At what age should children see art?
Centuries ago, artists weren’t creating their breath-taking, time-consuming, and sometimes provocative pieces with little ones in mind. Art’s greatest innovators weren’t thinking that a child may see it years from then, offending them or their parents.
Yet, their work is being criticized by parents in one Utah town for being too racy.
Fifth-grade children were exposed to hundreds of famous works of art by their teacher, Mateo Rueda, in December 2017. Some of the pieces contained artistic nudity. Police were eventually called in as a few of the students’ parents believed they were exposed to pornography.
Mateo Rueda came to America from his home country of Colombia to earn a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Utah State University six years ago. He created colorful art for local businesses, and he taught children about the subject at Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum.
On Dec. 4, he was teaching his class of fifth graders about the use of color in art. He provided them with postcards of famous classical works of art that he found in the school’s library. “The Art Box” postcard sets were purchased by the school district long before Mateo was employed there.
Mateo allowed his young students to peruse the postcards, explaining that they may come across some images that they didn’t understand or like. He told the children that they were free to bring him any cards they felt were inappropriate.
“Some kids were expressing their discomfort and explaining that they felt it was inappropriate,” he told Fox News. “Images make part of history, they are icons.”
One of his fifth-grade students, Bella, said her classmates found three or four pieces of art that contained nudity, including Francois Boucher’s “Odalisque” and Amadeo Modigliani’s “Iris Tree.”
“There were some pictures that were a little weird and most kids were laughing,” explained Bella. She didn’t feel offended by what she saw herself though.
When the other children informed their parents about the paintings, however, the police were called in to deal with what the adults felt was pornographic material.
Too Much for Kids
An unnamed parent informed the school about the postcards and filed a complaint of pornography in the classroom with the police. Mateo was suspended, then eventually fired, from his position due to the outcry from a small group of people.
However, most of the parents of the students and teachers everywhere are coming to the teacher’s defense. Bella’s mother felt that the whole situation was “blown way out of proportion.” Bella was much more upset that her teacher was fired than she was about seeing the postcards.
Parent Kamee Jensen came to his defense as well, telling The Herald Journal that his daughter wasn’t upset by what she saw. “The school sent out an email to parents asking if children were upset by what happened in class,” he began. “I asked my daughter if she ever felt uncomfortable, and she said no. She was just very upset that her teacher was in trouble.”
Vanessa Rose Pixton, the mom of an 11-year-old student in the class, painted a different picture of what went on that day. She explained that it wasn’t so much the photos, but his attitude toward the students about nudity. Pixton recalled, “Mr. Mateo even told the class ‘There’s nothing wrong with female nipples. You guys need to grow up and be mature about this.’”
The teacher denied saying that though. “I did say that when you grow up, you’re going to find yourselves going to museums or to places where unavoidably there’s going to be nudity,” Mateo refuted.
No Crime Here
After an investigation by the local sheriff’s department, Sheriff Chad Jensen said that no crime had taken place. When Sheriff Chad Jensen first entered the school, Principal Jeni Buist was shredding the postcards which she said were ordered by the school district. However, the shredding may have been unnecessary.
“We got some of the pictures and showed them to the County Attorney’s Office, and they said these wouldn’t meet the definition of pornography,” the Sheriff reported. “They declined to file charges.”
The out-of-work art teacher doesn’t know if he will get his job back, but he is appealing the school and school district’s decision.
People around the nation are supporting the showing of classical works of art in schools, and they are admonishing parents who feel that art like this is pornographic.
“We wonder why we have a national teacher shortage, yet Cache County School District demonstrates such blatant disrespect toward the teaching profession and Mr. Rueda,” wrote concerned citizen Robert Bray into The Herald Journal.
Another, Marc Swanson, explained that he used to be a substitute teacher, and that he was reported to the school district simply for saying “humans are members of the animal kingdom.”
He continued, “Apparently, my innocuous statement didn’t sit well with some religious busybodies who use their children as thought police.”
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