher in the Chicago public schools. She, in turn, talked to her colleagues while I consulted other family members with past Chicago teaching experience. No one, unfortunately, could recall any specific architecture curriculum at either the high school or middle school levels. Despite this setback, I wasn't about to just give up.

Although I could not find any evidence of a universal curriculum for teaching Chicago architecture in the public schools, there have been and continue to be many programs concerning local architecture carried out in partnership with the Chicago Public Schools.

In fact, the program your architectural historian may have been recalling was Teaching Architecture through History project. Teaching Architecture through History was a three-year project started by Chicago Teachers' Center at Northeastern Illinois University that ran from 1997-2000. The program was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the purpose of the project was to have middle school teachers collaborate with partnering organizations, which included the Chicago Cultural Center and the American Institute of Architects Education Committee, to develop curriculum and support materials for teaching history through the lens of Chicago's built environment. Visit the Teaching Architecture through History website to find out more about the project and check out the online Field Guide to Chicago Area Buildings that they developed as part of the program.

The longest running program, however, may be the Newhouse Program and Architecture Competition, a partnership between the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the Chicago Public Schools, now celebrating its 22nd year. The Newhouse Program is a multi-faceted architectural education initiative that includes workshops, school visits, internships with local firms, and design competitions for Chicago public high school students. Visit the website to find out more. The Chicago Architecture Foundation also sponsors workshops for teachers and special versions of their walking tours designed for grade school and high school students. See the CAF Education page for a complete list of programs.

But wait, there's more. I also want to briefly mention two other Chicago-based organizations that focus on arts education. Imagine Chicago is a broad-based non-profit organization that "helps people develop their imagination as city creators." Their past programs have included "Reading and Writing a City," which developed a middle school writing curriculum based on WTTW's popular "Chicago by Boat" architectural program, in partnership with DePaul University's Center for Urban Education and several Chicago public school teachers.

Secondly, Art Resources in Teaching (A.R.T.) is celebrating its 110th year in 2004 of "providing visual arts education for Chicago area children." Art Resources in Teaching is Chicago's oldest and largest educational non-profit organization dedicated to providing visual arts programs for Chicago students. Their current architectural programs include "Art of the Chicago Landscape" and "Cityscapes and Landscapes of Illinois."

Last, but not least, I must also point out that the Chicago Public Schools include several college prep and vocational high schools that do have programming and curriculum focusing on architecture. They include the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. College Preparatory High School at 4445 South Drexel Boulevard, James H. Bowen High School/Chicago Discovery Academy at 2710 East 89th Street, and the Albert G. Lane Technical High School at 2501 West Addison Street.

I think the combination of all of the programs and organizations I have listed here does reveal a commitment to arts education and support for teaching students about Chicago's architectural legacy. So, yes, it's no wonder that so many native Chicagoans can confidently point out a building by Mies van der Rohe, engage you in conversation about Daniel Burnham's Plan of Chicago, or offer an opinion about the new proposed Trump Tower. We're just smart that way.

Additional Resources

Chicago Public Schools.
This is the official website for the Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Board of Education. Learn about the dozens of CPS departments, locate a school, search for school test score and demographic reports and much, much more. This should be your first stop for learning about how and what Chicago public school students are taught.

Illinois State Board of Education.
If you are interested learning more about the factors that determine what is taught in schools all over the state, check out the Illinois Learning Standards [] section of the ISBE website. The Illinois Learning Standards, adopted in 1997, "define what all students in all Illinois public schools should know and be able to do in the seven core areas as a result of their elementary and secondary schooling."

Chicago Authors: First Lines

"Andrei was returning with his wife, Sveta, from her mother's burial in a cemetery in southwest Moscow when he spotted a young woman displaying a basket of kittens in the middle of Revolution Square metro station. 'Look,' he said, steering Sveta around a statue of an alert soldier, his pistol rubbed by passersby to a thin golden pipe. The woman, who wore a fox-fur coat and had a cigarette hanging from her mouth, held the basket out to them.

"'Oh, how sweet!' Sveta said.

"Amid the gray and white squirming balls, a kitten smaller than the rest sat as still and black as the forged revolutionaries who crouched beneath the station's wide arches. The kitten had a white spot on its throat. Its eyes were fixed on Sveta."
--Katherine Shonk, from "The Death of Olga Vasilievna" in The Red Passport

Katherine Shonk was born in Chicago and currently lives in Evanston. Although her short fiction has been widely published in literary journals and anthologies, The Red Passport is her first published collection of stories.

Have a topic you would like to see in "Ask the Librarian"? Send your suggestions to librariangapersblock<.>com and it may be featured in a future column.

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thatbob / June 17, 2004 5:55 PM

There was no comment form on the Summer Reading page ( so I just thought I'd say something here: great picks, Alice! Can I also recommend Smokestacks & Skyscrapers: An Anthology of Chicago Writing, Starkey & Guzman eds.? Thanks, from another librarian.

Alice / June 18, 2004 9:34 AM

Bob, I totally have that book, too! You might notice I've been using it here and there for ideas for authors in the Chicago Authors: First Lines section. :)

bkim / June 29, 2004 1:56 AM

This is in response to: Ask the Librarian: Why Native Chicagoans Know So Much About Local Architecture.

I went to a Chicago Public School from 6-8th grade in the late 80's. I vaguely recall taking a walking tour of the loop with the Fine Arts teacher. We also went to Oak Park and toured Frank Lloyd Wright's residence and office, as well as the other homes he designed in the area. Wright remains one of my favorite architects.

I still maintain that I received more culture between 6th and 8th grade than I did in high school and college combined. I remember going on field trips to see an opera at the Lyric Opera, the CSO at Orchestra Hall, a play at Steppenwolf, and the Botanic Gardens. Of course, we also went to all the museums, including the somewhat obscure ones like the Oriental Institute, the Museum of Holography, and the Museum of Broadcast Communications.


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