Monday, May 7, 2018

Homeschool History: The Berlin Wall and Political Graffiti

I haven't posted a lot of hands-on activities from our AP European History study for the sorry reason that we simply haven't done a lot of hands-on activities for that class this year. We're taking a second year to make a second run through the study, however, so that will change, at least.

Silver linings!

Here are the textbook resources for this lesson:

After reading these chapters, the kids and I spent time discussing the Berlin Wall, and then watched this TED-Ed video on its rise and fall:

I pointed out the examples of graffiti on the Berlin Wall, and we looked at several other examples of Berlin Wall graffiti here.

 It's important to note that this graffiti was only on the "Western" side; make sure you look at plenty of examples of what the wall looked like on the Soviet side, as well, as it's shockingly different.

We performed a close reading of all of these images, simply noticing and identifying all of the graffiti we could, marveling at some of it, enjoying the funny bits... acknowledging the dirty stuff...

As we looked, though, I encouraged the kids to point out whenever they saw graffiti that was "political" in nature, something that spoke to how people should govern or be governed, their freedoms and restrictions of behavior in their socioeconomic context, etc. There should be lots of examples! Graffiti is often a form of political speech in that it speaks to these issues, in a far more public medium than even a famous artist or politician could often hope to reach. It's also a form of speech that's culturally assigned to the individual, typically the individual with the lowest socioeconomic privilege in a particular culture, and so is often privileged to represent what "the people" really think.

As such, it's an excellent example of a primary source, visual document to analyze as part of AP European History. Here's are the specific AP European History categories that it touches:
  • Analysis as a Primary Source
    • Authorship
    • Audience
    • Format or Medium of that Source
    • Assessment of the Usefulness, Reliability, and Limitations of the Source as Historical Evidence
  • Historical Themes
    • Poverty and Prosperity
    • Objective and Subjective Visions
    • Interactions with States and Other Institutions of Power
    • Individual Versus Society
AP European History students should make good notes about each of these categories, and include specific examples of Berlin Wall graffiti that they could refer to in future thinking and writing. This is also a good subject for an essay!

On this day, however, there was no essay writing--instead, I wanted to combine our lesson on the Berlin Wall with a hands-on art lesson, one that inspired the children to feel the power of graffiti as an art form for themselves, as well as one that got them playing with, and feeling the possibilities of, some art supplies that we don't often use.

Although we do spray paint sometimes--a five-year-old can spray paint with liquid watercolor poured into small spray bottles, and a six-year-old can spray paint with real cans, for the strengthening of their hand muscles for writing at either age--and I do keep several colors in stock for the kids (with the new-ish rule, after Will had a friend over and they got rowdy with it, that they mustn't spray paint anything that is alive, such as OUR TREES!!!), spray paint is a supply that has much more potential than I think the kids realize.

I set the kids up with two different stations for this activity. At one station, out in the yard, they could tape large pieces of newsprint up to Syd's abandoned-while-in-progress pallet play house--

--and at another station on the back deck they made smaller-scale graffiti with our Crayola Air Marker Sprayer:

The kids were really excited to do this project. Like, REALLY excited. We'd flipped through a bunch of books on the art of graffiti before this, as well as looking at all those examples from the Berlin Wall, and as they worked, their eyes were just alight with excitement and, dare I say, maniacal mischief-making possibility. I have designated the chicken coop (because who cares?) and the driveway (it'll wear off) as free spaces to explore more graffiti art, so we'll see if that mania takes fire and political expression comes to life on the chicken coop!

Here are some other resources that we used for this lesson:
There are a TON more resources than this, however, both on the Berlin Wall and on the art of graffiti. It think it's good to include at least one live-action video on each subject, so that kids can see the process of graffiti, and you of course have to see some video of the Berlin Wall being torn down by the people whom it had been imprisoning--the power of the individual versus society, indeed!

P.S. Want more handmade homeschooling resources as I come by them? Check out my Craft Knife Facebook page!

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