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Yikes, I remember a similar discussion a while back when the subject of
totem poles came up.
I feel very strongly that if you're going to teach a craft copped
directly from another culture, you should be as true to the craft as
possible: _carve_ the totem pole, if not out of wood, then another
material. What do we teach students when we use toilet paper tubes to
make "kachina dolls" or cardboard to make shields? If carving wood or
stretching leather is too expensive or inappropriate for a particular age
group, then show the slides/posters/artifacts, discuss them, write about
them...but change topics if you need a hands-on project appropriate to
your class's budget and skills.
I advocate a more _multi_cultural approach: how have a variety of
cultures from different periods of human existence constructed and used
masks (or religious effigies? or pottery? or armaments?) How do we use
masks in America? If you were to make a mask for yourself, what would it
be used for, and what materials would you use? This is the point where
students can use their own personal symbols to create something more
meaningful than a mere replication of an "African" mask, or "Indian"
parfleche (which brings up another favorite gripe of mine: there are
some 700 cultural and linguistic groups in Africa. _Which_ groups' masks
are you replicating? Ditto which Indian tribe's "wigwam" are you
I'm sure the intent behind many of these "cultural" activities is
sincere, but I wish people would think a little more about what they're
trying to teach.