|Environmental Education in the Schools (Peace Corps, 1993)|
|Activities, activities and more activities|
Many environmentalists identify vandalism as a major blemish on the environment in Latin America and the Caribbean. Quite possibly some of your visitors have vandalized public places. But simply telling them that "vandalism is-and therefore vandals are-bad" would probably have no impact In this exercise, participants can explore the reasons that people vandalize public objects and places. The activity then asks participants to suggest other ways to accomplish the same ends.
It is important for the environmental educator in this activity to assume a non-judgmental, almost academic, attitude about the subject. Only in this way will participants feel free to discuss it.
1. Ask each participant to name one thing in his or her environment that he or she considers beautiful, or as having special meaning Tell the participants that this activity is about such things and about why people might willingly ruin the very things they claim to value. Warn the participants that they may feel uncomfortable talking about this topic, but encourage them to think hard and to say what they think. Assure them that no one will be criticized for his or her observations.
2. Ask if anyone knows the word that describes behavior that defaces or destroys property. (vandalism) Write the word and its definition on a chalkboard or sheet of newsprint.
3. See if the participants can identify some examples of vandalism in their environment, and then list these.
4. Think back to the beautiful or special things named by members of the group in step 1. Are any of these included in the list you just wrote? (If you have slides showing examples of vandalism, this would be a good time to show them.)
5. Go through the list, and for each example ask, "Why do you think the vandal did this?" On the chalkboard or newsprint, note the various reasons suggested. (The participants may need some help from you.) With some discussion they may come up with motivations such as love (scribbling "Antonio loves Juanita" on a cement wall), anger (creating a nuisance or an eyesore, such as tossing a bucket of paint on a monument), making a political statement, leaving witty or obscene messages (as in bathroom graffiti), and theft.
6. Tell the participants that all of these types of vandalism, except for theft, have four things in common. Can they identify these factors? The first two factors are that all are attempts to communicate something and all are located in places where people are more or less forced to see them-on beautiful objects, on historical monuments or relics, or on objects such as walls and highway overpasses that many people pass by every day. That is the reason for the great irony of vandalism-some of the most special things in our environment may be used for the communication of ugly, irrelevant (to the object), or short-lived ideas.
The third factor is that a vandal's message is generally anonymous. Most communities punish vandals once they are identified, and, in some countries, writers of political messages are severely punished. A fourth factor is that many, but not all, acts of vandalism are relatively permanent; they are difficult to erase.
The theft of precious objects (or even materials such as brass plaques) does not fit into the category of vandalism as a means of expression because the motivation is probably based on economic need - regardless of whether you agree with how the thief "earns" a living.
Your participants may suggest another motive for the vandalism behind such acts as the smashing of La Pieta, Michelangelo's beautiful statue in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican. While the vandal who did this may have been trying to say something about motherhood or organized religion, it is more likely that he was simply emotionally disturbed at the time. (Often vandalism is dismissed as an act of a crazy person, rather than a destructive attempt to communicate real ideas or feelings.) In a way, an act of vandalism is just a cheap way to make a headline.
7. Now that the participants can think of vandalism as a way of communicating an idea or a feeling, they should be able to suggest alternatives to this form of communication. For instance, a political slogan could be painted on a cloth banner and hung across the street or on private property instead of spray-painted on a public wall. Or someone who wants to make a political statement could organize a rally as another alternative.
Distribute paper and pencil to the participants. Ask them to write down three examples of vandalism in their community and what the motivation behind each example might have been. For each example, they should also suggest an alternative method for accomplishing the vandal's goal. Allow ten minutes for this.
8. Collect the papers. Read some of the alternatives to the whole group and discuss them. Would the alternatives be practical? Effective? Safe? Be prepared for some funny or outrageous suggestions.
1. If you will have continuing contact with the group, develop a project in the community, either addressing a message often communicated by vandals or addressing vandalism in general. Encourage students to work together with community officials.
2. Other questions to explore could be:* When does vandalism in the environment become terrorism?
* How can vandalism harm a community?
* How can vandalism harm the natural environment?
* Can vandalism ever play a positive role?
* How have your ideas about vandalism changed as a result of doing this activity?
3. If students or youth group members are interested in the subject of vandalism, have them write a play about it, and produce the play at a local carnival or for the school. Younger students might have an anti-vandalism poster contest. Posters could be displayed by local merchants, or at public libraries, markets, and other prominent locations in the community.