In light of the recent massacre of 12 staffers at the Paris headquarters of magazine Charlie Hebdo over a cartoon satirizing the Muslim prophet Muhammad, staff at Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) held a seminar dubbed Art, Censorship and Violence for students to examine this and other similar global issues from both philosophical and historical perspectives.
The Jan. 13 study hall seminar, organized and hosted by RFH English teachers Erin Burke and Dana Maulshagen, social studies teachers Tom Highton and Mike Emmich, and art teacher Kate Okeson, 25 students opted to participate, a release from RFH said.
“Sometimes certain events occur and they really make you think about what you are doing at school and in your daily life,” Okeson told the students, according to the release. “We are hoping that this is just the start of a series of conversations we can have about what ‘plays out’ as a result of current events.”
Okeson sparked discussion by reading aloud from an Art, Censorship and Violence packet that was given to participants containing informational articles, links, and questions on the topic.
Among the issues addressed were those involving the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment, or “freedom of speech,” the release added. Students and staff discussed the ways in which laws of certain cultures and religions can be misconstrued; and, whether anyone has the right to prevent any type of artist from displaying complete creative expression.
Questions the students grappled with: everything from “Does censorship promote ignorance?” to “Is freedom of expression always a good thing?”
“It is always a good idea to put yourself in the mindset of the people creating art, and to have an open mind toward other peoples’ perspectives as well as your own,” said sophomore Rachel Makstein in the release. “That might be a way to more fully understand creativity and censorship and other peoples’ motives.”
The teachers, according to the release, were pleased by the turnout as well as the results of the seminar and hope to plan similar events.
“I think that events like the one in Paris regarding censorship and violence can cause us to question ourselves,” Burke told the students. “But they also spark discussions like these, in which we are asking difficult questions such as ‘What is truly important for us to experience and be aware of?’
“I think we have all learned a lot from one another today, and I hope we can have more discussions like this in the future.”