Dear Students

The Fine Print

Click image to read the fine print

Today I engaged my sixth graders in a lesson on graffiti art. And while I was silently sweating over how many phone calls I might receive from irate parents, my students were discussing the meaning of art, what makes someone an artist, the purpose of street art, and the importance of pushing boundaries. And I think it’s fair to say, they had a great time.

When it was time to create their own graffiti inspired art, hands across the room shot up with questions. “Can I do this?” “Can I include this?” “But what if I…?” “Well, how about…?”

Is there anything as frustrating as having to censor your students? To hear ideas flowing, eager voices filled with excitement, and then to have to tell them that, um, no, they can’t include that in their art work. Or that. Or that. You know, lest it offend someone. It must be elementary school appropriate!

I know I’m not alone here. How do you deal with the artist/teacher conflict when it comes to what is “appropriate for school”?


9 thoughts on “The Fine Print

  1. School appropriateness can be a real challenge to creativity, that’s for sure. All I’ve ever really told the kids is that I love their enthusiasm, and that it’s great that they’re excited about an idea. But if it’s not school appropriate, they just need to work on that particular idea on their own time, and try to come up with something else for their in-class project. I don’t really know what else we can do other than try to inspire them to keep generating ideas and being creative inside the classroom, and outside of it as well.


  2. I usually tell them “it’s not MY rule! It’s the school’s rule! SORRY”
    Most of the time I just find myself explaining over and over “school appropriate is anything that will not get either of us in trouble” and that pretty much answers any of the what if questions!


  3. I think it’s a good opportunity to discuss how and why some art may offend others or be inappropriate and what the risks would be. As an adult, you could be legally responsible for the effects it may have, but as a minor the school has to censor any possible offending works. When I did a class on grafitti I was more worried the parents would think I was encouraging them to create grafitti somewhere. Actually a parent shared it was very interesting to her child and they enjoyed talking and viewing grafitti art together!


    • I included a disclaimer in my graffiti art presentation, that stated I did not endorse nor encourage graffiti art, it’s illegal, don’t do it, blah, blah, blah. The kids were very into the discussion, which was exciting for me.


  4. I explain the difference between graffiti and tagging. My city has wonderful examples of graffiti that are all school appropriate (and even city-sponsored). Everyone follows some sort of rules. At the HS level I would expect my students to respect them.


  5. Caroline Blanks says:

    It is a great lesson for students on “What is right, what is wrong.” Where is it ok to do graffiti? What is wrong with doing it on private property? They instinctively understand what is right and wrong. They know. (and really appreciate the adult content)


  6. Nessie says:

    I have a sign posted on the wall. It is a picture of a gun with the classic red circle and slash over it. Underneath the sign it says no violent/weapon drawing. I had to make this sign my first year teaching elementary art. It is for the boys of course. I have never witnessed an elementary aged girl drawing violent images, but some of the boys, uncensored, tried to take it to extremes that made me very uncomfortable. They know my rule. If anyone starts to break it, I know within a few seconds. I also use the “elementary appropriate” term. They understand this. My tiniest artists can’t read the sign yet (pre-k and k). I explain it to them but they still think it really means “no guns allowed in the art room”. They like the sign. It makes them feel safe.


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