Specifically, I remember a 5th grade project studying government and political theory through the staging of a mock political debate between Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford. I date myself. I was the official photographer for the event. That’s when I learned the word “posterity” and how to operate a real camera. I also grew interested in political debate and the art of oration. I remember that project because it touched so many centers in my mind.
I thought of that activity while helping students find literary criticism and reviews for the book Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. Students of David Hillinck read the novel in World History II in order to better understand the tumultuous period of Stalinism and the aftermath of the Communist Revolution. To my mind, students got their money’s worth with this assignment.
The novel Darkness at Noon paints a haunting portrait of the time period and is a great literary work to boot. It’s no beach read. It stretches the consciousness while vividly placing the reader into the midst of the Stalinist Purges. But the assignment got better!
Mr. Hillinck collaborated with art teacher Peter Townsend to introduce students to the art and design movement of Constructivism – the very distinctive design and imagery of the early Communist period in Russia.
Students were asked to create book jackets for the novel in the Constructivist style based on a series of sketches students did while reflecting on the powerful message of the book. The result was a creative mass of bold geometric layouts, diagonal images in loud reds, somber blacks, and neutral whites. Students chose one symbol to represent the book’s message and featured it on the book cover.
Eve '18 noted, “I loved the connection between art and history. This project gave me a much broader understanding of the Russian revolution."
The designs have been displayed in the library. After all, where else would you find the wealth of information needed to integrate three academic disciplines into a singular work than in the library?
Projects like this one connect the dots for students in ways that lecture or reading alone often do not. They create an alternate time and space and in doing so create relevance for the participant. They stick with you – because you’ve been there!
Featured book cover designs by Eve Shoenrock and Somil Joshi.