One of the first things that we do as educators when we have a new class or welcome a new student is to build relationships. Getting to know our students, their passions and interests, is a necessity in order to bring learning to life for them. However, in the rush to cover content and to make learning relevant to students, sometimes we have a tendency to limit our views. These are the artists, athletes, scientists, or writers. Here are the leaders, followers, listeners, or thinkers. This can limit the possibilities that students reach for or, maybe worse, lead to stereotypes about students who look or behave a certain way.
One of the many moments that stands out in Between the Lines by Sandra Neil Wallace and illustrated by Bryan Collier, is when the subject of this biography, Ernie Barnes, is told by an art museum tour guide, “Your people don’t express themselves in that way.” In Durham, North Carolina, in the 1950s, African Americans had only recently been allowed to visit art museums and the work of African American artists was certainly missing from the collections. Barnes had grown up expressing himself through his artwork as communicating through language was difficult for him. However, his talent on the football field was what really made people notice him.
After college, Ernie was drafted to play football professionally. He would watch his teammates and opponents on the football field and paint these scenes when he got home. Soon, he started taking his sketchbooks to the games and would draw on the bench when he wasn’t on the field. Eventually, Ernie had to choose between being a part of the action on the field or representing it on his canvas. The canvas won out and Ernie became a professional sports artist. Children in North Carolina can now see Ernie’s paintings in art museums.
Mr. Barnes points out, “When I became an athlete I didn’t stop being an artist,” and this is important for us to remember as teachers as well. We must see our students from every angle and allow them to access content through all of their interests. Between the Lines would be a fabulous book to share with students who are feeling like they need to focus on a particular talent or interest. Another direction to take with this text would be to examine the illustrations by the extraordinary Bryan Collier and have students find similarities and differences between the style he uses to illustrate this book and the style of Mr. Barnes. This would also be a great book to pair with Kadir Nelson’s We Are the Ship to talk about the intersection between art and sports.
RI.7- Use information gained from illustrations and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text.