Mural project teaches many lessons

We have been reading about Century School’s mural and the recent, very public, problems related to the permissions the school needed for the project. As parents, we would like to respond not to the lessons (as expressed in a recent editorial) that the children learned because the mural’s completion is stalled, but rather to the lessons learned because the mural was started. The three goals of Century School – scholarship, citizenship and friendship – all are exemplified in this endeavor.

First, the children learned scholarship by gaining an orientation to the research process. As the students decided on the mural’s design, they took walks around Lawrence to examine other murals. They saw pictures in class of murals in other cities. They met with a local artist to learn the meaning of “symbols” and to learn how to plan for such a large display of creative thought. The walls of the art and music room are decorated with the children’s visions of how they might individually make the mural.

Yet, such a project – a picture that represents the growth of a school and its students – cannot be completed by an individual. Learning citizenship requires that the children consider themselves as part of something much greater than themselves. Together the children determined different things that grow: flowers, minds and one another. They placed representations of these in their mural with gardens, books and children. They learned good citizenship by listening to one another’s ideas and recognizing that their own growth is mirrored in the world that surrounds them. Through scholarship and through citizenship, the picture on their draft of the “school mural” grew out of their unique thoughts and experiences.

Supporting one another in the planning, and then working closely with one another in the painting, they learned to rely on one another with the school’s third goal: friendship. The older children taught the younger children how to hold paint brushes and prevent spilling. The teachers taught the parents the same skills.

As community members (and members of the press) came by to observe the mural’s progress, the children learned that their own enthusiasm can be shared with a world outside of the school’s walls. Friends exist outside of their families and outside of their classmates. Regrettably, mistakes in planning occurred, and we know the school is working to rectify these errors. We hope the greater Lawrence community realizes that the completion of the mural is not the way to measure Century School’s success.

Talk to the children who go to the school and you will discover that success already has been achieved. The children have learned scholarship through their examination of artwork; they have learned citizenship by learning to listen to each other; and they have learned to find friendship from inside as well as from outside their schoolyard.

As the quote from Leonardo da Vinci on the mural states, “Everything is connected to everything else.” This, the Century School children have learned. This, more than anything else, is the gift that Century School has given the Lawrence community: children who see themselves as part of, and as connected to, all that surround them.