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I faced these issues of censorship and violence in the classroom my
first two years of teaching. I taught in a very gang infested junior high.
Within my first two weeks of teaching at this school there was a drive by
shooting at the high school next door, an illegal weapon found in one of my
students lockers, and I discovered that most of my seventh and eighth graders
were sixteen or older, and in gangs.
I had no idea what I had gotten into, but I had a lot of learning to do,
Our very first project involved decorating individual porfolios made
from folded poster board. I told the students that the outside of their
portfolio was their "free art" space, an area where they could express
themselves. I also told them that their portfolio should reflect who they
are, what they are about, their likes, hobbies, and interests. I was too
ignorant about gangs to realize that the majority of the students would cover
their portfolio with their gang symbols, and the tags for every gang member.
I actually ended up in a very difficult and highly life threatening position
because my principal demanded that I give him all of the portfolios with gang
writing on them. Apparently it was our legal responsibility to hand them
over to the police. These portfolios evidently had very valuable information
on them. I had to tell the students the next day that their portfolios were
confiscated because their was gang writing on them. I near faced a riot
because of it. The students demanded to know where the portfolios were. I
ended up telling them that they were burned. If they knew that they were sent
to the police; I don't know if I would be here today relaying this story to
all of you.
As you can guess, it started off really bumpy, but I learned so much, so
quickly in those two years at that school. I learned all too quickly that I
had to put regulations on the gang symbols in the classroom because it
invited violence, and damaged the safety level of the classroom. Students
were destroying each others artwork, tagging eachothers drawings, and
fighting. I also learned that these students really didn't know what else to
put on their portfolios if they couldn't put their gang symbols on them.
Most of them couldn't even think of an interest or hobby outside of the
gang. Without gang symbols, this lesson became a true self exploration for
these students. They began to think of themselves as individuals, and ask
themselves, "Who am I," "What do I like?" in order to express that on their
Through the course of that first year, I discovered that most of my gang
involved students were outstanding artists. I quickly learned that the art
room was the only place at school that they felt successful, safe, and
happy. Art is such a wonderful tool for self exploration through expression,
and I really feel like I was able to watch something truly miraculous as
these students learned about themselves, and developed a sense of individual
pride and understanding. The whole idea of censoring the children made me
cringe, but when I saw how it pushed them to courageously delve into SELF
exploration, SELF-expression, SELFunderstanding and through it all, SELF
pride; I realized the ultimate importance of this ban.
Thanks for reading my words.