As pupils get older, acceptance of graffiti grows.
It’s a state of mind in the public schools.
What’s verboten in 5th grade is cool a year or so later.
So says a survey of 5,000 pupils.
You’re in fifth grade, graffiti’s a crime.
You hit sixth or seventh grade, it becomes art.
That’s the most important finding to emerge from a survey of
Philadelphia public school students, conducted by PhilaPride and the
School District. The plan is to develop an anti-graffiti curriculum,
using the survey results as a guide.
Although district officials aim to use the curriculum in all grades,
they will probably start with middle school because of the survey
findings, Pamela Wilkinson, special projects assistant with the
district, said yesterday.
“It’s a major problem throughout the district,” she said.
The district spends an estimated $1.75 million a year battling graffiti,
the study found. The survey, which went out to 5,000 students in grades
5 through 9 across the city, shows that the younger bunch upholds the
community standard: Wall-writing is criminal.
But views change after sixth grade. Most students no longer see graffiti
as a crime, and by seventh grade, they are buying into the notion that
it’s urban art, the position of a majority of ninth graders.“They think
graffiti is art; they think it’s cool; they
think it’s hip,” said Vicki Wilson, community relations director for
PhilaPride, a nonprofit group that promotes efforts to fight litter
and beautify the city. “The support that it’s getting from non-writers
and at-risk kids is high.”
The survey also helped debunk the popular misconception that the
majority of wall-writers are minorities. Nationally, more than 68
percent of youths arrested on graffiti charges are white.
It was whites, the survey found, who showed overwhelming support for the
hobby, with close to 60 percent of them saying it was a “smart” thing
to do, as opposed to being a “stupid” activity.
African Americans and Latino students also saw graffiti in a positive
light, although not as strongly as the whites, the survey found. Only
Asian students held back praise.
Not surprisingly, the survey found that female students frowned on
graffiti and said it should be punished as a crime. Most guys saw it as
not very harmful and something that should be accepted or ignored.
More than 85 percent of wall-writers are male, the study said.
As for punishment, the survey found that fifth and ninth graders
supported some kind ofcommunity service — and fifth graders said that
offenders should losetheir driver’s licenses. When caught in school, a
wall-writer should get a stern lecture, most
ninth graders said. Fifth graders supported a phone call to parents and
Ninth graders supported a fine for those caught. None of the students
surveyed thought jail time or a permanent criminal record was called
for. Wilson, of PhilaPride,said teachers tended to believe that
punishment was the way to curb graffiti. `They believe they’re totally
immune to punishment,” she said of youngsters.Wilson said changing
young people’s perceptions of graffiti was tough.
Many of them seewall-writing as rebellious. So how do you make rebels
listen to the establishment? “It’s a really tricky and fine line . . .
creating a curriculum that will withstand the pressure,” she said.
One goal will be to shake students up a bit, she said, to make them see
that “the way people feel about their property is the way you feel
about your clothes, about your music.”
Philadelphia Online — The Philadelphia Inquirer, City & Region —
Copyright Tuesday, August 26, 1997
– Lea Sitton Stanley – Inquirer Staff Writer