I think you are sincere in trying to make this unit meaningful for the students _and_
accomodate the classroom teacher. This sort of request puts you between a rock and a
hard place, doesn't it? Your idea to have the students use the format of the totem pole
with their own symbols is a really good one.
My biggest beef with projects of this type is the use of materials which have no
relation to the original (i.e., ice cream buckets or paper sacks). When I talk with
teachers in my community college art ed class (HS is my day job), I urge them to use
materials as close to the original as possible. I think it gives the students a more
realistic view of the process, as well as appreciation for the difficulty of making
them. If the material is not appropriate for a certain grade level, then an alternative
project should be found. After all, does the classroom teacher really want the students
to think that a totem pole or Kachina is made of toilet paper tubes?
I really enjoyed your extensive background information on totem poles; however, I have
to disagree with you somewhat. You wrote: "To a certain extent, I believe that we
non-natives from another time and another place are ill-equipped to discuss the
"symbolism" of these monumental carvings."
As a teacher on a reservation, I teach art history one semester each year, and yes, it's
mostly European. Of course, there is much symbolism in Medieval and Renaissance art,
and my students enjoy the unit on iconography we do along with those chapters in our
text. We also do a long assignment where they create their own coats of arms, using
images that are meaningful to them, but in standard heraldic formats. This is usually
the project that wakes up the most bored ones and gets them all excited. They put a lot
of care and thought into these-- especially since I tell them these will be their family
crests for hundreds of years ;)
So obviously, I think we _can_ , and indeed, have a mandate to teach about things that
are outside our students' experiences and backgrounds. And I think Mark has shown to be
particularly sensitive to this particular project.
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