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Banksy and the American History Classroom: student-led curriculum creation

Banksy and the American History Classroom: student-led curriculum creation

Written by David Baroody
October 30, 2013


Every week, my students partake in the Weekly News Quiz posted by the NY Times Learning Network blog. This past week, one of the questions presented information about the British street artist Banksy, who during the month of October has taken part in a “residency” in the city of New York.

My students were immediately interested in the amount of press that a graffiti artist would attract, given the apparent fringe element of such “art.” Knowing something (though admittedly not much) about this artist and the polemic nature of his work, as well as his frequent pairing of historical art images with pop culture ones, I vetted a handful of images and presented them to the students.

Upon presenting these images, my students immediately confronted me with questions: “Is this considered Art with a capital ‘A’?”, “Does he have permission to ‘tag’ property?”, and “What happens if the owner of the building decides to sell the artwork?” I relied heavily upon these student questions in crafting essential questions with which to analyze this recent work.

I, personally, am interested in the use of art to affect social change, a topic that is already woven into the subtext of my classroom curriculum. I collected a number of Banksy’s recent works on a bulletin board outside my classroom to actively present this information to my students, and to passively present it to the school community at large.

Given that I am trying to weave this current event into a study of the past (also, theoretically, why I have my students complete the Weekly News Quiz in the first place, so that they can see the themes we study still impacting events today), I am most interested in the morality of having to break the law in order to affect social change, something the founders of this country did, even if they did not rely upon street art in the same way Banksy does today.

Admittedly, I don’t have a concrete plan as to where to go next with this focus of study. That is part of the liberating (and terrifying) aspect of allowing student interests to inform curricular creation. I am thinking about creating a wall next to this hallway bulletin board to elicit student responses, not just from my classes, but from other middle schoolers, as well. Beyond that, I don’t really know what will come next. However, I look forward to seeing what, if anything, my students make of this ongoing event in NYC. There is certainly plenty ofopinionated fodder out there.

I look forward to hearing the discussion.

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