At what age does it become appropriate for children to see a naked human body as part of a work of art? And, does it matter what form the art is in?
Earlier this week, a veteran Texas art teacher was suspended and told her contract would not be renewed at the end of the school year. She claims it was because of a parent’s complaint regarding artwork a fifth grade child saw while visiting the Dallas
Museum of Art.
Officials for the school district claim the teacher was reprimanded by the principal several times since the April museum outing for things like improperly prepared lesson plans, but the teacher said she never had any trouble, or reprimands, until the complaint about the art field trip.
So, back to the original question. At what age is it appropriate for a child to observe statues or paintings that depict the naked human body? And, is it different if the artwork is more absolutely like real like a photograph?
In other cultures, this question can become even more extreme or not an issue at all. Fountains in gardens, frescoes in churches and statues throughout Europe depict everything from cherubs and Roman goddesses in the nude. Granted, these depictions often do not include full-frontal nudity and are not always specifically anatomically correct, but should we be shrouding 10 or 11-year-olds from the reality of the human form?
What I’d really like to know from someone who actually heard the parent’s complaint is, Does this parent allow their child to see supermodels in runway clothing? Does the child watch television? What type of artwork is appropriate for children and when do we introduce them to the concept of the nudity?
Recently, I interviewed a forensics interviewer for a local child advocacy center. She told me that when she goes into junior high schools to educate children about dating, date rape and decision-making about their own sexuality, it is often too late! If it’s too late by the time they hit 13-years-old, when is it appropriate?
I have to believe that this school board is over-reacting, possibly to a parent with a lot of political sway. I know when I was that age one of my classmate’s parents objected to her reading Jack London because of the language involved. Thankfully, my school board simply gave that child an alternative text to read. No doubt, it was a pain for the teacher and the child involved was horribly embarrassed by her father’s stance, but he didn’t manage to remove an experienced educator from her post because of it as has happened in Texas.
Certainly, there is a need to protect children from pornography and graphic sexualization. There is definitely a problem with children, young girls especially, wanting to be teenagers or mini-adults long before they are ready, but if the human form is off limits as artwork, hundreds of years of culture is thrown away.
This school district’s reaction takes the ideal of personal responsibility for rearing children away from the parents and blames a teacher for her doing her job. What a tragedy!