Education, Racism — January 11, 2016 at 7:12 am

“I didn’t know teaching was a crime” – Teacher suspended for using art to encourage discussion over race and policing


For a recent final exam, Nevada high school teacher Elizabeth Clausen showed her students this provocative painting by artist Michael D’Antuono and asked them to use critical thinking skills to form an opinion about how the art represents American society and our country’s history. A handful of parents were outraged and now Clausen is on temporary leave and may lose her job. Some of her students are quite upset about it:

“The way that everyone is looking at this situation, they don’t know the context of what’s going on and they don’t know that we’re just forming our own opinion, we’re not being told what to think,” said Cameron George, one of Ms. Clausen’s students. […]

“Nobody’s listening to what the juniors have to say,” said Felicia Dukek, another student of Ms. Clausen. “We’re the ones that are in the class everyday, we’re the ones that took that final and then… parents’ opinions are irrelevant…They have nothing to do with it.” […]

She’s a good teacher, she knows how to get us involved and I didn’t know teaching was a crime,” said Dylan Torgerson, a student of Ms. Clausen.

Clausen’s students created the hashtag #FREECLAUSEN in support of their teacher and got it trending on Twitter for a time.

You can read some other student responses in a Daily Kos post by D’Antuono HERE.

This situation is the result of a small number of uninformed, ignorant parents who don’t want their children exposed to any ideas that fly in the face of their particular world view. They don’t want them to use their intellect to analyze the world around them. Rather, they want their kids to grow up ignorant and prejudiced just like they are. It’s ironic that, in this situation, the kids are showing more class, thoughtfulness, and maturity than some of the parents in their community.

D’Antuono, who said he “created this piece to question if our criminal justice system is racist”, has issued a “call to action”:

[T]he call to action is for all you brave high school social studies teachers out there is to stand in solidarity and use my painting, “A Tale Of Two Hoodies” to spark debate and inspire critical though among your juniors and seniors on a very important issue. Short of that, the less brave of heart (or untenured) can write on their social media in support of Ms. Clausen and don’t forget to use the hashtag #FreeClausen.

Class Dismissed.

If you are a high school social studies or social science teacher, consider answering this call to action by encouraging your students to discuss, debate, and write about this provocative art piece. It’s part of a long tradition of using art to encourage dialogue, discussion, and debate about difficult issues in modern society. Artists like Pablo Picasso and Diego Rivera and so many more have been challenging us to examine the world around us using their images. By answering this call to action, you’ll be maintaining a long tradition and doing your part to change the world, one student at a time.

[Tale of Two Hoodies painting by Michael D’Antuono, used with permission]

  • judyms9

    The world outside the homes of some people is just too much for them to ponder much less engage with; therefore, let home schooling laws protect those kids whose parents seem to fear other people, other ideas, other nations, and any other “others” that lie along side the tunnels in which their minds operate.
    Dealing with a public world takes the kind of courage some parents have no interest in developing in their children, but this doesn’t give these parents the right to keep teachers from doing their jobs, developing critical thinking being one of the key parts of their professional mission.

  • Mark Mudry

    This painting is outstanding in so many ways. Its a modern day Norman Rockwell in which one picture tells a multitude of current event stories. One picture, a thousand words! When I was in school during the last century, we spent an entire class discussing Picasso’s painting “War”. As I look back, that teacher had a profound impact on my education! Just as it should have been.

  • Brian Smith

    This picture couldn’t be more inaccurate. In just 2015 alone, only 26% of people shot by police were black and 50% were white. Yes there is racial disparity in police shootings, but clearly blacks are not the victims.

    • Since the US population is only 13.2% black people, your own statistic proves they are massively over-represented.