Graffiti is described in the Oxford Dictionary as “Writing or drawings scribbled, scratched, or sprayed illicitly on a wall or other surface in a public place.”
Graffiti is also illegal in most jurisdictions as a property crime — here’s the law in the state of Texas, where graffiti can be a first-degree felony crime with jail terms from 5-99 years and fines up to $10,000:
Graffiti is defined as permanently marking, painting, drawing on, etching, engraving or scratching property without the owner’s permission.
Graffiti is classified as a separate property offense under the law. It carries a punishment range that is tougher than criminal mischief. Penalties range from a Class B misdemeanor to first-degree felony. These penalties are based on the amount of damage caused by the graffiti.
It is a state jail felony to mark graffiti on a school, place of worship or burial, public monument or community center, if the damage is $20,000 or less.
If three or more individuals “tag” property, they may be considered gang members and punished more severely.
Question: Why are our tax dollars now being used in public schools to teach students about graffiti as an art form, when it’s an illegal criminal activity, punishable as a felony crime with possible jail time and frequently associated with gang activity? The photo above was taken today by a teacher in a public middle school in the Twin Cities area, where today’s learning goals included:
1) I can watch a demo on how to draw graffiti, and
2) I can practice drawing in graffiti.
This is apparently part of a national trend to teach graffiti in the classroom as a felonious art form, check out some sample teacher websites here and here. And here’s a “Graffiti Fun Art” lesson plan that suggests that K-6 teachers:
Encourage students to design a personal and stylized signature or [graffiti] ‘tag.’ The tag can be a given name, a nickname or something they’ve made up to represent themselves. This school version of graffiti shows students that lettering is not only important in communicating, but that it can also be an artistic expression.
It wasn’t always like this. Here’s a teacher lesson plan from 1999 called “Graffiti Hurts” that starts out like this:
Two strategies a community can use to significantly reduce or even eliminate graffiti are rapid removal and education. Removing graffiti promptly sends a message that it will not be tolerated. Education is vital to foster in children a respect for the community and the property of others.
As an educator, you can help students develop the attributes of respect and responsibility – especially in younger students who have not yet become involved in graffiti. Students who possess these attributes understand how they, their families, and everyone in the community are hurt by graffiti and other forms of vandalism. They will also be able to channel their energies into more productive activities and help make their community graffiti-free.
MP: Wow, I guess a lot has changed in the last 15 years. Whereas students used to learn correctly that graffiti is a punishable property crime and a form of vandalism, they now learn to celebrate graffiti as an art form and are encouraged to design their own personal graffiti “tag.” Can’t you now easily imagine a scenario where a student faces misdemeanor or felony charges for graffiti property damage and explains to the judge that “I learned about graffiti in middle school and my teachers told me this was a legitimate art form and even made me design my tag that now appears on the sides of buildings and train cars – I’m confused why I’m being charged with a felony.”