Life Drawing (aka Naked People in Schools)

I know, I know – three of my four posts now have involved sex or the human body in some vaguely unsettling way.  It really isn’t all I think about.  But as an artist, the human form is very important to me.  Try to keep an open mind.

This post is about nudity in art, and why students should be allowed to draw naked bodies.

I don’t know if it’s parents or teachers or school boards who refuse to allow students to view the naked form, but whoever it is needs to take a moment and really think about this issue.  I have developed a helpful numbered list of the reasons nude drawings should be allowed.

1) I’m talking about high school students.  Say fourteen, fifteen years old and up.  They are not little children.

2) These people have been through sex ed at least once or twice, and it is highly likely that most of them have engaged in romantic, if not sexual, activities, or have at least thought about it.

3) They’ve probably seen a naked body, even if it’s just by virtue of looking in a mirror.

4) Most of them have been on the internet.  At fifteen, anyone who has been on the internet for very long is probably not an innocent little baby anymore, unless they really do have the kind of parents who sit at their shoulder and monitor everything they look at.

5) Most forms of advertising are sexually charged in some way.  Teenagers, like everyone else in society, are under enormous pressure to conform to a certain image of beauty, which most of them feel unable to do.

6) Teenagers are not adults yet, but they’re getting there.  They’re growing out of the need to be protected, and they’re growing into the need for mature and reasonable guidance from the adults in their lives.  Their relationship to the human body is one of those areas in which they need guidance.

The way I see it, this is exactly the same issue as sex education.  As adults, it is highly likely that the students we teach will one day engage in sexual activity of one form or another.  But sex doesn’t make up their entire lives, or at least it shouldn’t.  I feel that being able to view the human body in a non-sexual way is just as important as understanding the sexual aspects of it.  Life drawing such as I would advocate involves looking at a wide variety of shapes and sizes of people, and I think it’s important for everyone – especially teenagers – to understand that not everyone looks the same, and that there isn’t one standard image of beauty.  For young people who are still changing and oftentimes uncomfortable with their own bodies, I think it is exceptionally important for them to come to terms with the wide variety of beauty in the world.

Keeping students from drawing naked bodies in art class is not protecting their innocence, it is reinforcing their ignorance.  If all you want is for your children to be protected, you might as well burn all the books and tear down the museums before they get infected with any actual ideas.  Personally, I would prefer that they grow up to be intelligent, mature, well-rounded individuals with the ability to think for themselves, interact with one another in healthy ways, and be confident in their own sense of worth.

….

Okay, I should calm down.  Education is important to me, and I know that I get kind of up in arms over it.  I do not mean to imply that you’re a fool if you don’t want your child to look at naked people, but since the chances are high that they already have/will at some point, would you not prefer that they learn to do it in a mature, respectful way?

I know I would.

Advertisements

Piracy is Our Only Option

TECH TASK #2: An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube

I had to do several drafts of this post, which is part of why it took so long.  One of them was a big rant about how the world is coming to an end, which…well, I didn’t want to sound crazy, so I decided against posting that one.  Maybe some other time, when my judgement is not as sound.

To be honest, this has been a bit of a daunting task.  I could write an essay on any of ten or fifteen ideas introduced in this hour-long video, but I have to contain myself to a single blog post.  Maybe I’ll go crazy with them later, but for now I wanted to just make note of a few of the ideas expressed there.

1) The first one comes from Lev Grossman’s quote, “Some of the comments on YouTube make you weep for the future of humanity just for the spelling alone, never mind the obscenity and the naked hatred.”  In the outline on this tech task, Dr. Couros wrote ‘Anonymity can allow you to comment in a negative way without fear of repercussions,’ which I think is an interesting phenomenon that extends far beyond YouTube.   It’s true that anonymity can have a negative effect on the way people behave, but I think that that doesn’t quite cover everything.  For a long time, I think that a lot of people have viewed the internet as being some kind of far-off universe, separate from the one in which they live their day-to-day lives.  Anonymous or not, on the internet people say and do and display things that they would never consider saying or showing in, say, a newspaper.  The internet is so huge that anyone can see anything on it, and because anyone can see it, we often think that no one will – or at least no one who will recognize us or get us in trouble for what they see.

I’m quite interested to see where the future of humanity takes us, YouTube comments and all.  That virtual universe we created for ourselves is starting to spill over into the real world more and more.

People are losing their jobs and reputations over the pictures on their Facebook pages.  People are arranging social protests through Twitter and stopping governmental anti-piracy bills in their tracks through website blackouts.  We can see wars and crimes and injustices happening thousands of miles away; we can have an effect on anything and anyone we want, if we so choose.  And the virtual world is growing, growing every day.  All I can really say is that wherever this path leads us, it’s going to be an adventure.

In the spirit of quotes, I would like to direct you to one of my favourite authors.  In one of his many books, Mr. Terry Pratchett wrote, “Adventure!  People talked about the idea as if it was something worthwhile, rather than a mess of bad food, no sleep, and strange people inexplicably trying to stick pointed objects in bits of you.”

….And that’s about all I have to say about that.

2) Another idea that intrigued me was that of ‘aesthetic arrest,’ which Mr. Wesch talked about when he mentioned video blogs, and how we are able to look at people and stare at them without worrying about how they will react and without making them uncomfortable.  We are able to catch ourselves up in their human beauty; we are allowed to admire and study without reproach.  This idea struck me largely because it feels like an invasion into my life.  Both my younger sister and I are artists, and we have both come to the realization that the way we watch people is not considered socially acceptable.  We like to look and examine their features and their hair and the textures of their skin.  That makes those being observed uncomfortable.  We live with it.  We learn to watch surreptitiously, and we learn to live with the idea that anyone who knew they were being observed, even (if not especially) from an artistic standpoint, would find our behaviour rather…unsettling.

To anyone reading this who has met me: yes, I have examined you.  I have noticed the shape of your eyes, eyebrows, nose, mouth, and jaw.  I have noted the exact tones of your hair and skin and, at close range, the mingled colours of your eyes.  There is no sexual undertone to this or even, in fact, an overly personal interest in you or in anyone else I look at.  I simply find all human beings eminently beautiful.  That includes you, and every other person I have ever met – young and old, male and female, of every race and creed.  Aesthetic arrest is my base state of being.

I had never really considered the idea that others might feel the same way and be ashamed to admit it.

(I will understand if that makes anyone uncomfortable.  If it makes you feel any better, there are thousands of people on campus.  I may note those things about you, but there are too many people around for me to actually think about your individual features for too long.  You are not being stalked.)

3) Another idea I would like to address is that of cultural inversion and tension.  Namely, we express individualism, independence, and commercialization, but value and desire community, relationships, and authenticity.  In face-to-face interactions, connection with others means constraint, so online we seek connection without having to be constrained.  We want so much more than we are able to express, and so we seek to express that desire and craving in a place where no one will be able to recognize us, call us out and hurt us; mock us for our loneliness and for everything we feel we are lacking in our lives.

When Dr. Couros speaks, or when he shows videos and material to the class, I always catch myself thinking, “Wow…I want to live in YOUR world.” Because I don’t.  I really, really don’t.  He lives in the same world as Mr. Wesch – a world of networks and communities and virtual connection that I have seen from the outside but never been a part of.

I grew up in a small town.  Many of the people I knew there spent their teenaged years waiting – angry and tired and lonely and impatient and frustrated – waiting to get out.  It’s an old story.  I know what I’m gonna do tomorrow, and the next day, and the next year, and the year after that. I’m shakin’ the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I’m gonna see the world!  Except the world is a big, lonely place, and if you don’t know where to look, it can be difficult to find a niche in it.

In my small town, I knew a boy who was very much an individual: a strange and unique presence in our tiny world.  Once he went around for a day with his friends and a ‘free hugs’ sign.  After a few hours the police drove around, told him there had been complaints, and asked him to stop.  I’ve never known anyone who needed a community and close relationships and authenticity more than him.  We want so much more than we have, and most of us never get anything close to what we need.  I think perhaps we’re all trying to escape our small towns, even if they’re only in our heads.  That’s the world I live in.

I’d much rather be a part of YOUR world.

4) This is it; the last one.

I want to talk about piracy.  In my mind, it’s all very simple.

In the video, Mr. Wesch said (or possibly quoted someone as saying) that our children are growing up constantly living life against the law, because almost everything we do online is illegal.  What that tells me is that the world is changing, and the government is not changing with it.  SOPA and PIPA were stopped this time around, but what about next time?

Governments (or at least democratic governments) are meant to serve the people.  When that stops happening, you get revolution.  Taking away our internet might not be the thing that does it, but they’re playing with fire if they try.  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I know some very determined young people out there who would be more than willing to take up arms for the Internet Cause.

(For the record, I’m not advocating violence.  But if the government – any government, really – wants to go head-to-head with the entire combined forces of the internet, they are going to have one heck of a fight on their hands.)

In the words of Edward Farrars: “Perhaps Margaret is right.  Piracy is our only option.”

…Yes, I was the kind of child who collected quotes.  I probably had a few thousand of them at one point.  I have quotes for every occasion!  Even piracy.

Try to contain your envy.

Sex!

That  got your attention!  Isn’t this fun?

But seriously, sex is the issue at hand – more specifically, sex ed.  And this is a bit of a rant, so buckle in.

I’ve been reading some articles on teaching and education in other countries, and I came across this article from Kathmandu, Nepal: “Sex education? Teachers say sorry!”  I think that, despite the distance, the issues addressed in this story are very much relevant to teachers in Canada.  The article, for those who don’t feel like reading it, is essentially about how both teachers and students in Nepal are so embarrassed by sex ed that it isn’t really being taught.  Whether or not the result is directly related, the country is seeing a rather alarming rise in teen pregnancy and related issues.

I find this subject both interesting and disturbing.  I find it interesting because I understand entirely how the situation came about.  Normally the subject of sex does not particularly embarrass me.  However, it’s easy to say that when I have never had to face a class of nervous/giggling/dead-eyed kids, who have prepared for the class either by thinking up the most obnoxious questions imaginable or by trying to spontaneously combust so that they don’t have to endure that class.  During my first sex ed experience in the fifth grade I was definitely in the second category.  I was ten years old and there were some very awkward diagrams going up on the viewscreen.  I would have given anything to burst into flame just then, and I don’t imagine it was much more fun for the poor teachers who had to give the lessons.

The thing is, though, that I can no longer address issues like this from a student’s perspective.  From a student’s perspective, I can say that yes, I understand where the teachers in Nepal are coming from – sex is not something that is generally discussed in public, in large groups, and especially not between teachers and students.  That has a weird, icky feeling all over it.  According to almost every professor I’ve talked to at university, almost every future teacher will eventually be in charge of pretty much every grade and subject imaginable, whether or not they major or minor in them.  I understand that in an abstract kind of way (aka I won’t believe it until it actually happens), but I think that unless you actually choose to take training as a health teacher, nobody ever really expects to have to teach sex ed – myself included.

From the perspective of a teacher, however, this is an entirely different issue, and one that I find disturbing in the extreme. I believe that children are more precious than blood or gold or all the power in the world.  That doesn’t mean I like them all the time – the really tiny ones make me nervous, and I will never pretend otherwise – but it does mean that I value them very highly, especially as a future teacher.

Teachers have one of the most difficult jobs in the world: caring for the young.  Part of that job is giving them the understanding, confidence, and abilities they need in order to direct their own futures.  And, whether we like it or not, the darling little children we are teaching today will one day become grown men and women, the majority of whom will at some point engage in sexual activity.  That is a part of human existence, and sooner or later it will be a part of their lives.  Their futures are in our hands, and if we don’t give them the tools and information they will need as adults, then we have failed miserably in our duty.

All of this comes down to one simple fact:  teaching is not an easy profession, but it is one of the most important.  Teachers build people, every day, in everything they do and say, and if any part of that makes you so squeamish that you neglect a portion of your construction work, you should not be doing that job.  You are not a student anymore.  Teachers don’t get to say, “My dog ate my homework.”  Teachers don’t get to say, “I was really busy this week, so I didn’t do the assignment.”  Most of all, teachers don’t get to say, “But I don’t WANT to!”

I’m not going to pretend that I’m perfect, or that I will be the best teacher ever.  I have a long way to go before I can face the stares of a classroom full of children, and without flinching introduce them to a subject they would rather die than learn about.  But I can say for sure that when the time comes, even if I do flinch, even if it’s awkward, and even if I feel like I would rather die than teach them that chapter, I will do what needs to be done, because that is what teachers are for.

I’m going to be a teacher someday, and I don’t get to make excuses.

It’s Magic Time!

….No, actually, I lied.  There is no magic here – it’s just me.  But you were excited for a second there, weren’t you?

So, down to business.  My name is Deborah Nikkel. I’m originally from Weyburn, SK, but I’m in Regina for school.  I have two sisters, one brother, a dog, and a cat (at home, obviously, because residence does not allow pets and someone would probably notice if I stuffed a sibling in my wardrobe).  I like reading, writing, drawing, karate, and kayaks, my favourite author is Terry Pratchett, and The Dream is to one day become a high school art teacher.  I also have an unhealthy love for brackets and semi-colons, for which my English Lit. professor is probably ashamed of me.  (Also, I started a sentence up there with ‘but’.  I don’t know if I will ever be forgiven.)  That’s probably as much about me as anyone needs to know, to start off with.

Now, this blog has initially been set up for the purposes of one of my classes, #ecmp355 (or Intro to Computers in the Classroom, for those who don’t know).  For that reason, I must take a few minutes out to talk about computers and technology in education.  I imagine I’ve had a moderate number of experiences with technology in the classroom.  When I was in school we used computers to do research, type up assignments, occasionally throw together a powerpoint, and, for a few blazingly exciting days in junior high, inflict some rather pitiful photomanipulations on the world.  There are a lot of benefits to computing technology in the classroom: the internet provides semi-infinite resources, allows us to connect with people all over the world, and it’s a medium that most students today are familiar with and find interesting.  On the other hand, the internet contains at least as much inaccurate, inappropriate, distracting, non-educational material as it does good.  Most teachers don’t have a lot of training on how to properly integrate technology into their classrooms, so they use it ineffectively.  Personally, I feel that unless teachers are able to use computing technology with skill, they should keep its use to a minimum.  After all, If the teacher doesn’t know what’s going on, then the likelihood of the students actually learning anything is very low.

I’m not sure what to expect from #ecmp355.  I have some experience with computers, but all in all my attitude towards them as a teacher is…not as someone who would use them extensively in the classroom.  At this point I lack the skills.  All I can really hope for is that this will change as the semester continues.  There are a lot of a amazing things out there on the internet, and I think it would be wonderful to be able to pass the knowledge of those things on to my students, if I can.

I’m looking forward to learning with all of you.  Farewell!