“I’ll Take 17” review
When speaking with a St. Louis Public School teacher about class size, Ilene Berman mentioned the National Education Association’s statistic of 15 students as the optimum class size for learning. To this, the teacher immediately responded, “I’ll Take 17”. We know students learn best through meaningful, intimate relationships with their instructors. For families with the means to seek alternatives to the public school system, the most frequently asked question is: “What is your average class size?”, underscoring the fact that small classes are a commonly-acknowledged and top-prioritized educational asset. And yet, in the St. Louis Public School System, additional classrooms are allotted only after class size exceeds 30 students. Furthermore, administrators in the system publicly cite class-size reduction as an unaffordable expense, while teachers cite overwhelming class size as a reason not to continue teaching. During the fifteen years Berman was an artist-in-residence in the St. Louis Public School System, the district invested in several multimillion-dollar learning programs – including No Child Left Behind and the Common Core – none of which addressed class size. How can any educational initiative succeed when, at the most basic level, students are unable to simply be heard or seen? “I’ll Take 17” examines the critical importance of this very issue while also questioning art’s capacity to adequately address such pragmatic concerns. Using participatory elements — such as mural-scaled chalkboards on which the public can write, an immersive audio installation that simulates the aural assault of an over-populated classroom, and palpable textures such as felt-covered school desks – Berman attempts to physically position the viewer within the considered conflict. Through this subtle sensory entreaty, perhaps active educational change can be inspired and art’s capacity for public reform expanded.
—Jessica Baran, fort gondo compound for the arts