Earlier this month, in Utah, Lincoln Elementary School art teacher Mateo Rueda wanted to show his sixth grade students examples of classical artwork that made use of color, so he directed everyone to a set of postcards that were part of a classroom set. He hadn’t gone through all 100 cards himself, but he knew the box, which had been there before he began teaching, came from an educational company.
It turned out a few of those paintings — wait for it — included nudity.
Rueda has since been fired on charges that he exposed the children to pornography.
Cache County deputies found Principal Jeni Buist shredding postcards — at the request of the school district — that contained nudity, said Sheriff Chad Jensen.
Deputies showed some of the images to prosecutors, who decided they were not pornography, Jenson said.
The Cache County School District declined to comment, saying it’s a personnel matter.
Parent Venessa Rose Pixton said she’s upset because Rueda’s handling of the situation belittled students, including her 11-year-old son.
“He said Mr. Mateo even told the class ‘There’s nothing wrong with female nipples. You guys need to grow up and be mature about this,'” Pixton said.
Rueda denied making that statement and said he simply explained the human body is often portrayed in art displayed in museums.
For what it’s worth, some parents are taking the sensible route in all this, defending Rueda and making clear they know the difference between titillating adult content and classical artwork depicting the human body. They understand that the human body is nothing to be ashamed of, and certainly in the context of an art class, it’s not weird to see a nude body. (Yes, even for children.)
I vaguely remember a similar incident when I was in elementary school. A docent from the Art Institute of Chicago came to our school to give a presentation about… I don’t remember what, exactly, but her slideshow included a couple of paintings featuring nudity. My classmates and I giggled when we saw them, but our principal (who must have seen this coming) interrupted the talk to deliver a calm warning. She said she thought we were mature enough to see these paintings and appreciate the artwork. Our reactions were proving her wrong. She apologized to the presenter and said maybe we weren’t ready for this sort of talk. My memory is hazy, but I think we got over it quickly, and the rest of the presentation went by without a problem.
For his part, Rueda says he didn’t know those particular paintings were in the set — he wouldn’t have used them had he known — and he’s appealing his termination. He wants (and deserves) to clear his name more than anything else.
The whole incident makes you wonder how they teach sex education, or health, or science. How can you effectively teach those subjects, which involve parts of your bodies, without diagrams? Will these students ever go on a field trip to the museum? What about the zoo, where I hear animals walk around without pants all the time?
Do they go to church? Do they talk about the Garden of Eden? Even Mormons believe in Adam and Eve, and it’s not like they came into the world wearing multiple layers.
This is all an overblown reaction to a harmless incident. The teacher didn’t even do it on purpose. Maybe if the people in the community weren’t so damn sexually repressed, they wouldn’t get so upset over classical pieces of art to the point where the principal has to shred the images lest young minds be tainted with reminders of what our bodies look like.
(Image via Phaidon)