By Shahe Mankerian
“History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” – Mark Twain
“Because it often does, let’s assume history repeats itself,” I address a classroom full of sleepy 8th graders, “and let’s assume the genocidal claws of a new, bloodthirsty nation attempts to annihilate the disaporan Armenians in Los Angeles. And let’s assume within this speculative pogrom, the dark forces decide to assemble the intellectual elite of the Armenian populace: the poets, the playwrights, the painters, and the musicians—just like the times of old—the ceremonial cutting off the head before the mass extermination. Who amongst us will be the contemporary Siamanto or Varujan and lose his precious, scholarly head?” Silence.
I notice a brave hand in the back of the room eager to participate. “Yes, Mr. Mouradian, shed some light on this conundrum.” Mouradian, the archetypal impish 8th grader, with hair in disarray, the cornerstone of every blessed classroom, responds with pride, “Baron,” he says, “the guys from System of a Down—they, they will be our new martyrs.” The class erupts in laughter. May God multiply the Mouradians. The schools of the world do not have enough performance classes to flourish these spotlight-grabbing, laughter jockeys. Unfortunately, it is not clear if Mouradian’s statement is in jest or in earnest.
Moosig, the freckled-faced spokesperson for the girls, rambunctiously says, “Young people nowadays don’t care about the Arts.”
I say, “That’s like saying, fish nowadays don’t care about water.”
On my drive home, I partially blame parents for perpetuating the notion that poetry or splattered paint or post-pubescent plays do not generate prosperity but poverty. I continue flinging my frustration toward principals and misguided teachers for fanning the mantra that being an artist does not produce fame but famine. Then I point ten accusatory fingers at me. I am that parent, that principal, and that misguided teacher. I am that impostor.
Wallowing in self-pity is like swimming in wet cement on a hot day. Before it hardens and becomes concrete, get out. Subconsciously, I do want my three-year-old to grow to be a brain surgeon at Cedars-Sinai or somewhere close to home. I do want her teachers to encourage her to take drawing assignments little less seriously and thrust the periodic table delicately down her baby throat. As a Principal of an Armenian school, I do want a brand new science lab in place of the Art studio. More parents will praise my mature foresight for the advancement of the children.
But when was the last time a society advanced without the Arts? All children gravitate toward the paint, the paper, and the pulse of the melody. All children learn initially to the poetics of the nursery rhyme. Go ahead, take away the crayons and the colored pencils, they’ll soon find mud and turn it into Monet. They’ll turn dung into Rodin. Next to starvation, the only other evil we can do to children is to rob them of the Arts. Long before the death march to the desert, the architects of the genocide silenced the artists, and then came the starvation.
Shahe Mankerian is the Principal & Middle School English Teacher of St. Gregory A. & M. Hovsepian School in Pasadena, CA.