Social justice is a difficult subject. I discussed it with my Art 1 students, even though I was a bit terrified, because the subject came up during class. We were planning for the final project of our Artists Steal unit, where I asked them to pick a subject, identify important themes from it and use those ideas as the starting point for a self-directed art adventure.
In preparation we did a group planning activity where students were to identify different subjects and brainstorm things that they associate with them. It was all going so well until one group picked "prejudice" as a subject then proceeded to brainstorm terms they associated with it - which were basically a list of ethnic and cultural groups - and I didn't handle it as well as I could have. Because I kind of froze. Sigh.
I rallied and showed them the work of two artists the next day - Kehinde Wiley, who's work (in my opinion) transcends racism and these images of microagressions. I had students respond to the work by writing down an opinion or a connection and they all found something deep or meaningful or personal about it.
I was proud and I thought it would end there but two of my girls decided to abandon their current projects and create this collection of photos:
They did a few things I find amazing. First, they took a hard subject and made successful artwork out of it. They also took an idea from art they were inspired by and changed it to apply to them and their community, plus got people to participate. One of the things I love about incorporating a high level of choice in projects is the room it gives students - sometimes they do such big things with it.
I'm an high school art teacher who's really interested in student choice and creating opportunities for self expression. I'm also a writer for The Art of Education and co-author of The Open Art Room.