I try to do something different with my classes on Fridays, at least every other Friday. I tend to keep my students very busy and on task the entire week - so once or twice a month I like to have a related reading, or looking at and talking about artwork that relates to what we're doing.
Today we looked at artwork from the United Nations, especially the fabulous multi-cultural mosaic by Norman Rockwell. I LOVE this mosaic (and the painting) - and I still remember seeing the mural when I was in 6th grade and our class visited the UN. Other students were busy talking to world representatives, asking questions about countries and war and poverty and civil rights and the whole resolution process. I walked around in a daze, lingering at each mural or sculpture or painting, looking and looking and always being the last in line because I had to be urged along by my teacher. And this mosaic - just, wow!
My first two classes were as impressed as I was, as I still am, looking at this picture. (And most recognized it as one of the posters currently on our classroom bulletin board.) We looked, we talked, we marveled over the tiny tiles and the contouring of the features, the details. We talked about realism as an art style. We talked about the various murals at the UN, promoting peace - with a little sidebar on what exactly the United Nations is, how it functions, what it does.
We also tried to identify where the people in the Rockwell mural are from, what region of the world, how we know. And I pointed out the two Jewish people, which turned into a discussion of how Jewish people are NOT all in Israel, how there are different groups of Jewish observance, how you can tell they're Jewish, and the similarities and differences between Judaism and Christianity. And women head coverings in various cultures, such as Muslim women, or the Indian (East Indian) girl in the picture. Which was not at all where I wanted the conversation to go, but so much of art was sponsored by religious groups and churches, the conversation often ends up centering on religious beliefs. (Imagine teaching about Michelangelo and NOT discussing religious tradition. The picture portrays the story - you just have to go there sometimes.)
At these times, I wish my principal was visiting the class. Or any of the people who keep prayer - THEIR prayer - alive in school. I wish they could see the students trying to understand different points of view, trying to understand that someone could think anything different from what they think. This is a VITAL concept for kids to learn - and some of the adults at our school need to learn it too. They need to understand that there's a difference between teaching comparative religion, and promoting one particular religion. Why one is in keeping with our Constitution, and why one violates it. And how to talk about religion - or color - or any issue - in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way.
Because after looking at Norman Rockwell's "Do Unto Others" piece, of course we looked at his famous paintings about integrated neighborhoods, and de-segregating schools, the little girl walking to school accompanied by US Marshalls, the new African American neighbors moving in and the white kids looking at them. (And both classes immediately saw that the white family had a black dog, and the black family had a white cat, and there was this subtle visual integration already going on. I LOVE art kids!)
Anyhow - it was one of those great lessons that teaches more than the subject at hand. And I just wish the principal - and the assistant principals - could have been there.