March turned out to be a rough month. For nearly the whole month I fought a nasty, nasty bug that just kept evolving from one affliction to another until finally the doctor agreed he should probably give me something to help me beat it. One of the little carrier monkeys who come through the museum with school groups infected me, I'm sure. It was one of the fiercest bugs I have caught in a long, long time. Even so, at this point I think it is safe to say I'm going to live. In fact, I feel pretty much back to my normal healthy self. So I have spent most of this week trying to catch up with my life, which somehow seems to have just gone on without me.
It is a good thing I was feeling healthier this Friday, because that morning I had two of the worst school groups I have had in a long time. I am happy to say that for the most part I have really positive experiences with school groups. However, I have come to the decision that 8th-12th graders are most likely to be something of a lost cause. My first group on Friday was an 8th grade group. Even better, their teacher had selected the "Art of Persuasion" lesson topic, which is meant to present art and architecture as means to persuade and shape opinions. This topic is absolutely something these students could understand--particularly with my comparisons with today's world. Unfortunately, oftentimes 8th graders simply refuse to speak because no one wants to take the chance they are going to seem foolish in front of their peers. For some reason I do not recall, at this age nothing matters more than what your peers think of you.
Anyhow, the lesson did not start off well. I took them to our "Men in Antiquity" gallery to compare a portrait head of Augustus with an earlier Roman Republican era portrait head of an old man. Once we arrived at the stop and they (pretty much) stopped talking, I realized some joker in the front had his iPod playing so loudly we could all hear the music coming from his pocket. I took care of that issue, but no matter what I did to develop a conversation about the portrait heads, I failed to get them to do more than stare at me with faint smiles on their faces. I am not afraid of silences, so I let them hang for awhile before I struggled on, hoping they would cave. They did not. Sadly, the rest of the lesson was essentially that same experience.
So that was discouraging. My next lesson was a more typical "Daily Life in the Ancient World" lesson with a class of 6th graders. Sixth graders are better than 8th graders in the sense that they are usually still willing to talk to you, so I expected this second hour of teaching to be better. It was better--the students were willing to talk about what they were seeing and asked some great questions. The trouble came when I brought them to the "Athletes and Competition" gallery to show them our Boxer's mosaic. Even though the mosaic was part of an ancient floor, curators chose to display it on the wall of the gallery. It is much easier to see it that way, and it also keeps it off of the floor, which is never a good place for something rare and valuable. Still, even on the wall, it is a tempting target for eager little fingers.
I have to say, I rarely have trouble with students touching artifacts at the Villa. It was a constant issue at LACMA, but here at the Getty I noticed it is much more rare. Well, Friday was that day of rare exceptions, and we had barely begun talking about the mosaic when a student reached out and touched the mosaic. I immediately gave them a forceful, "Do NOT touch" reminder. Half a minute later another student reached out and touched the mosaic. "I said don't touch! Was that not the first rule they talked to you about?" They nodded their heads. I continued. While we were talking, a student walked around from the back of the group and touched the mosaic. At that moment I pretty much lost it, and my raised voice threatening to remove the group from the galleries brought security sailing across the room to back me up.
I probably should have taken them out of the museum, but I felt guilty for losing my temper and stuck with the lesson. I am afraid my remaining school groups this year will pay for this group's violation of trust, however. It is an act of trust to set these antiquities out before people so they can see them, and it's disheartening how often it is violated. Just the other day one of my fellow educators told me some woman actually set her purse on one of the artifacts while she bent down to fix her shoe and had to be asked repeatedly by security to remove her purse! Such obliviousness constantly amazes me, and unfortunately it makes me ever less inclined to trust the public.
Sad, but true.