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i (and my students) am/are well aware of the psychedelic properties of the
psilocybe family of fungi and of the dangers of ingesting/experimenting
with any unknown substance. we read personal testimonies of native
americans who used mushrooms as part of ceremonial rituals and described
side effects of projectile vomiting as well as the chemical capabilities of
some types of mushrooms to destroy blood cells, a condition from which
there is no recovery and almost certain death.
i personally do not use illegal substances or advocate their use,
especially by children!
only a small group of mushrooms are "magic", or used for their
hallucinogenic properties - the rest are edible (portabellos are one of my
fave pizza toppings, and you haven't lived 'till you've had a grilled
portabello and cheese sandwich), or poisonous, or not poisonous but not
worth eating, but really interesting to look at and draw/paint/sculpt.
before we started our project, we discussed the symbolism of the mushrooms.
actually, the pre-project homework assignment was to write down what a
mushroom could represent. the kids came up with food, poison, drugs,
nature, recycling, mystery, peacefullness, fantasy, fairies and elves,
mushroom clouds, war, umbrellas, houses... we talked about how the mushroom
was such a powerful and versatile visual symbol (one of the reasons i like
it so much for a project theme!). one of my kids shared that he had talked
over the assignment with his dad who said the mushroom represented wisdom
in medieval times and also discussed with him the 60's aspect of the
mushroom. i really don't feel like the project has inspired anyone to go
out into the woods and find some shrooms and munch on them in hope of a
good trip, more likely the opposite, by educating us about the very real
dangers (we marveled at how a very poisonous mushroom looks so much like
the tasty morel).
on a more personal note, i sometimes wonder about our society's "drug"
philosophy. yes, i have asked my kids not to make pipes when we work with
clay. i tell them about my asthma, which is really a pain, and how its so
hard for me to understand how someone with good, healthy lungs would want
to trash them. when they draw pot leaves, i ask if that would be ok to
show their mom/dad. sometimes they draw pot leaves, i think, just to see
what i will do. it's can be funny to watch your teacher get all worked up.
i don't, over this. we tell kids to "just say no" to drugs, while we (lots
of us) sip our coffee and their parents feed them ritalin... and lots of us
wouldn't be here without drugs! (think antibiotics, anaesthesia,
chemotherapy....). so i really don't buy into the simplistic, false sound
bite of "just say no". education, information, discussion, attention, and
thought, to me, are much better approaches, although more time consuming,
complex, and demanding of personal involvement and possibly some soul
searching from us. our society tends to over do things - drug abuse,
everyone agrees, is bad, and in our society its a big problem. other
cultures have used substances we declare illegal for special, ritual,
spiritual purposes long before our society was even a though and for them,
drug abuse is not a problem. does this mean we're right and they're wrong
and are all going to hell? hmm...
some of the responses i read made me feel like not only should i not
consider mushrooms for an art topic but also never to allow the
representation of grapes, potatos, cactus, rope, poppy flowers, wheat...for
fear that might encourage becoming a wino, or getting drunk on vodka or
tequila or high on pot or heroin or beer...how far should we go? i
personally don't want any fan mail from jesse helms!
i would like to think one of the gazillion roles we assume as art teachers
is that by providing our students with facts and emotional support and
personal example and historical documentation and all the things we look at
and think about and talk about in art class that they will be able to make
good choices about not only what media to choose for their project but
about how to live their lives. hey - if we don't, who will? certainly not
the MATH teachers!!!! ;D
Art Teacher, Kanapaha Middle School, Gainesville, FL
Doctoral Student, Art Education, Florida State University