A high school art teacher recreated an exhibit by a revolutionary Communist from 1989 that has the entire town of Paducah, Kentucky, up in arms.
Students at a Kentucky high school were encouraged to step on an American flag that had been placed on the floor as part of an art display, outraging parents and students.
The display at McCracken County High School, was a re-creation of “Dread” Scott Tyler’s 1989 installation titled “The Proper Way to Display an American Flag.”
A photograph shows a music stand on top of the flag that had been placed in a hallway, in a story first reported by Kathleen Fox, a reporter with The Paducah Sun.
As part of the art exhibit, students were encouraged to stand on the flag and write their reflections on how they felt standing on the flag.
Local residents filled social networking sites with their outrage over the flag desecration with many calling for the art teacher to be fired.
“The teacher should be fired and run out of town,” wrote one outraged Paducah resident. “I have a son serving to protect this flag at this very moment.”
“It is a sad day when the symbol of this great nation is relegated to occupy the floor,” a reader wrote. “It is a truly sorrowful day when the one who placed it there has the nerve to ask, ‘How does it make you feel?’”
“I doubt this teacher intended the disrespect her art project exhibited,” one reader wrote. “But nonetheless, it was really a despicable assignment.”
Art teacher Shand Stamper has since apologized for the controversial art display – telling The Paducah Sun that it was not a specifically assigned project. The newspaper reported she sent a written letter of apology to school administrators.
“I love our flag and the nation it stands for. I love the freedom I enjoy because of our brave veterans. I feel sick and deeply sad that through my actions I have dishonored these men and women and also poorly represented you all,” she wrote in a letter obtained by the newspaper. “(To say) I am devastated by my actions bringing outrage and negativity on you is a gross understatement.”
It turns out that this exhibit is rather famous — in some artistic quarters. Dread Scott Tyler, a self-described revolutionary Communist, created it when he was a student at the Art Institute of Chicago. What deep thoughts attended this artistic gem?
I made some forays and experiments into installation work for audience participation because I wanted to do artwork people couldn’t just dismiss the politics of. Whether they liked it or didn’t like it, whether they agreed with me or didn’t agree with me, I wanted them to have some engagement with the work. So even if they thought, “this guy’s a real assh*le and he has no clue what he’s talking about,” I wanted them to be very much bound up with saying, “this guy’s a real assh*le and he has no clue what he’s talking about.” And have that be part of the work. I started doing these works that had photo montages on the walls, and encouraged people to take a copy and explain why they chose to take it in the book below. So it was this participatory piece. I started doing these, and I kind of thought they were successful.
Yes, Mr. Tyler. You’re a real assh*le and don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.
Mr. Tyler’s masterpiece was condemned by President George H.W. Bush, who called it “disgraceful” on the floor of the Senate. And it became the catalyst for flag-desecration legislation. All this must have been heady stuff for a 24-year-old commie.
So why did this execrable display make a re-appearance in Paducah, Kentucky? The teacher’s excuse — that it wasn’t “a specifically assigned project” — could mean anything. If she was trying to say something about freedom of speech, she could have easily chosen a less controversial, less outrageous example. Indeed, Mr. Tyler may be a commie, the teacher may be a dolt, the school principle may have a hole in his head — but that doesn’t negate the fact that the display is a form of speech and therefore protected by the U.S. Constitution.
And then Principal Michael Ceglinski filled the hole in his head and did something outstanding:
Administrators held a ceremonial flag retiring ceremony for the American Flag at the center of controversy at the McCracken County High School. It caught the attention of two students who taped an arts project Monday. It also caught the attention of James Courtney, a Vietnam Veteran.
“I wanted to be sure it was done right,” he said.
He joined a handful of other veterans outside the school. Courtney says he was appalled to learn the flag he fought for would end up on the ground. “Anything that happens to the flag, that’s not right, a piece of you is with it,” Courtney said.
Principal Michael Ceglinski says it’s important for students to know one of the ways to properly retire the flag. “Turn something positive into it by the learning experience of our kids,” he said.
The flag was cut and grouped by color – then placed in a burn barrel. Ceglinski said he hopes parents and students understand the school is doing the right thing. “We wanted to make sure that we ended this in the right way. It obviously got started on the wrong foot,” he said.
Free speech is a very dangerous thing. It has toppled dictators, ended oppression, stopped wars, and inspired entire populations. It also makes fools out of art teachers and school administrators.
At least in this case, all’s well that ends well.