Should School Murals That Depict an Ugly History Be Removed?

Imagine you attended George Washington High School in San Francisco, the place the partitions are adorned with 13 murals, painted through the Great Depression, that depict the lifetime of George Washington. Some of those murals present an unsightly facet of historical past: slaves, hunched over, toiling in fields, and a useless Native American mendacity close to Washington’s toes.

Do you suppose these murals ought to stay in your college? Does their historic worth — they have been painted within the mid-1930s for the Works Progress Administration — imply that they need to keep? Or does the truth that some members of the neighborhood discover the work to be offensive, dehumanizing and inappropriate for a highschool take priority?

One of probably the most controversial murals depicts a useless Native American.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

Before studying on, look intently at a few of the murals. What is your preliminary response to them? What do you discover? What do you surprise?

When the frescoes have been painted, critics praised Arnautoff’s work. By the late 1960s, his artwork aroused anger.CreditJim Wilson/The New York Times

In “These High School Murals Depict an Ugly History. Should They Go?” Carol Pogash writes:

In one of many murals, George Washington factors westward over the useless physique of a Native American. Another depicts Washington’s slaves, hunched over, working within the fields of Mount Vernon. These photos aren’t in a museum exhibition however on the partitions of a public highschool.

In this famously left-of-center metropolis, liberals are battling liberals over these Depression-era frescoes which have offended some teams.

In the controversy over the 13 murals that make up “The Life of Washington,” at George Washington High School, one facet, which incorporates artwork historians and faculty alumni, sees an immersive historical past lesson; the opposite, which incorporates many African-Americans and Native Americans, sees a hostile atmosphere.

Sometime this spring, the varsity board will decide about the way forward for the large frescoes that reach from the varsity’s entryway by way of its foyer, confronting college students as they climb the steps to their lecture rooms.

The works have been created within the mid-1930s by Victor Arnautoff, a social realist, for the Works Progress Administration, an company created beneath Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal that supplied public works jobs for the unemployed through the Great Depression.

Arnautoff, who was born in Russia and taught at Stanford, was a Communist who embedded messages crucial of the founding father in his murals. He depicted Washington, precisely, at a time when that was not often acknowledged, as a slave proprietor and the chief of the nation that annihilated Native Americans. There are not any cherry bushes.

But to Amy Anderson, a member of the Ahkaamaymowin band of Métis who has been a catalyst within the marketing campaign to take away the murals, they signify “American historical past from the colonizers’ perspective.”

Around the nation lately, individuals have been questioning historic representations in public artwork. Confederate statues and monuments have been dismantled. And in September, San Francisco metropolis employees eliminated a statue symbolizing the Catholic Church’s mission-era subjugation of Native Americans. But the Washington High frescoes current a unique challenge. What they symbolize is open to interpretation. Some see a subversive message about Washington’s failings; others see his glorification.

Students, learn your entire article, then inform us:

— What do you suggest that the varsity do concerning the murals? Should they be eliminated? Explain your reasoning.

— The article mentions that Victor Arnautoff, the social realist painter who created the murals, supposed for his work to be crucial of Washington by together with then-rarely-acknowledged particulars like Washington being a slave proprietor. Does this have an effect on what you consider the murals? What about their being a product of the Works Progress Administration which employed artists through the Great Depression?

— The author contends that the murals are completely different from the Confederate statues and monuments which were dismantled lately as a result of what the murals symbolize is open to interpretation. To what extent, if in any respect, do you agree? Does your reply have an effect on what you suppose the varsity ought to do concerning the murals?

— How a lot does it matter that these murals are in a highschool, the place college students from completely different backgrounds come to get an training? Would you’re feeling in another way about them in the event that they have been in a authorities workplace constructing, hospital or courthouse?

Students 13 and older are invited to remark. All feedback are moderated by the Learning Network employees, however please needless to say as soon as your remark is accepted, it will likely be made public.

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