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I am the only art eddie I know, so far anyway, who is a former gang member.
(This was the 1960s version--"West Side Story" minus the singing.) I well
remember the home and school environments that led me to become what then
was called a juvenile delinquent. In school we had the nerds, the preppies,
the jocks, and my group . . . the hoods. Later, when I taught gang students
as a public school art teacher, I understood them better than they
understood themselves. I did well with them because I knew what they were
going to do before they did.
My most important point is that our gang students are not the enemy--the
enemy is their hopelessness. The demographic group from which most art
teachers seem to come--academically successful, middle class, white
women--produces few who have firsthand knowledge of gang culture. We art
teachers celebrate multicultural art education; yet at times we fail to
understand a culture within our own, perhaps because it threatens ours.
Often gang members are kids who have looked out the window and accurately
perceived a world stacked against them. Many dislike themselves, and their
home and school experiences affirm this dislike: "You're right to hate
yourself; you're a gangsta so you're trash." Their gangs DISaffirm this
self-dislike. Many do not have a home life that fills the deep-seated human
need for family. To a 14-year-old, a gang may partly fill this need.
I'm not so sure "stamping out" gang colors, clothing, handsigns, and
graffiti is the answer. None of the four is of itself harmful. In fact, I
notice that two of them have to do with art. Stamping out belittling,
rejection, judgment, and hopelessness sounds like a better tack.
Art teachers sometimes can do a great deal. Art played a major role in
turning me around.
Dennis E. Fehr, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Art Education
Texas Tech University
PO Box 54081
Lubbock TX 79409.4081