A teacher in Utah has found himself in hot water recently over some classical art works, and has even lost his job at a school.
Parents are concerned that he exposed young children to inappropriate images of nudity, and that the famous paintings should never have been shown to young children.
It’s sparked a great debate, as some people think that children shouldn’t be deprived of seeing art, no matter what age they are, while others think that children shouldn’t see images of naked bodies until they are older.
The full story concerns Colombian-born art teacher Mateo Rueda, who is being criticized by parents in one Utah town for showing fifth grade kids some of history’s most famous works of art.
Mateo showed hundreds of famous works of art to his students earlier in the school year, and some of those pieces contained artistic nudity.
Eventually, local police were even called in as a few of the students’ parents believed they were exposed to pornography.
Now the debate is whether or not they were right to report him.
Mateo Rueda came to America from Colombia to earn a Master’s Degree in Fine Art from Utah State University six years ago. Since then, he has created art works for local businesses, and went on to teach children about the art at Lincoln Elementary School in Hyrum.
On December 4, he was teaching his class of fifth graders about the use of color in art. He provided them with postcards of famous classical works of art that he found in the school’s library. ‘The Art Box’ postcard sets were purchased by the school district long before Mateo was even employed there.
Mateo allowed his young students to look the postcards, explaining that they may see images that they didn’t understand or like. Which is what great art is all about.
He told the children that they were free to bring him any cards they felt were inappropriate.
“Some kids were expressing their discomfort and explaining that they felt it was inappropriate,” he told Fox News. “Images make part of history, they are icons.”
One of his fifth-grade students, Bella, said her classmates found three or four pieces of art that contained nudity.
One of these was Francois Boucher’s ‘Odalisque’, a rococo painting whose original hangs in the Louvre in Paris
The other was Amedeo Modigliani’s female nude called ‘Iris Tree’.
“There were some pictures that were a little weird and most kids were laughing,” explained Bella, but she also says she didn’t feel offended by what she saw herself.
But when other children in Bella’s class informed their parents about the paintings, the police were called in to deal with what was deemed as pornographic material.
An unnamed parent informed the school about the postcards and filed a complaint with the police. Mateo was suspended, then eventually fired from his position due to the outcry.
However, most parents of Lincoln Elementary School students are coming to the teacher’s defense.
Bella’s mother felt that the whole situation was “blown way out of proportion,” and says that Bella was much more upset that her teacher was fired than she ever was about seeing the postcards.
Parent Kamee Jensen came to his defense as well, telling local press that his daughter wasn’t upset by what she saw.
“The school sent out an email to parents asking if children were upset by what happened in class,” he began. “I asked my daughter if she ever felt uncomfortable, and she said no. She was just very upset that her teacher was in trouble.”
However Vanessa Rose Pixton, mother of an 11-year-old student in the class, explained that it wasn’t so much the photos, but Mateo’s attitude toward the students about nudity.
“Mr. Mateo even told the class ‘There’s nothing wrong with female nipples. You guys need to grow up and be mature about this,’” she claims, apparently based on what she was told by her child.
But the teacher himself denies this: “I did say that when you grow up, you’re going to find yourselves going to museums or to places where unavoidably there’s going to be nudity,” he says, not what had been reported.
After an investigation by the sheriff’s department, Sheriff Chad Jensen said that no crime had taken place. When the sheriff first entered the school, Principal Jeni Buist was shredding the postcards which she said were ordered by the school district. However, the sheriff says that even the shredding may have been unnecessary.
“We got some of the pictures and showed them to the County Attorney’s Office, and they said these wouldn’t meet the definition of pornography,” the Sheriff reported. “They declined to file charges.”
Now Mateo doesn’t know if he will get his job as an art teacher back, but he is appealing the school and school district’s decision.
So what do you think about this case? Surely if you’re an art teacher, you’re going to have to show students some paintings of nudes.
Or do you think 11 years old is too early to be learning about this, or that maybe we should take a more progressive approach to this. After all, most nudes are of female bodies, and we live in a far more equal world than when those artworks were created in the 17th century.
Whatever your thoughts are, please leave a COMMENT and feel free to SHARE this article with your friends and family to keep the debate going!