It was five minutes before recess; I was distracted on the pattern of the ceiling, and my students were restless and excited. A small group of five kids had gathered at the corner table with construction paper, crayons, and markers. Whispering, giggling, and turning occasionally at me, they ‘secretly’ undertook the task of making cards for my birthday. Isabel got up and asked me what my favorite colors were, while Ramona investigated the proper spelling of my name. Five minutes later they started to hand in their creations on their way to the playground. Folded pieces of construction paper decorated with flowers and hearts piled on my hands.
My duty as a teacher was to thank them and read the cards with excitement, while my training as an art historian demanded that I saved and analyzed the cards. While it was fun to look at the art ‘styles’ preferred by the kids, I was mainly interested in the cards as little reflections of the kids’ personality. Isabel’s (7 years old) card stood out for its bold flowers and big letters; perfect mirrors of her: outspoken, rebellious, and demanding. Ulises’(7) small and narrow writing coupled with discrete little hearts, disclosed a shy kid who radiates kindness and solitude. Brisa’s (8) fairy surrounded with stars surprised me with an energy never seen from her, but with a brilliant use of colors and composition, which reflected a creative and introvert mind. And the best part, an anonymous card by a kid who indulges on lines and color. I am not sure of who is the artist, but it might be Paul De Vaughn, a little, quiet boy of 7 years of age. Once they were done, they came and gave me their card, and each one of them waited and watched for my reaction. It was mutual happiness after they saw that I liked their gifts. Happily they went out of the door for their recess.
As someone who spends a lot of time with these children, knows them at a personal level, and understands their experiences as little residents of a neighborhood inflicted with crime and violence; their cards stood beyond naïve and playful children art. They represented the kids’ personality while framing questions regarding their social condition and the environment in which they are growing.
These are ideas that I still think about on a regular basis. While I cannot control the violence and abuse many of my students are exposed to, I can give them the space and opportunity to create and have some sense of freedom. If they are not making surprise birthday cards, they are throwing a disco party in the classroom, making paper-airplane races, or freestyle dancing.
These are some examples of the cards they made.