. An elementary version of the Elementary "I" School project was first developed by Olivia
. Gude for Principals and Pupils, a workshop for Chicago Public School principals sponsored
. by Urban Gateways in 1998. The sample projects were created by UIC’s Contemporary
. Community Curriculum Initiative for high school and middle school art teachers in 2000
How do you learn to be a self in society? Do the social contexts in which we grow up provide maximum opportunities for being a coherent, perceptive, thoughtful self?
School is the place where many people recall first experiencing a gap between what they think and what they are allowed or able to express.

Many people recall experiences of feeling confused or somehow "out of sync" with what was going on around them and of being unable to communicate this to teachers. Other people have vivid memories of complicated and interesting ideas that occurred to them in the course of their studies and of having no way to share these intense, if rudimentary, observations or ideas with others in the classroom.

We began the UIC Contemporary Community Curriculum Teacher/Artist Workshops with this project. Each teacher created a portrait of his or her worldview in a place associated with elementary school years. The goal of the project is to create a "conceptual map" of the kinds of things one noticed and thought about at that age. The teachers attempted to draw in a style similar to that which they would have used at that time in their lives. By beginning with this project, we signaled our commitment to investigating new paradigms for art education with a deep sensitivity to the subjective experience of students in our art classrooms.

This project is about encountering our own earlier selves, experiencing them, engaging them, and reflecting on what lessons they have to teach us about our work as teachers today. Seeing the wisdom of our earlier selves allows us to see and cultivate the wisdom of our students. In a dialogical style of teaching, we learn as we teach, giving to our students the tools they need to structure and tell the stories of their lives. To do this effectively we need to remember the ways we were and were not enabled to share our thoughts and feelings in our own educations. Through artmaking, our students learn to tell and hear their own stories in their richness, complexities, contradictions, and possibilities.

The Elementary "I" Project foregrounds the concept of "discursive space" in the classroom. It uses depicting actual space as a metaphor for teachers and students investigating and dialoguing about the possible or potential space that exists within various school situations to experience, examine, share, and represent a variety of feelings and ideas.

By opening the aesthetic investigations in the artroom to valuing personal memories and idiosyncratic ideas, the Elementary "I" Project creates a climate of respect for the validity of each individual’s perceptions. The project fosters classroom community and is designed to give students the opportunity to "create self" (rather than merely representing self or symbolizing self) by recalling and valuing their own experiences. Telling his or her story allows the young person to feel the sense of agency and possibility that comes from being seen and being heard. Artmaking and storytelling allows youths and the youth in us to remember, to grow, to learn, to make, and to make things happen.

Another important aspect of this project is that it encourages the creation of narrative art that is not based in visual naturalism. By studying such artists as Horace Pippin, Jacob Lawrence, Hollis Sigler, and Harry Lieberman, the students learn about non-perspectival methods of creating space in art. The project gives students the opportunity to experience "tension free" narrative drawing because they have "deniability" about why they have eschewed conventional realistic drawing techniques. This helps to "break the grip" of visual realism as the sole criteria of quality in art and encourages students to value and develop more complex styles of artmaking and communicating.

The classroom is controlled.
Eyes in front scan rows of desks
filled with stationary bodies.
"Eyes in front" cannot see
the secrets inside the bodies.

Spider a.k.a. Mathias Schergen, Jenner Elementary School