By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Some kindergartners, first-graders and second-graders in Madison public schools are apparently preparing for futures in either political cartooning or time on a psychiatrist’s couch.
Kati Walsh, an elementary art teacher at the Madison Metropolitan School District in July posted some of her students’ drawings of Gov. Scott Walker in jail. Walsh suggests her young Rembrandts’ ideas for their sketches popped up out of thin air.
“One student said something to the effect of ‘Scott Walker wants to close all the public schools’… So the rest of the class started drawing their own cartoons and they turned very political. They have very strong feelings about Scott Walker,” the teacher wrote on her blog.
“The cartoons started getting a little inappropriate so at this point, we stopped drawing and discussed what a political cartoon was,” she wrote.
If the drawings weren’t appropriate, why did the art teacher publish them on her blog? It turns out these weren’t the inappropriate drawings.
“I did not publish the inappropriate cartoons that depicted any harm coming to Walker,” Walsh told Wisconsin Reporter in an email. “I made them throw them away and we talked about how when you disagree with someone, it’s OK to disagree with them respectfully.”
Walsh said she published the drawings because she thought it was “an amazing teaching moment.”
She said she initially thought the picture of what appeared to be orange engulfing Walker’s head represented the governor set on fire, but after talking to the student, the art teacher said she learned the orange was supposed to depict a prison jumpsuit.
Walsh said she talked with parents about the drawings and how the class of 5-, 6- and 7 year-olds came to draw political cartoons in the classroom that day. She says the parents were excited and supportive.
Walsh has been politically active since Wisconsin’s controversial public-sector collective bargaining reforms, known as Act 10, were unveiled in 2011, according to a Wisconsin State Journal article. She signed the recall petition in the 2012 campaign against Walker, gathered signatures for the recall and participated in the strikes at the state Capitol and in Chicago — a show of solidarity with the striking Chicago Teachers Union.
Walsh also spoke out against the failed Madison Preparatory Academy charter school proposal to close the educational achievement gap in Madison. That effort failed to pass the Madison school board in late 2011 after a teachers’ union campaign to kill it.
“Children are much smarter then you give them credit for,” she told Wisconsin Reporter. “These children who are now growing up having protested at the Capitol with their parents and are going to union meetings and political meetings with their parents. They are listening and they have their own strong opinions about what is going on in our state right now.”
The art teacher in her blog insists she didn’t tell her kindergarten and first-grade students to draw cartoons depicting Walker in jail. She explains on her blog.
“*Disclaimer: For those of you who don’t know me very well, I just want to make it clear that I did not talk about MY personal opinion of Scott Walker with these kids. I made it clear that it is important for everyone to feel comfortable expressing their own opinions through art. I did clearly state that I love our public schools and think it’s important for them to have a good public education. This should not be a controversial statement.”
“Many of the kids also have permission from their parents to chat with me about political things after my contract time,” she told Wisconsin Reporter. “Sometimes kids just start talking about stuff with me and I tell them that if they want to have a conversation with me about politics, they need to get permission from their parents and it needs to be after my contract time.”
It shows. Several of her tweets are images of teacher evaluations where her students wrote in the comments section “Walker sucks!”
Walsh asked that Wisconsin Reporter’s story not be used for publication. “You do not have permission to publish anything about me, my classroom or my blog before I see it first,” she wrote, apparently not grasping the concept of a free press. By the way, it is Wisconsin Reporter’s policy not to show sources stories before publication.
Contact Ryan Ekvall at firstname.lastname@example.org or find him on Twitter @Nockian.