Craig, C. (2002). A continuing inquiry into the school as parkland metaphor. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 3(4).


The researcher utilized an ethnographic study format to understand how fifth grade students attending a magnet school in an historic African American neighborhood made meaning of the 9/11 events. The magnet school is arts infused and students enjoy a robust arts program. The study emphasizes the critical relationships between and among art, education and social justice that allowed students to respond in meaningful ways to the September eleventh, attacks. The researcher collected data from lesson plans, participant observation notes, photographs, excerpts from student reflective essays, letters written by the teacher, and interviews. The students in the study were participating in the fifth grade visual arts class and transformed their unit on shading to create a mural for the people of New York in response to the 9/11 attacks. The researcher found that through visual arts, the students were better able to express and process their feelings about 9/11 and to express compassion and empathy for others, and that the social awareness and capacity to respond in meaningful ways exhibited by the students was a result of the arts-rich environment of the magnet school.

Key Findings:

The collaborative development of a mural allowed students to process, connect with and articulate complicated feelings stirred by the incidents of 9/11/2001. Having an artistic outlet to direct their confusion and other sensations provided students with a coping mechanism and a method to participate in the larger healing process that might otherwise not have existed.

The focus on arts within the school provides a keen social awareness and the capacity to respond meaningfully to trauma or disaster. This arts-based learning approach illustrates a combination of knowledge, skills, and character that have been brought together to deepen experience and broaden meaning for students.

Significance of the Findings:

The mural, along with the concurrent reflective writing and conversations, represented a positive and productive healing process for both the teacher and students after a traumatic event. The creation and dedication of this mural also allowed the students and teachers to feel connected to those in New York City as a larger or more global community. The students’ ability to reflect and respond meaningfully is the result of an arts-rich school culture that fosters cultural understanding and individual expression, qualities necessary for students to succeed in an increasingly globalized society.


The researcher collected lesson plans, participant observation notes, photographs, and excerpts from student reflective essays, letters written by the teacher, and interviews as part of a qualitative, ethnographic study to understand how students in the magnet school fifth grade classroom made meaning of the September eleventh events. The researcher gathered the data between September and December 2001, and culled the data for patterns of student behavior in relation to the arts-rich environment of the school and how they responded to the traumatic events in New York. The researcher constructed a narrative that reveals the culture of the school, the events of September 11, 2001, and the ways in which students responded to and made meaning from those events. Additionally, the researcher identified the critical relationships between art, education, and social justice as evidenced in the qualitative data and showed how these relationships were critical in helping students respond meaningfully to the 9/11 attacks.

Limitations of the Research:

The teacher’s personal connection to New York (originally from Brooklyn) would have an impact on the study. The study also was limited in its size, as the researcher does not show other examples of response to the incident of 9/11, which could strengthen the significance of the findings. The ethnographic approach limits the study, as the researcher did not develop interview guides or research questions specific to the ways in which visual arts participation impacted or assisted students in dealing with the traumatic events. The study blends multiple theoretical frameworks and does not isolate hypothesis for investigation.

Questions to Guide New Research:

  • What elements in the art-making process can be employed in the classroom to generate a deeper understanding of emotional response and the articulation of responses among students?
  • How do the responses of students in the arts-rich environment of the magnet school compare to responses of students in school environments that lack arts-rich curricula?
  • Which art form is most effective at helping students respond in meaningful ways to traumatic events?
  • What are the specific skills and competencies developed through arts learning that affect students’ ability to form meaningful responses?