If Enterprise High School had cut algebra this year, there would have been an outcry. If the computers were sitting idle in October, everyone in town would know. But it's the art room that is idle. The pottery wheels, easels, and the small woodworking tools that Larry and Gary Wishart and Margaret Grace have shared with hundreds of students over more than a quarter century.
When Larry Wishart retired as the elementary art teacher a few years ago, Margaret Grace took over, and Gary Wishart's award winning high school art program didn't seem to lose a step. (A few years ago, a book came out arguing that most of us really could draw or paint better than we do; it's just that art education stopped at age eight or nine for most of us.)
But Gary retired this year, and there wasn't enough money to replace him. And when it looked as though Margaret would have no more than a half time job, she moved elsewhere. So the Enterprise School system went from having one of the top art programs in the state to having none in one fell swoop.
Over the years, that art program has put dishes on scores of family tables and engendered pride in hundreds of students and parents. It has helped exchange students fit while they learned the language, and gave American students who didn't fit well in other classes a place in school. It's flat out kept some students in school.
Occasionally there will be a piece in the Chieftain about Alan Holt doing some important art work for the state of Alaska, or I'll hear from friends or family about someone like Wendy Wheeler who turned high school art and a college art degree into a great job at Microsoft. Or I will remember that Tim Norman or another local foundry worker was a prize student in the Enterprise art program.
But art is more than its prize students. How many professional mathematicians do we have? How many students who gain confidence an recognition in the vocational ag program end up working in agriculture? Students carry the bits of technical skill and general confidence they gain in doing art, math, vo-ag, English, music, and history into their total lives. The fact of the matter is that we don't know at the age of fifteen or sixteen which of the skills we are learning will serve us in adulthood, or how they will do so.
What I know is that I occasionally resort to algebra when I'm figuring interest or designing a new bookshelf. I pluck the bits of history that I began learning in elementary school and put them into the day's events to help me understand the world I live in. I read, write, and speak English every day.
And I see and think art everyday. Art informs the colors we paint our houses and the things we fill them with. It's the movies we watch, the ads we pay attention to, clothes we buy, vacations we take, and the cars we drive. Art is literally how we look at the world.
Many of us did not have the advantage of a sophisticated K-12 art program like these recent Enterprise students. So we make up our own way of looking at the world, or buy what's on TV. And I guess that's what Enterprise students will now do again.
But maybe it is more complicated and more important than that. Recent reports from Salem peg Wallowa County income and employment statistics at or near the state's bottom - and find our student benchmark statistics near the top. They are wondering how that can happen. In fact, I and several others in the community are due to be interviewed by someone from a foundation trying to figure it out.
I'm going to tell them that living in a beautiful and serene place, having history and geology and biology at our doorsteps, and having schools that have given art and music important places in the curriculum are all part of stimulating young minds.
I'm going to ask them how we make up for the loss of Gary Wishart and Margaret Grace.