Really bad trip ... to a museum

A teacher gets suspended for attempting to teach art history.


Rebecca Traister
October 3, 2006 5:00PM (UTC)

Rollback of the Enlightenment, Chapter 47:

Yesterday the New York Times reported that elementary-school art teacher Sydney McGee of Frisco, Texas, was suspended after taking fifth-grade students on a trip to the Dallas Museum of Art during which they caught glimpses of some nude sculptures.

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Yes, children. The human body is a dirty thing, and you shouldn't look at it, even when you are with your teacher, and four other teachers, and 12 parents, and a museum docent, and even when it is depicted by some of the world's finest artists and is a part of the cultural history that somehow managed to produce a progressive democracy in which primary school administrators are free to cave to the censorious demands of uptight parents who do not wish their children to get decent educations.

So here are the details of this particular brain exploder: McGee has taught for 28 years and has received good professional evaluations throughout her career, at least until the fateful museum trip last April. That's when an unidentified student went home and told his or her parents that he had glimpsed some nudie sculpture. McGee got hauled into principal Nancy Lawson's office and "bashed"; Lawson wrote her a note scolding her because during the museum tour, "students were exposed to nude statues and other nude art representations." Never mind that Lawson had already approved the museum trip. After that, McGee's professional evaluations went downhill, including a reprimand for wearing flip-flops (McGee says the footwear in question was a pair of Via Spiga sandals), and McGee was suspended (with pay). She has been denied transfer to another school in the Frisco school district and her contract will not be renewed.

Kevin Lungwitz, general counsel for the Texas State Teachers Association, told the Times that "teachers get in trouble for a variety of reasons ... but I've never heard of a teacher getting in trouble for taking her kiddoes on an approved trip to an art museum."

Among the statuary along the museum route down which McGee and her students strolled was Auguste Rodin's "The Shade," Jean Arp's "Star in a Dream" (search for Jean Arp) and the torso of a young Greek man from a 330 B.C. funerary relief. There is no word on which sculpture forever sullied young students' eyes, but McGee told the Times that principal Lawson referred to the offending work as "an abstract nude sculpture."

What struck me as particularly sad and sick about this story is the fact that when airing segments about this story, some local Dallas news stations have broadcast images of the potentially offensive art with certain anatomical areas blacked out.

Apparently, there aren't many art history students running the local Dallas news departments. Ba-dum-bum. But seriously, these are grown-up journalists, folks. And, for that matter, grown-up parents, who supposedly care enough about their children's educations to interfere with them, but not enough to want them to actually learn anything about art or history, or to see beautiful things, and who damn sure don't want them thinking that the body is beautiful or worthy of artistic representation.

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I don't want to mess with Texas, a fine state that has gifted us with a number of ... memorable presidents, but what the hell is wrong with you people?

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.


Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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