An art show at Westfield High School in Westfield, N.J. asked students to create images that commented on one of three hot-button issues: “Modern Technology Advances,” “Gender Equality,” and “Law Enforcement - Police Brutality.” That last option got a few local parents really riled up.
Images in the show—provided to NJ.com by a distressed former Westfield resident—included the two shown here, as well as a silhouette with its hands up and a target on its chest and a first-person view of a gun pointed at a group of running people.
According to the NJ.com article, the topics for the art show, which was held at the school earlier this month, were chosen by the students. A Westfield student named Kayla Miller wrote on a Facebook review page for the school—which has since become flooded with people yelling about policing, free speech, respect, and America—that the graphic design teacher who gave the assignment has “done this project for years and years with numerous other topics.” Miller elaborated to NJ.com, making clear that students were encouraged to take whatever side they supported of a given issue “and were told they would not be in trouble for their own opinions.”
That reasonable explanation didn’t stop outraged adults from loudly voicing their objections to the mildly graphic screenprints made by a handful of teenagers. The following screencaps were taken from the aforementioned Facebook page.
It’s unclear how many of the complainers—and there are lots and lots of them—are actual Westfield parents and how many are “outside agitators,” in the parlance of our times. As Mediaite notes, even Fox News’ Eric Bolling got in on the action.
Along with all those one-star reviews are a bunch of five-stars from supporters.
Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed at Westfield’s board of education. Superintendent Margaret Dolan issued a statement of lukewarm support for the school, and board member Brendan Galligan told NJ.com that while he believes “the display to be in bad taste,” he wouldn’t advocate that it be banned. “That’s a slippery slope for government (even the local school board) to go down,” he said.
Imagine that: A free exchange of ideas—even uncomfortable ones—at a place of learning. Ever since Jonathan Chait whipped himself into a tizzy over the PC-ification of the American college campus this year, many hands have been wrung about the supposed threat that liberal sensitivity poses to free speech. And sometimes that threat is real! But the fact that one class’s high school art show became fodder for a national cable pundit’s bloviation is a useful reminder that it isn’t only bleeding hearts who shudder at the thought.