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Museum-Quality Work

January 24, 2020
By Adam Tilove

If you write a paper for an audience of one, you might slack off a bit after a while. After all, what difference does a single letter or a little dash make? But what if you are writing to your class? Then, you might take the work a little more seriously. Who wants to be embarrassed in front of your classmates if you could just put a little more effort into it and be seen as a top student! How much more effort would you put into the paper if you know your work is going to be shown in public - to be seen by hundreds, if not thousands, of students?

Our fourth graders have been on an incredible learning expedition for the past few months. When their English curriculum introduced them to Brown vs. Board of education, their minds were blown at the thought of racial inequality. They could have just turned the page and moved on to the next topic in the curriculum. Instead, Mr. McClure, our 4th grade General Studies teacher, used their interest and passion to drive their learning.

The class started with Brown vs the Board of Education, to learning about 6 other cases of segregation (did you know there were 6 cases? Ask a fourth grader!!) They continued to learn about gerrymandering and voter registration laws, deepening their own understanding of how our own country manages to legally empower and disenfranchise different populations.

Then our 4th graders explored an artist's work to learn how that artist incorporated symbolism to subtly comment on racial inequality. Students wrote analyses of the artwork to explore their own reflections on race and inequality. After critique and reflection (personal and peer) they re-wrote their pieces. Then they did it again. Why?

Because our 4th grade students' analysis of the art piece will become the new, temporary exhibit at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Topeka. Our students learned history, ethics, reading, and writing in this project. Perhaps most important, they learned they are capable of creating museum-quality work: Work that will affect other people - of all ages - who come to learn at this historic site. Our students learn that really, doing beautiful work isn’t about getting a letter or a symbol correct; it is about doing work that that can change the world.