a generative theme?
The great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire recognized that the most
effective educational methods are based on students exploring
themes related to their own lives. (See The Power of Advertising project
Context chapter.) In Freirean dialogical education, these are called
generative themes because they generate energy and ideas.
Typically, we think of these themes as being conceptual and specific--things
such as high rates of unemployment, lack of affordable housing, gender
inequity, or racial profiling.
Usually themes are identified during group discussion about current
issues in the community. Any teacher who has moderated such discussions
knows that sometimes these theme-identification sessions can be stimulating
and charged; the students are excited to have the opportunity to talk
about issues that count for them. At other times, such discussions
can be a teachers nightmare; the students seem bored and lackadaisical
and most dont contribute any ideas to the discussion. Its
one of those pulling teeth kind of days that are psychologically
exhausting for teacher and student alike. Freire identifies the theme
of such times as the theme of silence. Having spent years
in a school system that does not require or value their active participation
or personal concerns, students are sometimes not conscious of issues
and ideas that may profoundly effect the possibilities of their lives.
In such a situation, methods of art education, based on actual artmaking
processes, can create opportunities for students to freely explore
the cultural ramifications of a subject without the pressure to make
a statement or be immediately socially relevant. While our commitment
as citizen educators makes it important to connect the curriculum
of the art room to students lives, its also important
to actually introduce students to the power of artmaking as a tool
for re-looking, re-thinking, and re-imagining our society.
Too often political art education puts students on the
spot by asking them to come up with a position in relation to some
issue and to then make an illustration to represent their positions.
This leads to kitsch art because the student artists are not actively
investigating and expanding upon an idea; they are merely trying to
picture things that they already know.
In a conversation with Paulo Freire, the American educator Ira Shore
asked, How can we adjust the sights and sounds of this moment
to stimulate unfamiliar critical attention in the students?
As art educators, we can make use of non-linear aesthetic methods
of making the familiar strange and of using these methods to identify
themes and issues in the community.
The Hair Today project is a great example of choosing a single, deceptively
simple subject to explore visually and verbally and to then encourage
the investigation of that subject to unfold into many topics. Talking
about hair often generates insights concerning race, social class,
school groupings, the cultural basis of judgments of beauty, religious
decrees relating to the human body, self-acceptance, value systems,
and much more.
Students research information about hair styles and interview family
members about their hair history. Without fanfare, this
often generates authentic multi-cultural curriculum in which students
listen to stories about each others experiences and associations.
The Hair Today project is fun for students; it focuses on something
they all spend time thinking about on a personal level. As the students
engage in the repetitive task of learning to draw hair, they have
time to reflect on the deeper cultural implications of the subject.
SOME SITES TO HELP GET YOU THINKING ABOUT
Average number of hairs on the head: 100,000
One of many facts you can find on a site:
Hair: the Daily Fascination from a group called
Information rich site on Hairstyles, Fashion,
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" by F. Scott
"Bernice Bobs Her Hair" was first published as a story
in the Saturday Evening Post
story on May 1, 1920. It occupies an important position in the Fitzgerald
canon as a witty early treatment of a characteristic subject that
he would later examine more seriously: the competition for social
success and the determination with which his characters - especially
the young women - engage in it. The story was based on a detailed
memo Fitzgerald wrote to his younger sister, Annabel, advising her
how to achieve popularity with boys: "Cultivate deliberate
physical grace." (See the complete letter in Correspondence
of F. Scott Fitzgerald, pp 15-18.)
Cutting ones hair short was a social and political statement
for women in the 1920s. This story can be a good stimulus to a student
discussion about other times in which choice of hair style makes
a statement. An interesting and passionate conversation can be created
by asking students if such choices are effective ways of expressing
For the complete text of Bernice Bobs Her Hair:
For information on braids, weaves, and dreads --how to make them,
how to care for them, who wants them, what they mean.