A lesson in "art"

When I was younger, there was a movement in my school to expose the students to their German-American cultural heritage. We had speakers come in and explain the local culture; we were also taught how to make folk art and sing songs in the local dialect.

I think my generation was one of the last few to experience these things because, if I remember correctly, around that time, the multicultural education began...

One of the first people to integrate multiculturalism into the school curriculum was a gay elementary school art teacher who loved abstract art and art from Africa; he had been recognized by the state for being an excellent teacher. I remember feeling honored to be a student of such a highly-regarded man and he was somewhat friendly. At the same time, however, I was a bit confused as to why the state thought his teaching methods were so great, especially when I couldn’t think of a single student who felt more enthusiastic about his art class than any other art class in the years which followed.

Of course, I realize now that the state probably wasn't rewarding this man for his "excellent teaching". Today, I am convinced that the state had made an example of this man so the other teachers would follow his lead and also begin to promote the "right" things in the classroom. Moreover, because of the special recognition the teacher had received, we the students were convinced that the projects he gave us, which involved “great African art”, were highly inspired; so began a battle for our young minds, because my instincts told me that the art was simple and unappealing.

I wasn't alone in my views.

I remember lying on the cool floor of an empty school hallway, stretched out over a large, brown roll of art paper. Along with two other friends, I was working on one of the teacher's art projects. The assignment was to trace outselves and then paint in the outline based on some photos we had seen of figures dressed in African garb. I remember hearing some student grumble that the project looked "really stupid". Somebody laughed and then I remember just this overall feeling that the "great African art" we were working with wasn't that great after all. I remember my one friend sabotaging our project a little, and then the teacher appeared and we were all reprimanded. In this manor, we learned the “correct” opinions to have about cultures different from our own.