Art Students Honor Victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing; Lesson blends history, creativity, and compassion
When I was a senior in high school, a month away from graduating, I sat in my Physics class and watched the breaking news of a federal building blown apart. In the early moments of the tragedy, my classmates and I thought this event was unfolding in the nation’s capital. After all, to us "federal" was synonymous with Washington, D.C. But a few minutes into the coverage we realized that this nightmare was in our state of Oklahoma, a hundred miles away. Kids cried and classes were dismissed as we drove home in a world without cell phones to check on family and friends. It was the first time that my innocence was shattered. The first time I watched my community reel from pain. I remember the first nights were sleepless as I mourned people I didn’t know but to whom I felt connected. A few weeks later, we graduated wearing ribbons to honor victims, a somber shadow cast over my home state, an uneasy feeling in our each of our hearts. If this could happen in Oklahoma, no one was safe.
Twenty-five years have passed since this senseless tragedy. Ask any Oklahoman who wasn't a small child in 1995 what they were doing that day and they can tell you where they were when they heard the news. They can still see the television footage play in slow motion. They can remember the pain; and perhaps even feel it. But the next generation of young people doesn’t remember -- for them it is a historic event largely devoid of personal connection. That’s where my stepmom, Jennifer Brown, comes in. An educator who has been teaching art in public schools for decades, she came up with a plan to honor the victims while helping students connect with this event. Together with her co-collaborator, Jennifer Deal, they set out to have their high school students create a work of art honoring each of the 168 victims.
The Tulsa World recently ran a story about their endeavor. It’s worth a read. It stands as a testament to the value of what so many of us strive for in our classrooms: student voice, student choice, visible thinking, and creations that will be shared beyond the bounds of a classroom. It shows us that no topic is off limits if it is handled with respect.
In the article a student reflects on the project, saying “this will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.” That’s what good teaching does. It sticks with us. It challenges us. It takes the darkest moments and tries to illuminate those moments with light, truth, and dignity. The tragedy of Oklahoma City Bombing will always be in the hearts of Oklahomans. Years later it still hurts. I can’t think of a more fitting way to honor those who were lost on that April day than with the heartfelt brush strokes of the next generation under the guidance of caring, capable teachers.
What do you do to help your students connect with and to explore difficult topics? How do you help students make sense of life's tragedies by making something that resonates beyond the classroom walls? We'd love to hear from you about your teaching journey.
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