Above are pictures of one of my three 8th grade classes here at Westminster. After we finished these abstract pastel drawings, we moved on to our self-portraiture unit.
We connected the “Drawing the Line” project to our self-portraiture unit. Members of our faculty and staff came to our classroom to tell us personal stories about embracing differences. The students listened intently to each visitor’s story, took notes, and then captured his or her image in a three-step process of continuous line drawing. Students then made artwork that combined the text and message of the story with the storyteller’s image. As the students processed the stories, they considered what seemed to stick in their minds as the main message of each one. They thought carefully about the issues that were presented to them as well as the storyteller’s observations and emotions. It became important to convey the message well and to honor the storyteller in the process. Vital considerations for going about this included choosing powerful words directly from the stories, placing the words in a meaningful relationship with the storyteller’s image, and using mediums and techniques that best suited the message the artist was hoping to convey.
At Oglethorpe, there will be pieces on display about two different storytellers:
Dave McMahan (“Discovery Dave”) who is a leader at our school with Discovery, an outdoor experiential program. He told the students about being 16 years old and listening to a friend on his basketball team make judgments about their African American teammates. Initially, Dave tried to stand up for the students, but his friend told him to stop being so “gay”–so sensitive to others’ feelings. Dave never said anything further to his friend. He regrets not doing more to defend those who weren’t present to defend themselves, and allowing another person’s form of challenging his manhood stop him from taking further action. He hopes that by telling his story to young people that they will be inspired to do the right thing, and that he can redeem himself.
Marjorie Mitchell is the Director of Admissions at The Westminster Schools and a teacher of junior high economics. Her story came out of an experience she had as an eighth grader, the same grade level as the students working on this project. She shared about the day in Spanish class when someone she considered to be a friend told her to “sit in the back where your people belong.” Her typical spot was in the front of the room, but that day, she moved to the back. Soon thereafter, she returned to the front of the classroom. She knew that, for her learning style, she needed to sit there. This experience made her think about how she was going to manage the messages that came to her from other people about who she should be. She decided that she controlled her own destiny, and she continues to sit front and center in any learning setting. Mrs. Mitchell told the students to “be sweet to each other,” because something that you say to someone else can stick with them for a lifetime. We can’t always stop the messages that come to us from others, but we can decide what to do in response to them.