It's gotten to the point where I dread seeing the news. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks and police brutality have filled this summer, all set against the backdrop of the most polarized, hate filled presidential campaign in memory. It's senseless and it makes me question the collective humanity of the world. But even more, it makes me want to take action.
As teachers, I believe that we have the opportunity to help shape the lives we have the gift of being part of.
We can teach tolerance and respect, both with the way we treat our students and how we expect them to interact with each other. This involves talking to students and getting to know them as unique individuals and setting expectations for the classroom environment. When you hear students using racist, sexist or homophobic language, address it by naming what happened and offering an alternative behavior. For example: "Tom, when you call something you don't like "gay" it sounds like you are saying that being gay is bad. Could you please pick a different word to use?"
We can teach about diversity with the examples we use. The time where it's acceptable to mainly include white artists in your classroom is long since over. Make it a point to include a diverse group of artists in work you show students - not just during Black History Month, but all year long. You can easily find contemporary artists to highlight through resources like thisiscollossal or hifructose.
We can teach kids to respect the opinions of others by opening our classrooms to the investigation of social and political issues. Your students know about what's going on in the world and they need a place to discuss it. I do this in projects like Artists Take a Stand and Artists Communicate, where students choose issues that are important to them to make art about. I've never had any issues with these projects because I teach the expectation that people and ideas are respected in my classroom. When kids fall short I address it. As work is planned and created, ask kids what they want to say and help them find imagery that communicates their idea and meets your expectations for content.
Providing a place for students to process the issues of our world and talk through ideas respectfully teaches them to be tolerant of one another. We need more tolerance, discussion and respect in our world, so include teaching them in your classroom. What would happen if we did?
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.