Picture this: School mural could be teaching moment

The School Board is reacting more like bureaucrats or politicians than educators.

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Brian Jackson/Sun-Times

As elsewhere in the country, murals painted on school walls during a bygone era are today facing social criticism by the students themselves.

Alas, our Chicago Public School Board chieftains, who began as educators, have lost their teaching instincts. They seem to be reacting more like bureaucrats or politicians.

The latest evidence: knee-jerk reactions over what to do with school murals from when white supremacy reigned, and non-whites were depicted as subservient to them. First impulse: Eradicate them to placate today’s diverse student bodies who understandably protest seeing themselves in an inferior light in the murals.

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The alternative: See it as a teaching opportunity: Leave the murals intact, but add signage (a plaque?) clearly stating truthfully that “These mural(s) painted around (date) are evidence of how artists at the time depicted white centrality and dominance, ostensibly demeaning the true constructive role all inhabitants played in our nation’s development.” Thus they would be a marker of how far our society has progressed, and remind viewers that our democracy is a work in progress, striving to fulfill the promise of “All are created equal.” 

It would own up to historic white self-aggrandizement at the expense of the dignity of others, which is at the core of the protests, and help explain the persistence of racialized thinking exemplified by the artwork. The plaque could also refer viewers to the school librarians for a list of texts telling a more balanced version of events. (The libraries possess such books, don’t they?)

The murals then would become become a confession of guilt, the first step in reconciliation, as was carried out in the Union of South Africa when apartheid was ended.

Ted Z. Manuel, Hyde Park 

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