In The Classroom: Middle School Goes Beyond Tolerance
7th Grade: Going Beyond Tolerance
What does it mean to go beyond tolerance? Students in Joel Vilinsky and Kira Faller’s 7th grade class have recently been diving into the ideas of tolerance and going beyond it during their recent Beyond Tolerance Project, which explores the roots of intolerance in a subject chosen by each student and asks the students to investigate and understand how to move past intolerance and beyond a hard-earned tolerance to acceptance, empathy, and understanding.
These projects start with research. Students explore the roots of intolerance during class; they decide on a topic (humanitarian or environmental intolerances) to explore independently. They also research ways in which people are actively trying to bring about positive change in relation to their chosen topics. Finally, students decide on a way to represent those issues in a cohesive work of art that combines different art techniques and symbolism and reflects their impression of the world in relation to those issues.
Seventh grade team teacher Joel Vilinsky says, "Many students had personal connections to the topics they chose. What's exciting is that they are determined to find a way to connect their larger topics with local issues, and the plan is to create a project where they can actively make a difference in our community.”
In January, students held a gallery walk open to the school community during which each student was on hand to share their art work (as it is to date) and answer questions about their topics and their art. Projects ranged from racial inequity in sports and the military, to the effects of oil drilling on the environment, to inhumane treatment of horses both in the wild and in the rodeo circuit, and the gender pay gap in women’s professional sports and more. We spoke to a few students, Naomi Ries (pictured above) and Emma Lurie, about their projects, what inspired them to choose their topic, what they learned, and why they love this unit.
Topic: “New Hope”
Student Naomi Ries (pictured above) is passionate about horses. She’s an avid equestrian with a mare named Rosie “Riveting.” So when it came time to choose a topic, Naomi says it was a no-brainer. “I’m really passionate about horses, and I believe wild horses deserve fair and humane treatment when being rounded up.” Her topic focused on the treatment wild horses and burros currently receive when rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, one of the ways that the BLM controls and manages the populations. Naomi’s research dove into the BLM’s treatment of the animals and though what she found was disconcerting, she has hope there is a much more humane solution in a vaccine called PZP and caring people that would reduce or eliminate the need for inhumane roundups. Using clay, fabric, paper, gravel, plastic, and horse figurines, her artwork display represented numerous themes. “The white horses in my art focuses attention on the suffering of wild horses at the hands of the BLM; the syringe in my art represents the PZP vaccine, which is a fertility control vaccine that offers a much more humane way to keep the wild horse populations under control.” Naomi loved the experience. “I really liked this project because I was working on a topic that I was super passionate about,” she says. “When researching this topic, I learned how I have to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves. It’s our responsibility to help others do what’s right.”
Topic: “The Shattered Image”
We’ve all been guilty of finding cute fashion items online only to find out they’re well, not that well made. But the price is right, yet student Emma Lurie believes that low cost for what she refers to as ‘fast fashion’ comes at a price to our environment. An avid fashion enthusiast, who also loves sewing and other similar handiwork, she chose the topic to highlight the pollution inflicted on the environment by the fashion industry, specifically those that use fabrics such as cotton, polyester, and acrylics that are used to create clothing items cheaply and fast. She learned that the clothes made of these materials end up in landfills, among other places and that there are so many different views on the fashion industry. Her artwork, a box that encompassed a mirror reflecting two very different artwork to represent two views. On one side, little hangers hold tiny pieces of clothing Emma created but with gum on the floor: to represent how buying clothes sticks to people. On the other side, shiny tiny hangers hold tiny pieces of sparkly clothing to represent a new glittering and positive future of fashion. “I liked this project so much because it forced me to come up with other ideas for my project and expanded my mind to think outside the box. Plus I love sewing clothes!”