×

Monday Mix Editorial: Lessons in history, social justice

  • Contributed



Monday, October 29, 2018

Art can be beautiful, it can be controversial, and sometimes it can be downright disturbing — but no less moving for that. A current exhibit at the Smith College Museum of Art (SCMA), staged to coincide with the upcoming centennial (Nov. 11) of the end of World War I, offers a hard look at a war that forever ended any notion about the glory of combat. “The War to End All Wars,” as WWI came to be known, was the first war fought on an industrial scale, and it left as many as 19 million combatants and civilians dead, as well as nations and wide swaths of countryside in ruin. It didn’t end all wars, either.

“No Man’s Land: Prints From the Front Lines of WWI” features an upfront, personal look at this grim historical chapter that is simultaneously compelling and repelling. The artists — from France, Germany, Great Britain and the United States — who created these prints worked primarily from firsthand observation or close recollection of WWI battlefields. They chronicled the rapid change in the war, from the optimism and excitement that characterized the conflict’s first few months in 1914 to the squalor and terror of muddy trenches, poison gas, barbed wire and shell-shattered landscapes that soon became the war’s reality.

Prints like “Shadows” and “September 13, 1918, Saint-Mihiel” by Kerr Eby, an ambulance driver with U.S. forces, capture the dehumanization of war, as faceless troops — expendable cogs in a voracious machine — shuffle under dark skies past wrecked farmhouses and splintered trees. British artist Percy John Delf Smith produced a series of prints called “The Dance of Death” that depict skeletal, shrouded figures hovering near luckless soldiers. There’s a stark beauty to the images, even if they recreate scenes few might want to recall.

And perhaps that’s the point. War remains a constant in the human experience, even if today’s conflicts aren’t fought on the same scale as WWI. As the anniversary of the war’s end draws closer, as violence continues to flare around the world, as anger and divisiveness color yet another U.S. election year, it’s worth remembering where all this bad blood and hatred can lead.

* * *

Next month, Crocker Farm Elementary School teacher Lauren Mattone will be honored for her teaching in Amherst. Mattone is the 2018 recipient of the Roger L. Wallace Excellence in Teaching Award, given each year to an elementary school teacher in Amherst or Pelham who, among other criteria, demonstrates a commitment to social justice.

Mattone, who was interviewed recently by the Gazette, in part defined social justice as meeting the individual needs of each student. “I know every kid comes into my class needing something different,” she said.

Married to a same-sex partner, Mattone is transparent about her way of life and says that can mean a lot to young students who can see themselves and their families in their teachers.

In teaching, especially for younger students, we agree that it is important not only to teach in an engaging manner — another criterion for the Wallace Award — but to uphold social justice values and to be open with students.

One perspective on Mattone’s teaching came from fourth grader Elena Denno, who had Mattone in second grade, but returns regularly to visit.

“She’s different from other teachers because she turns things that aren’t fun into a fun activity,” Denno said.

We congratulate Mattone on a well-earned award, and appreciate the Roger L. Wallace Excellence in Teaching Foundation for making recognition of local teachers a priority.