Monthly Mentor

Natalie C. Jones (February)
Each month, a different member is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Natalie C. Jones is an artist, small business owner, and the director of education at the Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture. She has 10 years of experience working as an art teacher and teaching artist throughout the east coast and the Midwest. Click "GO" to read her full bio.

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« Why Should You Make Social Justice a Part of Your Art Curriculum? | Main | The Power of Student Voice »

June 03, 2020

Do Politics Have a Place in the Art Room?

By Krissy Ponden

Is it possible to remain politically neutral when teaching? I’ve recently seen many comments by educators asserting that they “don’t let politics enter into their classrooms.” While this seems logical on the surface, there is one key flaw that is literally unspoken: silence is not apolitical, it is a means of upholding the status quo. Additionally, by not allowing conversations about current events and issues that directly affect our students, we are essentially saying that their experiences (and by extension, the students) are not as important as our predetermined curriculum.

There have been days when my eighth graders have walked into my classroom and I can just see on their faces and in their body language that something is weighing heavily on them. In these moments I have put aside my lesson plans and just offered them a space to reflect. We have had conversations about all sorts of topics that might be considered “political,” however while I moderate the discussion and correct misinformation, I neither tell them what I think or what they should think. Students engage with one another and offer thoughtful commentary, counterpoints, and personal insight. They know more about what’s going on than we assume.

My school had just ended for the year right when the protests began and the only thing on anyone’s mind was the name George Floyd. I know for a fact that had we met in person or online, it would have been the first thing that came up. 

Floyd-1A mural in Minneapolis by Xena Goldman, Cadex Herrera, Greta McLain, Niko Alexander, and Pablo Hernandez

Art then becomes a natural extension of these conversations. This morning I received an email with the image below from a 7th grade student who wrote, “I know school is over and we don’t have any more assignments, but I made this drawing.” I want my students to be able to create personally meaningful pieces that they feel gives them a platform with which to engage in our national dialogue. Our students need to know that it is not only ok for them to think about and discuss current events, political issues, and divisive topics, but that it is necessary for them to practice being active participants in our democracy. Art can be a powerful way to reflect, mourn, and make sense of the world, and we should encourage our students to not remain silent, especially in the face of injustice.

I cant breathe

-KP

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