Artistic expression in school needs context

info@islandpacket.comApril 2, 2013 

After a constituent raised concern about a painting in Robert Smalls Middle School that stated "You can't have capitalism without racism!," I contacted school district officials for an explanation. My goal wasn't censorship or to discourage discussions of the view expressed, but to ensure such an incendiary statement was presented in a learning context rather than as an implied acceptance of the view. To her credit, the principal agreed the painting wasn't presented with sufficient context and recognized that students could mistakenly assume the school endorsed the idea expressed.

Let me be clear: I believe art should challenge prejudice, even by putting it boldly in the face of the viewer and forcing a reaction. Artists often make us uncomfortable, and while that's a healthy experience for adults, it should be more carefully managed for children. My oldest daughter is an artist, and my wife and I sent her to the S.C. Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities knowing she would be provoked and tested in order to fully develop her talent.

It's one thing to allow students to explore even explosive ideas in the right learning environment. It's quite another for students to be confronted with the idea that our nation's economic system is racist without any discussion or context. Children's art could contain prejudices even beyond their own understanding that it's offensive; for example, would the school display a student painting stating that "Islam equals terrorism"? Surely not.

Education should teach children to explore and challenge prejudice, not indulge or encourage it.

State Sen. Tom Davis

Beaufort

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