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What a bunch of squares: Student quilt project launches 'Our Space'

Laurie Kahn seems to like making things. More accurately, she likes watching students make things. Last fall, her EDST 111: "Educational issues and opportunities" class painted a bunch of desks; this past spring, they made a quilt. Can interpretive dance be far behind?

All 111 students in the class—many of whom are not in the College of Education—initially were asked to form small groups that would deep-dive into areas of contemporary education that sparked their interest. The twist was that they were to communicate their critical analyses visually, via an 8-inch square of fabric. At that point it might have been just the hanky project, but Kahn’s plan all along was to weave those pieces into something that would start to tell the larger, multidimensional, complex story of our educational system. Some batting and a few thousand stitches later, they produced something as thought-provoking as it is cozy.

“It was all the diversity, creativity, and thoughtfulness of the students that made it so dynamic and so beautiful,” Kahn says.

The quilt now hangs in the waiting room of the student academic services office in HEDCO Education (suite 130), gateway to the dean’s office. It’s the first art piece in “Our Space,” a COE-wide initiative to highlight artwork reflective of the COE community’s diversity—both on campus and among the children and families it serves.

Isabel Courtelis is a pre-educational foundations major from the East Coast. Her group took the phrase, “Kill the Indian and save the man”—a reference to the US government’s attempt to “Americanize” Native Americans in the late 19th century—and reappropriated it to say, “Kill the system, save the culture."

“Especially as teachers, it’s important to be able to translate big ideas in simpler or more graphic ways. We can write these super long papers about important issues but we don’t always get to practice translating that in a way that is clear to a lot of different people, and so I think that was really useful,” she says.

Rita Ran, an educational foundations student from China, chose to focus on school bullying because she wanted to remind people of its global proportions. The quilt features a number of squares focused on bullying  and cyberbullying, suggesting that the issue is foremost on the minds of many teachers-to-be.

Natalie Pearson, a sophomore from Greater Portland applying to the educational foundations program, was in a group with future preschool or kindergarten teachers. They focused on the importance of play and art  in early childhood education, using the emblematic image of handprints.

Natalie says, “There’s a movement toward making early education more academic and bringing testing in, and pushing play time out of the classroom. A kindergarten student isn’t going to learn anything by taking a standardized test, so we focused a lot on the importance of play and art."

The quilt will be on display through the end of the term.
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