This semester, for the Tyler School of Art course “Visualizing Urgency,” the school’s advisory council raised an important question: “If the walls of Philadelphia’s closed public schools could talk, what would they say?”
“Visualizing Urgency,” a two-credit honors course, focuses on a different urgent issue in the Philadelphia area each semester. The course was first introduced in the fall of 2014 to evoke critical thinking and deep discussion about relevant issues.
Taught by Robert Blackson, the director of Tyler’s department of exhibitions and public programs, and Sarah Biemiller, assistant director, this year’s class started on Sept. 23.
“We focused on learning about refugees from different countries like Syria and how they adjust to the United States, particularly the line agencies that help refugees find jobs and an education in Philadelphia,” Biemiller said about last year’s class.
This semester, Visualizing Urgency will focus on the kindergarten-through-12th grade public school system in Philadelphia.
The class will visit a Tyler School of Art exhibit called “reForm,” based on the Fairhill Elementary School which was closed in 2013. Created by Pepón Osorio, a professor at Tyler, the exhibit uses items from the school building.
“I think it’s really cool that the class is intertwined with
reForm to come up with a new perspective,” said Olivia Lindy, an undeclared freshman.
“I think the exciting part about this class is learning the variety of ways people address the public school system,” Blackson said. “Temple students need to see how the community responds to that challenge.”
The course will not only focus on the school system’s present state, but also its history and future.
“The system has been around for many years but is going through new changes, like how to fund the schools and how they compare to charter schools,” Blackson added.
During the semester, 19 enrolled students, with a variety of majors like English, sociology and dance, will tour learning centers like the shuttered Edward W. Bok Technical High School and Building 21, a non-selective district high school on 7th Street near Norris.
These schools will be compared to parochial schools like St. James Middle School on Clearfield Street near 32nd, and students will also study the building structures in these schools and how their spaces are being used.
“I live 40 minutes north from Temple and I kept hearing about schools closing and it felt hopeless,” said Rebecca Johnson, also an undeclared freshman in the course. “So to have a class that tries to actively change and bring everyone together to solve this problem is great. I’m pumped.”
Visualizing Urgency requires students to complete two projects for the semester. The first project is a student debate of the Philadelphia public school system, and the second project prompts students to create a new public school system of their own and design its structure.
“For many years, Temple has had courses just like Visualizing Urgency and have covered the same topics,” Blackson said. “But it is great to have the Tyler School of Art that offers urgency with newer situations.”
Although the class is held by Tyler, Blackson and Biemiller encouraged students outside of the art programs to take the class. The public is also invited to attend most of the lectures and events.
“I hope that the class will continue, but I would like to cover a different topic for next semester that has just as much relevance, and continue to switch up the topics for future semesters,” Biemiller said.
Tatyana Turner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.