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Lesson Plans

Censorship and V.A.S.E (Vigilante Administrators Sour

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Thu, 22 Apr 1999 01:38:26 -0500

Howdy, Artsednetters,

As usual, I arrived at school one half hour before the first bell of the
morning. After the customary argument between a poorly crafted key and the
art room doorknob, I made my way into the dark space and began to reach for
the light switch. Right then, loudly, I was greeted by a harsh blast from
the intercom. "Mr. Fromme!" came the woman's voice, blaring a callous audio
assault on this sleepy, old, silver bearded high school art teacher.

There was a time, thirty years past, when an abrupt noise, less loud, would
have had all 260 lbs. of me prostrate, looking for enemy bunkers and
thinking my buttons felt like boulders. Fortunately my bladder had been
emptied earlier this morning so the extent of my reflex was limited to one
fluttering airborne explosion of morning, mailbox trivia and the sound of my
satchel hitting my toe on the way to the floor.

There was a pause.

Then it came at me again, pounding down from the box in the ceiling. "Mr.
Fromme!" This second time the blaring voice of the school receptionist was
more piercing then before. The only response I could muster was a quite,
curious "Yes?" Confident that she now had me where she wanted me, her
third audio assault took the form of, " Mr. Fromme, you need to come to the
office to get something right now!"

At our school, boxes like art supples come to the office until we are
notified to pick them up, however we had no supply orders pending this
morning, so I probably should have suspected, then and there, that the day
was about to turn toward the perverse. I suspected nothing. Backing out of
the classroom, I headed out through the morning's gauntlet of young, sleepy
eyed, early arrivers clustering between my room and office.

After entering, I spotted a few packages on the floor and stooped over to
focus on the intended recipients. At that moment, the receptionist, a
middle aged institution at the school, an aggressive woman with the tact of
a three month old, began to direct her verbosity in my direction. Her tone
seemed to have been unusually inflated by some new found authority this
morning. She began, "In light of everything that is going on right now, you
are going to have to remove this from the office."

The statement did not make much sense to "sleepy old me." My little
treasure hunt among the parcels faltered and I turned curiously toward her.
In return, I was offered no direct eye contact with her. Looking off in
another direction, she reaffirmed the previous remarks with, "Because of
what is going on right now, Mr. .... (principal's name)..... said you are to
take it out of the office." Then she followed with, "There have been others
who don't like it either, but don't blame me, I am only giving you his
message. .... the others can stay but you have to take that one." Before I
could question her or explain that I did not understand what she was talking
about, she pointed to a thick piece of cardboard pushed up against the wall
on a shelf holding an old computer and assorted boxes.. She continued with
the order, "Take the thing you had it on, it is over here in the corner."

That was the first useful clue of the morning. There in the corner was one
of the fragile little display easels that I had used Monday morning to
display one of our five, first place medal winners at the Texas V.A.S.E.
competition. With that clue, I realized that the cardboard on the shelf was
the back of one of our matted, winning medal and scholarship electronic
media entries. Someone had taken it out of the display, folded the easel
and turned the large matted print toward the office wall. Yes, this morning
I had stumbled sleepily, right smack dab, into the middle of a school
censorship situation.

The title of this work was "Lake of the Dead." The work had been previously
exhibited without incident at our district art fair and in a traveling
exhibition which moved between intermediate, middle and high schools
throughout our district. In addition to the medal and scholarship at the
Texas, Visual Art Scholastic Event, it had won other awards at the district
level and at the regional competition. Its content included a somber,
chromatically beautiful landscape at lake's edge. The work included a very
rich display of line, shape, texture and color. It also included assorted
skeletons and a couple corpses in diverse poses scaled correctly to the
foreground and middle ground of the picture. The figures and the lake
included a rich demonstration of shadow, liquid reflection and reflected
light. From a formal standpoint, it was a very solid composition. It had
been created in a maze of technology, using several 3D modeling, posing and
image editing applications to produce the final product. It was very
advanced for high school work, especially since it was created by a
freshman. Unfortunately the brooding mood of the image, suggesting some
mysterious gathering activity after death. This was disturbing to the
school principal, probably also agitating to the tactless receptionist and
perhaps to others on the school staff. Yet, prior to the morning, the art
faculty had received nothing but very positive feedback, extensive and
glowing compliments concerning our school's winning art entries on display
in the office.

Certainly educational institutions seldom function democratically and, like
others who have learned to survive the frequently abusive and occasionally
rewarding working environment of public education, I quickly understood that
there would be no recourse. I had to remove the student's work from the
office on the principal's order. This morning, like a tired old dog with
his tail between his legs, I dutifully transported the work and its easel
back to the classroom. The demeanor of this old, easy going, art educator
was well on its way toward a transformation. Anger began to build. One
might say livid, mixed with a sense of helplessness, squashed again, like
one more fat Texas grasshopper, caught by the windshield of the big
lumbering buss called public education. Yes.... and the imbeciles behind
the wheel were again intoxicated already this morning with a sense of their
own power, fearing imagined or slight controversy, spin off of distant,
unrelated but tragic events in Colorado.

The other voice inside my head began the usual string of potential positions
which might support their case for censorship. Yes, the content of the work
included skeletons, corpses and a somber mood. Yes, as individuals, they
had a right to dislike the subject matter. Yes, as school administrators
and as my employer, they had the right to make me remove the art from their

On the other hand, the same area of the office, on any given day, supports
a continuous deluge of awards, trophies and newspaper clippings, ongoing
justification for the thousands upon thousands of dollars spent on
athletics, cheerleaders, marching band, half-time dancers, and related
extracurricular programs which currently consume our so-called high school
learning environment. Like so many other high schools in the United
States, the physical competition and public entertainment by a narrow,
select minority of students has become ingrained in our school and that
culture of sports drives a majority of administrative decisions which
effect all of the rest of our student population, faculty and staff. Every
morning, without fail, the entire student population is subjected to
announcements dominated by the latest exploits of our select student
athletes. Athletics also dominate every TV production and newspaper
publication at our school.

Football season in our school is a nightmare for art faculty and art
students alike. Our normal curricular responsibilities are compounded by
substantial demands from administrators and athletic staff. Within the week
before every varsity game, we are expected to produce a 14' X 40' painted,
sports related mural on paper. On the night of the game the week's labor
is tied between two poles, held up by members of the J.R.O.T.C. and then
athletes have the pleasure of destroying the hours of handiwork by running
through it as they enter the playing field. What a telling symbol of obtuse
public values in this culture. What a powerful statement concerning our
attitudes toward sports, and the military facing down the visual arts and
ecology. Certainly this expensive and powerful sports culture only
reflects the cultural mentality of the majority outside the school but one
can not help but wonder about its effect upon all of the students who can
not, or do not choose to be sucked in by the values of that phenomenon.

This morning the voice inside my head also turned to consider my obligation
as a teacher who must advocate for the Fine Arts and who should support the
student who was being censored. Certainly this freshman had no power to
confront or question the principal's order for the removal of the work.
Nevertheless, with one daughter in college and with next years doubling
financial strain of a second girl about to enter higher education, I decided
that I could not afford the confrontation, especially if I continued to be
driven with substantial anger. I opted to quietly return to the office
and remove all of the state V.A.S.E. winners. In other words, the
exhibition of all student work, all of the winners, ended. It seemed to be
the only fair response to our situation. I remember thinking that I needed
to make some sort of silent protest in the face of this injustice and that
it was not fair to remove one student's representation and let the others

I remember thinking that perhaps the removal of all the work would prompt
some friction between the principal and the receptionist who had been
ordered to have only the one work removed. In the back of my mind there was
the possibility that through such an exchange they might realize the
stupidity of their order. I remember thinking that perhaps my response to
the principal's demand, via the tactless receptionist, might prompt a
person to person exchange concerning censorship between myself and the
principal. I might ask if he intended to order the removal of all of books
from our school library which referenced human anatomy, skeletons, corpses
and death. Why stop with that question, perhaps he intended to raid the
science building and the literature department in order to protect himself
and the district administrators from any controversy which may develop from
the subjection of the student population to literary works, text books and
anatomical teaching aids which may suggest our internal composition and our
own mortality. Having accomplished that, perhaps he could raid the
J.R.O.T.C. building looking for their arsenal of pellet guns, wooden rifles
and lessons on military tactics which may support the justification of
violent and murderous behavior in support of our political leadership.
Well, at this point, my thoughts moved to the unmentionable. I am silent.

Bob Fromme