Frances Flicker is an art teacher, but her aspirations for her students that go far beyond drawing, painting and sculpture.
"I would love to think that all of my students were going to grow up and be wonderful artists. I don't know about that," said Flicker, a teacher at Falcon Creek Middle School. "What I do know is that they'll all grow up to be global citizens. I want to give them a deeper understanding of the world around them by letting them experience it through the artistic medium."
Flicker's current curriculum centered on one of history's greatest trade routes is a testament to that overarching mission. More than 100 of Flicker's students are taking their creative cues from artistic traditions that stretch back thousands of years. Class work incorporates the greatest art from China, India and ancient Rome; it combines demanding studio work with detailed history lessons about the most significant ancient cultures from across the world.
It's all centered on the Silk Road, the 4,000-mile trade route that served as a vital bridge between disparate cultures for more than 1,600 years. Beginning in the ancient Han Dynasty in China in the second century B.C., the Silk Road was the equivalent of a continental freeway. Traders, travelers and philosophers used the route to transmit materials, artwork and ideas from Java in the east to central Europe in the west.
Flicker and her students have drawn inspiration from the storied trade route. On a recent Monday morning, Falcon Creek students were intent on transferring drawings of animals, plants and other nature scenes to silk, a medium that can be unforgiving. The strains of traditional Chinese string music played in the background, and Flicker circulated among her students, offering tips about the historical context behind the artwork.
"Students study different civilizations through art," Flicker said. "I wanted to take them through the journey through the Silk Road, and show them the impact it had on the world today. It was the first attempt at trade and international relations. They experience this through discussions and readings and also creating the art."
Flicker had some help in gathering the materials needed to make her ambitious lesson plan a success. Thanks to a $1,000 grant from the Cherry Creek Schools Foundation, Flicker had access to a wealth of resources including books, music and the precious textile that gave the famous trade route its title.
"It paid for the silk, the dyes, the music, DVDs and books that gave the students a foundation of understanding about the Silk Road," Flicker said. "It paid for brushes, watercolor paper, stretcher bars and quite a bit of other important materials."
That wealth of materials was necessary to convey the full history and scope of the subject, Flicker added. Over its 4,000-mile length and its 1,600-year history, the Silk Road affected a dizzying array of cultures and traditions. Falcon Creek students have gained insight into the ancient traditions of Greece and Rome; they've learned about the motifs that characterize the most important artistic traditions of India, China and Asia. They've learned about cities and cultures that have disappeared into the mists of history.
With that kind of historical and artistic background, these students will have no problems becoming global citizens.