Rosenmontag; Art as Protest

I teach middle school, y’all. These kids are full of energy and potential action; they need to be actively taught how to deal with life’s travails, not taught to avoid all discussion of the Big Issues like religion and politics, as my generation was.  The way to do this is NOT to show them footage of horrifying things and shame them for not caring enough.  (I learned this the hard way).  It is to give them ways to engage with tough information, then show them ways to direct their frustrations and energies in constructive rather than chaotic ways.

Karneval/Fastnacht in Germany is like Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with some differences. Each year I show the kids highly amusing and disrespectful parade floats that question the justice of certain political actions. ( I left out the really inappropriate ones. ) We talked about roasts, and the political function of having one day when people even as rule-bound as the Germans could say what they wanted, even if it was pretty disrespectful to authority figures,  in the spirit of good fun, and honest artistic expression. ( and not get in trouble.) If you are interested in these floats,gretathunberg google “Rosenmontag Mottowagen”  and you’ll see pictures of them. Some are crass, some are depressing, some are twisted, some are hilarious, and some are all four. Yay German dark humor!

For our celebration on Friday (late, I know, but I don’t want to party on Tuesday and try to go back to normal the rest of the week!)  students will present a piece of art , poem, song, or slideshow that illustrate either something they learned about Karneval, or  some injustice they wanted to protest against. Obviously, this is a fine line to walk!   I make it very clear that it must be protesting or highlighting a specific event or action, NOT randomly caricaturing a politician or person you don’t like.

Last year,  a bright, attentive, respectful, cooperative student asked if she could stage a protest against daily reading time.  (15 minutes of silent reading time per day) I told her of course, it was freedom of speech, and so she prepared an excellent little miniature float, mounted on a remote-controlled car, protesting Daily Reading Time. As a result, I negotiated with her class, and we got reading time down to 10 minutes a day 🙂

In case you don’t know, the girl in the Mottowagen pictured is Greta Thunberg, the swedish teenager who has become a spokesperson for the youth environmental movement in Sweden, Germany, England, and other parts of Europe. She is a big deal.  I like to teach my students about how kids are taking leadership roles.


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