One function of art is to reflect societal conditions of past and present, inviting the viewer to draw connections, and triggering dialogue. My understanding of the function of schools is to cultivate critical thinkers and global citizens, students who question, engage in dialogue and learn to tolerate, if not respect and celebrate, the voices of others. If this understanding aligns with the mission of Mill River Union High School, why was it not deemed worthwhile to facilitate a discussion about artwork by a student, Lea-Or Tooti Zarfati-Eirmann, rather than censor it when fellow students expressed discomfort upon viewing it?
Not only was a long-researched and well-developed body of AP-level artwork discounted, but an opportunity for meaningful dialogue between students was sorely squandered. Schools can provide safe environments for challenging conversations to occur, and it is too bad for MRU students who were denied an opportunity to gain deeper insight into this artwork and to examine how it challenged their sense of security.
It is also too bad for Zarfati-Eirmann, whose voice and hard work was suppressed by this action. Had the artwork been allowed to stand and a conversation been supported by the school, think of the impact for students: reinforcement that visual art is a legitimate and powerful language through which to communicate greater understanding of and appreciation for the substance of Zarfati-Eirmann's artwork and how it relates to current conditions, and an exchange occurring in which students would need to ask questions, form opinions, articulate their positions and listen respectfully to perspectives that deviate from their own. That is the potency of art and of education, and that is what makes for an informed, responsible and civil citizenry.