This discussion is really important and I think more needs to be said. I
am losing a fifth grader who is one of the best artists in school to a
gang and I have gone through all the emotions and words and efforts to try
and bring him back by using his art as a lever.
I said before that I found something missing and I still feel that in the
discussion. It's one thing to remove graffiti and to set limits, rules and
standards of conduct. I see that as our responsibility as adults guiding
young people who are still developmentally growing. At the same time, I
find some of the posts to be polarized against the use of the symbols
because of tagging, missing a wonderful learning opportunity to try and
transform both the meaning of the symbol employed and its relevance to its
I myself "ban" smiley faces and corner suns with sunglasses because of
their overuse. I challenge students to look beyond the cliche and
represent what the symbol stands for some other way. If a gang member
identifies with the yin yang symbol then my approach would be to have the
student in their art show what aspects of the symbol they identify with.
Query how the student can represent aspects of themselves some other way.
Get them to look at what the symbol represents; how it's been used
culturally; what it means personally and to draw that without using the
symbol , if in fact it is banned from class.
I want to make the distinction between erasing an image because it is in
an inappropriate place or it is used inappropriately and discounting those
who use it or who have identified with it.
We only polarize the behavior and the impetus when we ban these things
without QUERY, DISCUSSION, CHALLENGE, and most of all, confrontration with
those souls who have identified themselves with something that we may not
We may find gang behavior distasteful and abhorrent but it has a
legitimacy as an expression of disenfranchisement. It exists because of
cultural and social issues we have not faced in our society.
We cannot make it go away by erasing its symbols. But we neglect our role
as educators if all we do is erase and ban images without trying to delve
into their more significant meansings and aspects. We have an opportunity
to reach out to those kids who use the symbols and help them make real
linkages between the meaning of the symbols and their lives beyond
tagging. After all, each of is "tagging" everyday - my car, my home, my
wallet, my purse, my money, my space....Tagging is a part of repitilian
brain behavior and let's be honest folks - all of us have repitilian parts
to our brains.
I believe in the power of the arts to transform the individual. I think of
the Living Stage Theatre company in D.C. that goes into the inner city
with Shakespeare and teaches gang members how to act by using the material
from their lives. They don't say, oh these kids are gang members and I
won't work with them because they are inappropriate. We're not going to
let you do props because you use or wear gang symbols...
They use ALL of that as the material of the arts and we need to find a way
to bring their material into the content of our art classes.
On Tue, 3 Jun 1997, Stenger - Judith DiSalvo wrote:
> Fred, Bob, and other friends,
> I suspect that we agree on more than we disagree--maybe our
> differences are mostly semantic. Perhaps we teach differing age groups,
> and thus have differing points of focus. Somehow, when we re worried
> children still being alive tomorrow, it doesn't make a lot of sense to
> countenance pictures or symbols reflecting violence and drugs. I'm not
> accusing anyone of having said that's ok, I'm just saying that adults have
> the responsibility to set the limits--kids' job is to try to stretch them.
> We have to recognize that adolescents will always need something to
> struggle against. We must draw the parameters.
> On Mon, 2 Jun 1997 EVasso wrote:
> > Bob,
> > Thank you for your response:
> > <<Perhaps democracy was not the best choice of words for the natural outcome
> > of effective human relations which your decribed when you said, "learning is
> > about teachers and students constructing and reconstructing knowledge
> > together." This is a given and speaks of basic respect for each other in
> > the learning process.. You speak of a process which can be found distributed
> > through the gamet of learning environments. It has little to do with
> > democracy.>>
> > I don't agree. I do not believe that the notion of an (art) curriculum which
> > arises from students and teachers constructing and reconstructing knowledge
> > together is either "natural" or "can be found distributed..."
> > You yourself described a different kind of classroom: "..but please don't
> > suggest," you said, "that the quality of art instruction and
> > the educational expectations that I have for each of my students should be
> > eroded or compromised..."
> > I compromise over educational expectations all the time. I make compromises
> > with administration, with students who come from abusive homes, students who
> > struggle with concepts or skills, with parents who make unfair demands or who
> > aren't demanding enough, who are too protective of their kids or not
> > protective enough. I make compromises over where I was planning to take the
> > class,conceptually, because a child came up with something else, maybe a
> > place more interesting to them, or to me. I negotiate, give a little, demand
> > a little, work, push, retreat and sometimes advance. And, dictionary
> > definitions not withstanding, that is a part of democracy. Teacher as
> > gatekeeper is not.
> > And with henry's story in mind, I'll just keep on chewing on this bone. I
> > ain't pissin' on it.
> > -Fred
> > Chicago