Mayville School Board questioned about ‘protest art’ and how appropriate at Middle School Art Fair

34
374
Full photo not shown due to mature content. Clicking directly on photo will show full image. All images © 2015-2018 Washington County Insider

WARNING: Mature content.

June 20, 2018 – Mayville, WI –  A piece of “protest art” by an 11th grader in the Mayville School District drew some harsh comments about what sort of education is being taught in the public schools in the small community of just over 4,900 in Dodge County.

Parents and taxpayers questioned the graphic nature of the piece that was part of a K-12 Art Fair held this past May at Mayville Middle School.

Lifelong Mayville resident Tom Jacquot was first to address the school board.

“I was told a student presented a picture of President Trump with words containing “PUSSY,” “PIECE OF ASS,” and “TREAT ‘EM LIKE SHIT” “PRETTY picture YOU DROPPING TO YOUR KNEES” written in big red letters on the piece. Donald Trump’s picture had a big red clown nose on it. So apparently it’s okay to use that kind of language now in the school district … that is … if it fits their narrative I guess!

I need to ask what the answers were to the younger students when they asked what the words really meant?

I’d like to know who in their right mind would think this was a fitting thing to do by presenting it! Schools are for teaching children and learning to be good citizens while respecting boundaries and acceptable behavior and norms. Tell me what is good about this?

School Board member Joe Hohmann passed out copies of the ‘protest art’ drawing prior to speaking to the board.  He mentioned how the student had First Amendment rights but was the Middle School Art Fair an appropriate venue for the piece.

After the art fair in May calls were placed to School Board President John Westphal and District Superintendent Scott Sabol. Neither returned calls or offered a comment.

On Wednesday night, Westphal responded to parent concerns saying “we will make sure there will be some consequences for this.”

Westphal said he “did not see the art.”

Board member Norber Dornfeldt said kids see this sort of stuff on television. Dornfeldt acknowledged the piece was in the Middle School but said he didn’t see it.

When two children from the Mayville Middle School came home and asked their parent about some of the words in the picture the parent said she tried to get a hold of teachers and administrators. Below is an email response from Mayville High School art teacher Sarah Heideman sent to a parent on May 23, 2018.

The school district’s Ted Hazelberg, also sent an email response to the parent on May 21, 2018.

From: Sarah Heideman <[email protected]>
Date: Wed, May 23, 2018, 7:36 AM
Subject: Re: protest art – Invitation to view
Cc:, Scott Sabol <[email protected]>, Bob Clark <[email protected]>, Ted Hazelberg <[email protected] >, John Schlender <[email protected] >, Jessica Stortz <[email protected]>

My student’s assignment was to create a talking conversation through a piece of artwork about something that they felt strongly about. The fact that a discussion is happening is a positive outcome, as well as, a learning opportunity. In the process, I apologise for not thinking about the placement and content for a younger viewer, since the show is over, I cannot fix it this year, but can promise in the future that these things will be addressed and learned from.
Thank you for raising the questions,
Sarah Heideman

From: Ted Hazelberg [mailto:[email protected] k12.wi.us]
Sent: Monday, May 21, 2018 8:00 PM
Cc: Scott Sabol; Sarah Heideman; Bob Clark; John Schlender; Jessica Stortz
Subject: Fwd: protest art – Invitation to view

Good Evening,
I copied your message that you sent to me through ClassDojo down below. I included others in this response as well.
I understand your concern about a certain piece of art that was displayed at the Middle School Art Show this past weekend. I have no control over what pieces of art are being displayed. I do know that there was a sign near this piece of art that talked about protesting. Please see slides 8 and 9 in Mrs. Heideman’s slide presentation in Google Slides.
If you feel the need to talk with someone who was in charge of the show, please contact Sarah Heideman, High School Art teacher. I have already talked to Sarah about your concern. She can answer any of your questions/concerns regarding this situation.

Respectfully,
Ted Hazelberg

 

Board member Joe Hohmann said he thinks this is a big part of the First Amendment but it was inappropriate for the art show because Mayville is a family-oriented school district.  “Every parent should be questioning what are we teaching our students but they should know that hopefully from this point going forward no conduct like this will end up happening in the future,” he said.

 

On June 14, 2018 the principal from Mayville Middle School, John Schlender sent a letter to parents in the Mayville School District. A parent forwarded that letter, which she received on Wednesday, June 20, 2018. The final entry notes Schlender is leaving for a new position as Educational Consultant with CESA 6 in Oshkosh. Board president Westphal said Schlender did not leave because of the ‘protest art’ incident but because he was offered another job.

 

Below are the full comments from life-long Mayville resident Tom Jacquot.

I was told a student presented a picture of President Trump with words containing “PUSSY”, “PIECE OF ASS”, and “TREAT ‘EM LIKE SHIT” “PRETTY picture YOU DROPPING TO YOUR KNEES” written in big red letters on the piece. Donald Trump’s picture had a big red clown nose on it. So apparently it’s okay to use that kind of language now in the school district … that is … if it fits their narrative I guess!

I need to ask what the answers were to the younger students when they asked what the words really meant?

I’d like to know who in their right mind would think this was a fitting thing to do by presenting it! Schools are for teaching children and learning to be good citizens while respecting boundaries and acceptable behavior and norms. Tell me what is good about this? And we wonder why children think nothing of harming one another if this is what is being taught or promoted! And the artwork was not just promoted or taught…it was held up as the crowning jewel… It won! I wish I really knew how and who voted to make it the winning entry. And then it was sent on to the Art Contest at UW-WC as representative of what is the best Mayville School District can offer??? Really?

The picture won so why isn’t it prominently shown here at the Administration District office along with all of the others? It was on the School District Facebook page last week but suddenly it was removed yesterday. Could you tell me why?

A caveat. If the student was trying to show that Sexual and other types of harassment are wrong, they certainly succeeded but was there any notation to that effect on the picture by the student. None that I could tell from what I could see after having the picture forwarded to me.

Would the art teacher have felt it okay if it was a picture of herself, a fellow student, the Principal, the Administrator?

Some of the Mayville School District following policies that I will list discuss Sexual and Other forms of Harassment and each one was blatantly disregarded and willfully broken by the student and then condoned by the Art? Teacher when the student’s artwork? If you can even call it that; was presented here at Mayville and at UW – WC.

5720
5517
5516
5600

0145

IMHO The teacher has proven to be untrustworthy and shown to be incapable of following the rules and policies of the school district! By condoning this picture.

I want to know why no other teachers or member of the Administration (look directly at Scott Sabel) didn’t have enough guts to pull this picture knowing it violated multiple school district policies which I have previously listed. I can’t believe not one of the teachers pulled it out!!!  Are they ALL that morally inept? In my mind they are just as complicit as the Art??? Teacher in condoning this. Or was it because this is not really original artwork.

I hope that because the Art??? Teacher willfully broke not one but several District policies by condoning this disgusting piece that she will be immediately dismissed for just cause and not simply given a slap on the wrist and told oh, you should have known better.

I’d like to finish with this thought.

“Do you honestly believe it is ok to degrade women by making these types of comments, so then “why is it ok to have that picture presented as part of the artwork representing Mayville School District at its best.”

 

34 COMMENTS

  1. The offensive words are direct quotes from President Trump. The disrespect is on his part. The young artist is reacting to his offensive words and behavior. I know I never thought I would see an American president acting in such a foul and demeaning manner. The fact that so much of it is directed against women, including his (Trump’s) own wife and daughter is incredible. These words and behaviors do not deserve our respect. Trump cheapens the presidency and this young woman has a right to speak about it through her art. Critics are blaming the messenger and ignoring the message.

    • If it was wrong for Mr.Trump to say these things, then it is wrong for the student to post them blatently, especially in the presence of young children. Why would this person want to perpetuate this bad behavior?

    • This “artwork” was a POLITICAL statement. A vulgar one at that. The ignorance of many of the comments here reflect some people’s willingness to put aside the fact this was on public display for children to see. That is the main point! This vulgarity was open to kids k-12. Condoning this for any reason (political) spotlights your ignorance. Express yourself but don’t do it at the expense of appropriateness. #noshame

  2. Everything in the art piece is true. Our dispicable president said, believes, and did it all, so what’s wrong with pointing it out? People should be ashamed of voting for him and not of a truthful art piece.

    • Robert, keep your political views to yourself. Maybe some of us should tell you the same thing about voting for a crook like Hillary. You should be ashamed for supporting this woman. Unfortunately you liberals need more safe spaces and crying rooms because most of you are getting totally out of control. Shame on all of you!!

      • Tim, the depth of your irony is fantastic. The art piece is a political one. You say “keep your political views to yourself” and then you immediately state your own.

        “Unfortunately you liberals need more safe spaces”. Again, the incredible irony. This whole discussion is about people saying they need a safe space away from provocative art. Looking at the piece more in depth, it’s the current president’s words and ideas (not the art) that people are saying have no place at an art show in a “family community” like Mayville. People are upset with the president’s vulgarity on the art. Yet the blame goes to the artist and the art teacher.

        In that regard, the art is very successful, right?

        Finally, if the artist had made an illustration of Hillary with a clown nose and surrounded her by her own vulgar quotes, I would be just as impressed by the artist. It is protest art. I’m proud that my high school is nurturing expression through art.

        • George, first off I am far from ever being a liberal as you state. If you would read and comprehend what I wrote you would have understood that. Also you stated about the art itself. Once again if you would read and comprehend what I said I never made one mention to this whole art thing. By the way now that you brought it up my guess is if someone had drawn a picture of the past President wearing a clown costume or anything else to offend you liberals the first words that would of come out of your mouths would have been racism.

          • At what point did I state you were a liberal? You seem pretty far from it. I said that it’s ironic for you to say that liberals need “safe spaces” away from being offended, yet the outrage discussed here is how people say an art show needs to be a safe space without provocative art.

            By the way, I’m not a liberal.

            I would be equally impressed if the artist two years ago made an art piece framing President Obama with drone strikes on civilians. It’s a statement of protest art. No one has to agree with it. That’s why it’s art.

  3. The reaction of the school board is laughable and the lack of good English writing in their response is also a worry about how stupid and simple minded people on a school board can be. What a travesty that people who cannot write a simple sentence run our schools. These same people most likely love Trump and his presidency but completely lack the moral character to sum up the President and his message that this young student made so clear in his art work. Considering this President is known well for his remarks in the art work (kids are watching TV etc), why are we so worried that the truth will somehow be revealed to our children. Compliments to the children who are so well aware of what this President says, and can express their concern so well.

    • I must apologize for misunderstanding Mr. Jaquot”s comments as written or that he may have been a board member. Let’s not forget that our children are often smarter and better informed about a subject than we are. Let’s listen to their truth however it is expressed, or difficult it may be to listen. Encourage their expression, do not stifle it.

  4. The above comments interest me . I wonder where you all would draw the line as to what is acceptable art from a child?
    Would quoting their parents or adult friends with their pictures altered to look like a clown be all right?
    Every Adult that I know including myself and, many that I don’t personally know but, have been around in public places have said things around kids especially around high school children that were wrong/mean/inappropriate/ etc.
    I know I would not want to be mocked in such a way {Kinda seems like Bullying now that I think about it} and defiantly not by a child under the guise of art in a public school system that I pay taxes for!
    I wonder if you that approve of this so called art would feel the same way if it had been a picture of President Clinton sitting at his desk holding Hillary’s hand whom is standing by him and, the back of Monica’s head poking up from under the desk. Have that pic surrounded by His recent quotes on all the sexual harrasment cases out there and Hillarys quotes on women rights?

  5. How totally hateful! Wondering of this school encourages bullying too? Wondering if this picture and wording were don about the principal would IT have be displayed? How about if a hateful picture of Mr Obama had been done.. would it also have been displayed? I would be totally ashmaed to say I was from Mayville. Are we teaching our children to hate? instead of teaching them there is a proper venue and a proper way to voice your opinions without being ugly about it? IF teachers are allowed to overlook this…. then I would say they are teaching hate is allowed IF they agree with it. Socialism at its best folks.. and your kids are the price you will pay.

  6. After reading the comments I would have to say I’m surprised by the number of Democrats in Mayville. I can only assume that the republicans were busy working.

    • Years ago there was the first Comic Relief fundraiser. The hosts were Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg. Out of the blue Whoopi went on a nasty foul mouthed rant against George HW Bush and expected the audience to give her a standing ovation. It was eerily quiet, instead. The idiot was trying to raise money for charity and insulting half the people giving. What a fool!!

  7. Yes, a clown nose on someone’s picture is lightly mocking. There has been art like this before, with the person’s quotations around their image. An image of Bill Clinton with a clown nose and his quotes denying his consensual affair has likely been done. It’s provoking, not shocking.

    Shocking is how some people don’t see the difference between these quotes and bad things most people accidentally say.

  8. I do not condone President Trump’s disrespectful comments that led up to the creation of this “artwork” nor do I condone the display of it in a school setting. The president has no excuses but either do those in authority who approved its display.

    Does this rise to a fireable offense? I think that should be tied directly to the level of contriteness displayed by Sarah Heideman. Frankly, the explanation expressed in her email do not impress me.

    I think the student who produced this “art” could have used some adult guidance on what is and is not appropriate in this regard. Sounds like there’s a shortage in adult guidance in the Mayville school district… at least in the art department.

    And the fact that this art piece one and was moved up the ladder to UW-WC is pretty disappointing too. Does anyone suppose there may be some political biased in those who voted for this “winner.” Nah! Can’t be.

  9. Are you serious about this! All those comments were made before he was elected! This isn’t about past comments, this is about the liberal agenda the entire public school system has been engaged in since 1963!!! Everyone needs to get their kids out of public education now and enroll them in private schools or home school and turn this country in a better direction!!!

  10. Instances like this are the reason we homeschooled our children for most of their education. Patents need to wake up and realize this is not an isolated instance of blatant disrespect for families and decency. The agendas of many in public education is real. There are other options for educating our kids, whether private schools, choice, private charter or homeschool. The innocence of our children is too important to trust to the government.

  11. A lot of people really need to work on their grammar. Hopefully the Democratic commentary, AKA booger eaters, are not by- products of the Mayville School District. Au revoir you cheese eating surrender monkeys.

  12. Looking at this situation as a whole:

    1) Vulgar and despicable ideas framed in crude language were put out in the open to the public at a community art exhibit.

    2) People who saw this inexcusable language were triggered and provoked by its vulgarity and inappropriateness.

    3) People realized that this language is not the voice of the artist, but rather direct quotes of the current President of the United States in regards to how he views women.

    I call this a successful piece of art.

  13. As a former Mayville art student (and college art minor), I see a piece that did exactly what was assigned. We are all talking about this piece, therefore it did what it was supposed to do. One comment said the student should have written ” notation to that effect on the picture….” Art shouldn’t have to have to have a spoon fed explanation attached. It’s supposed to make you think, to evoke feeling (both positive or negative). I agree that there maybe should have been a warning sign that artwork in that area contained graphic content, but I don’t think it should have been taken down or left out of the show just because of its genre. Kids are exposed to this content from all angles, tv, radio, print, social media, etc. Sarah was one of my favorite teachers. She knows and understands her students. She is very involved which is more than many people can say. She has decades of experience. She has apologized for offending anyone (which is so easy to do these days.) Teachers are fleeing the field because they are being criticized for every small move they make (I speak from experience as a former teacher). Embrace them, their job is NOT easy.

  14. I wonder if this work is for sale? I really like the use of Warhol color schemes and themes…and by a MIDDLE SCHOOL kid! It is too bad the that the comments of our elected official are not k-12 art show worthy, but I am just blown away by this kid’s presentation. I would hope the family has this professionally framed and hung proudly. It is very comforting to know that there is a 12 or 13 year old in our midst putting in a lot of thought about political matters and calling out adults who behave in such ways.

    • I thought the same but looked closer and saw that it was an 11th grader, which makes more sense. The art show was held at the middle school.

      Still, I agree. This isn’t close to being at the level of being hung in a modern art museum, but the kid is headed in the right direction with their instinct for composition and presentation.

  15. I have an honest question for those that posted in approval of this so called piece of art.
    A few have posted that it is considered art because of certain criteria.
    Such as
    It’s supposed to make you think, to evoke feeling (both positive or negative)
    And
    1) Vulgar and despicable ideas framed in crude language were put out in the open to the public at a community art exhibit.

    2) People who saw this inexcusable language were triggered and provoked by its vulgarity and inappropriateness.

    3) People realized that this language is not the voice of the artist, but rather direct quotes of the current President of the United States in regards to how he views women.
    I call this a successful piece of art.

    So here is my question?
    Had the student done this art in a way to show approval for the things the President said would it still be a good and acceptable piece of art?
    It would fit all your criteria.

    • The issue as to whether a student should be allowed to create, and display a work with an overtly political, or in this instance “profane” subject matter, seems to me an entirely separate issue from the question of whether or not this school district should allow such works with profane subject matter to be appropriate, and for what specific age groups.

      The school board is conflating two separate issues (perhaps three; if we consider what the ominous question of “where our taxdollars really go” might mean). One is a question of “what is Art” and the other; (as far as I can see) is regarding the parental propriety of children in the public school system, accepted standards regarding the child’s development, and most specifically: what subject matter is appropriate for specific age groups.

      Trump, “liberals”, “Socialism”, claims of “bullying” (–President Trump, seriously? Bulling President Trump? This comment was an absolutely perfect oxymoron)– are entirely irrelevant to an issue that might otherwise be debated with focus and civility.

      I will say this: These are high schoolers, young adults, citizens preparing to navigate the world.
      Lumping in young adults with a developed sense of cognizance, and moral self-awareness; with kidnergartners (!?!) (most of whom could scarcely read what was written on the piece anyway), seems absolutely absurd. These are separate age groups, and what is appropriate for, or encouraged in each, is obviously different. If the issue is the art show itself, perhaps this was an oversight, easy enough to remedy with grade-separate art shows in the future, or perhaps even areas with more “mature content”. Even by middle school, history is taught in much of it’s heart-wrenching, sometimes gruesome, and often morally despicable detail. History largely contains the morally abject, the profane, the difficult to stomach. No one would begrudge student’s these lessons in developing a comprehensive grasp of the world. Students are taught about Vietnam, the horrors of the World Wars, Colonialism, The American Revolution, Slavery, The Rise of The Third Reich, they are showed films depicting these grisly battles to keep them engaged with the issues at play. Whether or not they are appropriate, or profane, does not take precedent over their being factual, or necessary tools towards discussion and understanding.

      Here is the key point regarding Education: depicting something, as it is seen, or even perceived, in the larger world, is not de facto endorsing it. Art must be treated no different.

      Art is not just about recreation. Art is not just about craft. It not just an expressing feelings. It is also about ideas themselves.
      Teaching students to engage with current and political issues, to have responses to it, on any side of the isle politically, is absolutely crucial to young adults’, and all adults’ development. Students should be encouraged to debate, weigh, and consider whatever viewpoints are relevant. And this was a work, like it or not, that shows absolute relevance. Whether or not you like this piece of art as “Art”–or you disliked the depiction of the President, is beside the point. It is the news.

      What is also relevant is that political art is a part of history. It is a part of the world. Political cartoonists and satirist, Conservative, Libertarian, Radical, even Colonialist, from Hogarth, to Thomas Nast, to Grosz, to Ramirez, have greatly contributed to cultural and political dialogues, as well as our understanding of history itself. Cartoons of Roosevelt, Taft, Johnson, Nixon, Clinton and Obama have all been less than flattering depictions, in a few historical cases, affecting political policy itself. I have seen very powerful art that critiques and mocks Obama’s foreign policy decisions. I’ve seen art that mocks JFK ruthlessly, much in the manner of this student’s piece. Our leaders should be critiqued. And I’m sorry, but it absolutely does matter that the offending content comes from the President in this case. This glaring fact is the point of the whole piece obviously. The quesiton:Would this still be “Art” if it was celebrating President Trump’s profane comments instead? You don’t look at a painting of a bird and say “what would you think of that, if it was a painting of a barn instead?” It is not a painting of a barn. And this is not a piece of art made just to celebrate profane language, it is condemning it, while asking us to consider it’s source. And this student’s piece is not pornography. Maybe it is not good art, to you or some others. But that is beside the point: The fact that the President of The United States is standing in front of such offensive language, with a clown nose, is obviously the entire point of it. There’s no room to answer a hypothetical here, other than to say “yes”; all leaders should be allowed to be critiqued, parodied, or mocked. The absurd logic of several earlier comments could lead us to ask if painting a nude should be allowed as a subject for a painting, because it could be construed as being of an overtly sexual nature. The point is: art is made of the facts of life. Whatever they are. It is not always decoration, nor should it always be encouraged to be.

      School should not just be a place to shovel off children to their jobs. It should be a place to learn and grow, and even have room to make mistakes. Perhaps it should also be to prepare them to learn AND THINK about the world itself. The whole world, not just our little corner of it. Perhaps even the repugnant parts of it. What is this cult of imaginary innocence that lumps in high schoolers with kindergarteners? Don’t we see the news? This language deemed inappropriate, is on the news. It is current events. Are we supposed to tell these students the news is off limits to them? That they can’t discuss what it contains? That they can’t express and enter a dialogue with it? Have a strong opinion about it? Why must we continually insist on infantilizing young adults?

      Political art, it’s history and prevalence, is part of a rounded education, like social studies, and history. It can be shown and seen from all sides. This includes a tradition of satire aimed at liberal orthodoxies, of course. Students should have the right to create it, and art departments should have the right to allow it’s inclusion in discussions and evaluations, without the threat of their already miniscule budgets being cut further. Doing that would be infantilizing your kids. Keeping them away from the world. Try respecting them, and their ability to decide what is relevant or not to them, what is worth thinking about or not, maybe try talking to them and debating with them if you disagree. But let them learn to think independently too, let them learn to be adults with some dignity. It’s more than the adults seem good at these days.

      To those who would easily lump together the separate issues I outlined, with all due respect: I hope the irony that this student’s art piece is more offensive to you, than the fact that your taxdollars are also paying for the very President who supplied their profane subject, is not entirely lost on you.

  16. Mr. Jacquot,
    I must ask you why the parent(s) of the elementary student was unable to attend the board meeting and speak out publicly for the sake of his/her own child?
    How very noble of you to stand in the gap.
    How very sad that the parent(s) were unable to present their concern to the board themselves. The parents would then have been the government in action, an example to their children how the process takes place.
    Connie Schulist

  17. Well Zack you wrote a whole lot of words but did not answer my question.
    Also if you had read and understood what I wrote you would know that I do not disapprove of calling this art I just don’t think it’s appropriate in our schools.
    You see I don’t care if some kid takes your picture alters it so you look like a clown then quote some of the stupid things you have said in the past and, displays it at an art show and, on the internet. I just don’t want them doing it at school.
    What I feel the kids should be taught is a whole different conversation and, not relevant to this discussion.

    • Andy, I apologize for lumping in your very questions, and clear argument, with some of the other commentators above, who seem to suggest that there is a “liberal agenda” infiltrating the public school system, or that perhaps “liberal socialist indoctrination” is akin to this instance: treating high schoolers like the young adults they are, and letting them express THEIR OWN political persuasions and/or social critiques (without any mandate by the instructor), and to be allowed to do so without fear of reprimand, or of suffering budget cuts (in reference to some of the school boards’ veiled threats) to the very thing that they love most in life, that for many young people finding their way in life, gives it concrete meaning: Art and expression.
      Denying this would be more than unfair: it would be unconstitutional. These are important life skills that I can tell by your incisive questions you obviously value, Andy: expression, debate, and critique. But many of the comments above all offer fast and loose ways, and entirely politically motivated responses (mostly insults) of painting a nuanced argument in black and white terms. I hope you can agree that there is nuance to this issue, and I respect your opinion. One may laugh, and assume that my politics are not nuanced, and say “liberal bleeding heart”–but I assure you, giving young adults a safe neutral space to express their frustrations, or social critiques, can save a human being’s life. It can give it meaning. Take pause before you challenge that, no matter your political persuasion. Your points are well taken.

      I want to thank you for considering this student’s work “art” by any workable standard in the 21st century. I think I wrote quite enough in my comment above (see reply to Andy above) regarding how there should be little nuance to this: Whether this art is good or bad is beyond any governing body to decide. That you object to what you deem its obscene content in this particular work is clear enough, and if it was not in the context of current events, and sociological reality, would indeed be offensive. And I will address that further below. But an even CLEARER answer to your first question:
      “Had the student done this art in a way to show approval for the things the President said would this still be considered a good and acceptable piece of art?”

      Yes. Theoretically, it could. Just as depictions of nudity are not always about sexuality. But again we are talking about reality and a specific context: this art is a critique of this kind of language, as presented by a personage currently in power. Your child (or hypothetical child; I prefer the term young adult, or high schooler, but to each their own) should be allowed to use phrases such as “Crooked Hillary” if it is in the context of an artwork, or even to write “UFOs Built The Pyramids” if they want to–even “naughty words”–as long as it fulfills the prerequisites set forward by the instructor, and in this case one that spurs discussion, or offers critique; and that the statements are pertinent to the context. The context in education, I would hope we agree, is a shared reality; news, history, science. These are real quotes utilized in this piece, and YES that matters to the meaning (and context) of the art at hand. That is what it is about. That is the point of it.

      See, Andy, in a question like this, the context matters. Art is appraised and evaluated based on context. Not just craft, as some commentators have suggested, and not just on a knee-jerk desire to offend either; much like depicting violence for it’s own sake is often inappropriate, unless the student’s education is being hindered by avoiding it. As in most history classes, as in studies of The Revolution, The Slave Trade, WWI, WW2, the Holocaust, etc…

      Again: Like I said earlier, we are not talking about someone using obscene content for it’s own offensive sake. We are discussing a student’s artwork that is EXPLICITLY about the President. Yes, that is different from scribbling dirty words on the bathroom wall. “Would it be wrong then?” That depends on the context of the artwork itself, and the instructor’s prompts and guidelines. But in this case, the hypothetical art piece could indeed include Bill Clinton’s incriminating statements to a grand jury, or Colin Powell’s lying statements to the UN—and (most importantly) whether or not they contained naughty words, would be irrelevant to the context. The context is that this is how the President of the United States spoke about women. And we know the student feels this is uncivil because it includes a “clownish” depiction of the President. This could not possibly be more literal. This is a work of art about ethics, and social discourse. Pretending that this aspect doesn’t matter, and dirty words are dirty words, no matter what the context, is treating this piece not as art, but as decoration, as inconvenient, or a childish indulgence. No matter how ugly, unfair, or inappropriate you think it is, it IS current events, and that should change how we evaluate it, yes.

      Again: (see earlier reply) Depicting something of educational pertinence, or as a matter of current events, is not the same as “endorsing” or “celebrating” it. Educational contexts should reserve the right to repeat what a world leader has said repeatedly said, no matter the opinions, or moral ambiguity surrounding it. Because education is not about your or any family’s own sense of morality, it is about FACTS from the world. And these quotes were FACTS. All student’s should have access to them. Facts should never be off limits in an educational environment. Even if they are part of personal political expression, or social protest art.

      How many political cartoons did we see in major and minor publications depicting President Obama as “Obama the King”, or to go to the 90’s, the derth of satire regarding President Clinton’s infidelities.
      These are “adult topics” but they are also world topics, and are part of what makes up adult political and ideological discourse. Why would you hide high-schoolers from this, or prohibit them from discussing it? It is, again, a valuable life skill, to learn to debate, respond to, and discuss the subjects raised by such art. Whether or not one finds their subject as “mature” or not.

      Your second question: (in response to my assertion that we should give students the space to critique or even mock leaders, or figures of authority) “Would this include parents, or school principals?”
      The short answer is: yes again. How would you suggest stopping it? Isn’t it more productive to allow expression that may be personal, even sometimes distasteful, to enter into an art classroom than other arenas of life? Just because something insults someone does not mean it has distinctive merit, I would categorically agree. Art that is simply making fun of peers, administrators, ect…is not what we are talking about.
      But again: the president of the united states is not the same as a parent, or an administrator, or a peer. Pretending otherwise is disingenuous for the sake of a partisan argument. Presidents come and go, but family is a personal matter. Mocking peers or fellow students is a personal matter, which serves no educational purpose whatsoever. Elected officials should be proper context for possibly even harsh critique, because this kind of critique is a cornerstone of democracy. (as I will get to below)
      Critiquing the president, celebrities, athletes, all these enter the realm of PUBLIC DISCOURSE, and should be encouraged as an arena to debate, disagree, and even parody.

      My simplest argument is this: punishing students, or a beloved teacher, for giving students the space (NOT giving the subject matter, or political viewpoint, JUST the place) to express freely their own views, is an educational benefit. Not a hinderance. It is an asset.

      The First Amendment, as invoked by one board member, should give anyone pause. This is not “hate speech” as legally deemed. This is not foul language just for the sake of foul language, as defined by the general interpretation of the First Amendment that: “There is no general exception for profanity under the First Amendment unless the profanity qualifies as ‘fighting words.’ Fighting words are defined as words that by their very nature incite an immediate breach of the peace.” The artwork in question is undeniably critique.

      Board member John Schlender himself commented that this issue is on face value about “The First Amendment”. This should indeed extend to students in public schools.

      To my point: from an abstract concerning The First Amendment on the web: On Censorship and the First Amendment in Public Schools:
      “Advocates for censorship often target materials that discuss sexuality, religion, race and ethnicity–whether directly or indirectly. For example, some people object to the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution in science classes because it conflicts with their own religious views. Others think schools are wrong to allow discussion about sexual orientation in sex education or family life classes, and others would eliminate The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the English curriculum because of racist language.

      Most pressures for censorship come from parents who disapprove of language or ideas that differ from their personal values, but demands can emerge from anywhere across the religious, ideological, and political spectrum. The range of “controversial” topics appears limitless: religion, science, history, contemporary and classical literature, art, gender, sexuality, “one-worldism,” health, multiculturalism, and so on. Many demands appear motivated by anxiety about changing social conditions and traditions– from feminism to the removal of prayer from schools, or the emergence of the gay rights movement.

      Censorship demands require educators to balance First Amendment obligations against other concerns: maintaining the integrity of the educational program, meeting state education requirements, respecting the judgments of professional staff, and addressing deeply-held beliefs in students and the community. Educators are on the strongest ground if they are mindful of two fundamental principles derived from the Supreme Court’s First Amendment decisions:

      1) Educators enjoy wide latitude in exercising their professional judgment and fulfilling their educational mission if their decisions are based on sound educational and pedagogical principles and serve to enhance students’ ability to learn;

      2) The decisions most vulnerable to legal challenge are those motivated by hostility to an unpopular, controversial, or disfavored idea, or by the desire to conform to a particular ideological, political, or religious viewpoint.

      Pursuant to these principles, lower courts generally defer to the professional judgment of educators. This sometimes means that courts will uphold a decision to remove a book or discipline a teacher if it appears to serve legitimate educational objectives, including administrative efficiency. However, administrators and educators who reject demands for censorship are on equally strong or stronger grounds; most professional educational organizations strongly promote free expression and academic freedom. Access to a wide range of views and the opportunity to discuss and dissent are essential to education and serve schools’ legitimate goals to prepare students for adulthood and participation in the democratic process.”

      Now, the separate issue from the legal standpoint, is whether or not the community’s standards are compatible with what should be this constitutional guarantee of rights of expression. K-5 was apparently included in an artshow including these works, (which again: I refer you to my previous detailed response), and whether or not certain age groups’ work might be deemed accomplished, but not suitable for ALL age groups, is a legitimate, but entirely SEPARATE issue. And one well worth debating. Different age groups CAN and SHOULD handle different levels of subject matter, would you agree?
      Whether or not the particular art instructor is encouraging art that is specifically partisan, is again a separate issue. But let me issue a warning for this kind of easy politicizing: this instructor is beloved by students of various backgrounds, and she has never been accused, nor has she (in this long-ago ex-student’s experience) pushed ANY political persuasion. She simply gave the space to express, within reasonable limits. That this work was included in an art show with K-5 seems to be the real issue, and one that can be debated, and corrected with a possibly easy solution. This is what the taxpayers’ money should be going to solve. Not whether or not a young adult can make a piece of art commenting on what I would assume you agree, is vulgar and offensive language. Art has an educational context for young adults should reserve that right.

      And, in my own opinion, the fact that a sitting President referred to immigration applicants as coming from “sh*thole countries” while in office, is just one small example (of many) that re-enforces how this individual is constantly engaged in profane language and sentiments. These aren’t off-the-cuff remarks. This is how this person conducts themselves, within the institution you revere. Deny it if you want, but don’t deny high schoolers the right to speak on the same terms the “adults” do. It will be their world soon too. Give them the room to be wrong if you disagree, make this issue about keeping high schooler’s art separate from K-5 if that seems reasonable, but don’t make it about 16, 17, and 18 years old, those almost old enough to die for their country, not being able to critique a leader who happens to have a very irreverent, and admittedly offensive manner of discourse.
      Perhaps rebuttals and responses to this particular piece could also be made: not just the “Clinton is unethical too!!” kind of responses. But, perhaps, how would an artist express what other commentators have expressed above: that many politicians often have less than squeeky-clean histories? It should be reasonable to express this…But that is for the students to find out for themselves: if you will give them the room to be clever, (or even misinformed sometimes) and think for themselves. I am hoping you can agree that (perhaps) this piece of art should have been displayed away from fist or second graders, but this does NOT mean that it doesn’t have the right to be appreciated, displayed in some academic context, or made at all. Let’s try to keep our issues separate, and maybe we can all be more productive.
      Thank you for taking my responses seriously, and the sincerest best to you and your family.

  18. One more question Zack?
    You said and I quote
    “There’s no room to answer a hypothetical here, other than to say “yes”; all leaders should be allowed to be critiqued, parodied, or mocked. ”
    Does this include all leaders in the child’s life like Teacher’s Principle’s and,Parents? or Just the President of the United States?

  19. Also: Andy, I thought what was appropriate for a high school age student to make for a class, was the point of this discussion, at least part of it. That is what I am writing about. Is there art for “grownups” to you? As opposed and separate to art for “children” (high school aged children)? Both of my responses have been exactly about this: why school is exactly the appropriate place for critique not of anybody, but the President, and topics pertinent to current events, yes. I hope I am entirely clear at what I feel is at stake in this issue, what the law says is at stake in issues like this, and why this kind of discussion is appropriate for educational purposes.
    And I hope I am again clear as to how this artwork being allowed, or presented, in an educational context, is not the same as encouraging, or endorsing “obscene” material for it’s own sake.

  20. Zack
    I do agree with most of what you said there are a few small points I disagree with but , other than that I say you did a great job of making your point.
    One thing I would still argue is that it is not appropriate for a “young adult” as you prefer to call them to disrespect anyone that is their peer.
    I believe that these “kids” As I like to call them have not yet earned the right to publicly [disrespect, mock,criticize or, critique] any adult.
    Just because it is art does not make it right.
    Until A person is in the workforce working, supporting themselves, and paying taxes do I feel anyone has the right to criticize the people that pay they way for them to live a life of freedom in this country.

Leave a Reply