Using art to take ownership of the history of school segregation

As a former classroom teacher and educator at the New York Historical Society, Katie Fuller knows the possibilities of learning through stories and artifacts.

By asking students questions about art, the act of learning becomes reciprocal. Students gets to tell the teacher what they see, and bring their own experience to the table. Their interpretation of the art — and, by extension, history and the world around them — matters.

That’s why Fuller spearheaded Race + Revolution: Still Separate, Still Unequal, a traveling exhibit of art that both depicts schools and is for schools. She co-curated the show with Larry Ossei-Messa. 

The art show focuses on the state of school segregation and its implications on educational equity. Fuller tailors it to the specific local context of school segregation in wherever the exhibit lands. For example, in Connecticut, the exhibit was organized around historical documents from Sheff v. O’Neill, the court case that put the state of Connecticut on the hook for its racially segregated schools.

Fuller also created a curriculum guide to accompany the show, which can be used without seeing the pieces in person.

“Teachers are burdened with so much material, they have to sift through and see what’s relevant,” she said. “I wanted to make that easier.”

As a white woman teaching in a predominately Black and Latinx school in Bushwick, Brooklyn, Fuller struggled to talk about race and racism.

“I had the content. I knew how to teach literature. But I didn’t know how to have conversations about race and racism,” she said. 

She hopes that this artwork can serve as a launching pad for dialogue about the forces that shape the world we live in today.

“We are creating a space …  in which we can deepen the conversations. It’s not just people coming into look at artwork and then walking away. It’s really important that people come in, look at the artwork, connect with what they’re feeling from that artwork, and then we take that feeling and turn into dialogue and possibly into action.”

Below are some pieces that Fuller believes can spark conversation in the classroom about the way history bleeds into our present. You can watch Fuller’s presentation at the 2018 RIDES conference here. 

You can find more information about the exhibit, as well as Fuller’s contact information for the curricular guides here. 


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