What Black Children Taught Me…

When I graduated from San Diego State University, with my teaching credential, I was offered a job teaching Art at Lincoln High School, in San Diego, California.

I was 28 years of age, and a Veteran, having spent my time in Germany, at the time Germany was given back complete governance of itself, in 1956, I believe it was. So, I was a bit more experienced than many first year teachers, perhaps?

In the course of my own education, I had, with others, opened two Art Galleries, one is Northern California, and one is downtown San Diego. My point is that I was a bit of an artist, and a bit of an entrepreneur.  And the reason I mention this will be obvious a bit later.

I had done one of my student teaching assignments at La Jolla High School, in La Jolla, California… which was an upper income area, and the students were both highly motivated and educated.  And they had highly educated parents. I mention this because it was easy to teach art to these students, since they were quite familiar with art in their lives.

In contrast to this, the students of Lincoln High School came from an area of lower income parents, and the area was known by the children to have gangs that wandered the streets continually… since the members of these gangs.. did not work, were not very educated, and were generally hostile, angry, and tended to perceive themselves as “victims” of society in general, and “the white man” in particular.

So, into this invisible atmosphere of hate, rage, and fear… which permeated the neighborhood… and crept into the school itself, I came all excited to teach Art.

Now, I don’t know how much the reader knows about Art, but Art is unique in education, in that the sum and substance of Art is WITHIN the “psyche” of a person, and not something one can ‘think’ about, or accomplish by thinking.  In other words, Art  is part of the emotional [Spiritual] structure of a person.  And, to the degree a person is closed to his emotions [such as children who are constantly in a state of fear, regarding their very lives] , the thought of, or interest in, or need for Art is, at best… a distant desire of such children.

I learned this first hand in the first few days of my classes.  So, I began to teach each class as I had Intuitively discovered in my student teaching… That is, most children have had their natural Creativity “beaten” out of them by adults making fun of their early attempts to express themselves in drawings.  So to “force” the students to get back a portion of their early skills, I gave the students large pieces of paper, bowls of water-based black paint, and small ‘2 inch wide’ paint brushes.

The point of this… is that it is virtually impossible to be careful, good, right, or make a mistake… when one is told to draw a vase,  set up on a table in the front of the classroom, using his/her 2 inch paint brush… and a time limit of a minute.

Each time I said:  “OK, Draw”!  And each time more of the children would try, since there was no time for any of them to check out how well or badly anyone else was doing… And when the floor was filling up with pieces of paper, I told the class to gather up the paper and throw it in the trash.  I would  then pass out more paper and we would do more drawing, each time I changed the object being “drawn”.

This exercise subtly did two things:  1. It clearly demonstrated that I didn’t care what the drawings looked like. 2. It was obvious that one wanted to appear as stupid if one did not engage in the activity.

It also accomplished a third, crucial thing… which was to get rid of the idea that Art is something that “others might do, but not oneself”.  I pointedly expressed the fact that Art is the DOING of the drawing, NOT WHAT THE DRAWING LOOKS LIKE.

During the course of the semester, several students were [obvious to me], very talented, and a couple were even gifted artists.  I also noted with curiosity that their Art work remained in the room, and none of the students took it with them. Read this last sentence again.  Why would some really nice works of Art not be taken home?

I finally asked one male student, who was quite bright generally…:  “Tom, why do you not take your work home?”

And Tom said:  “If I were to take my Art work home, I would be accosted on the street, and my work would be destroyed, and I would be beaten”.

I did my best to hear what he said, and not react outwardly, but inwardly… I was sad, shocked, and felt a huge anger within myself.

So, I decided to arrange the first annual Lincoln High School Art Show.  And the entire community was invited to attend.  It was a grand success, and I made sure parents went home with the Art work of their children.

I will never forget what I learned about evil… and how certain people are so filled with self-hatred, that they simply must project their pain upon others, in the form of anger and abuse… as they make-up any excuse they can for doing what their MINDs drive them to do.  It is not brutality these pitiful people need, it is an opportunity to touch the Love of God hidden deep within themselves;  this is what they desperately need.

Peace,  Brother James


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