Engage! Theme: Signs and Symbols
“Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, But spare your country’s flag,” she said.—John Greenleaf Whittier
Let’s look for a moment at one symbol: the American flag. Three colors, thirteen horizontal stripes, a small blue rectangle containing fifty five-pointed stars. Also a symbol that by law cannot be desecrated. Also, an image that represents a country of approximately 300 million people. The flag and the other images presented here—Uncle Sam, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a classic representation of George Washington, and a revision of that representation—have come to mean a wide range of things to a wide range of people. They are intended to mean some of these things, and they have of course come to mean a number of other things. How is it that some images are designed to represent and to mean? How do some images instruct us in what to feel and think? When are we able to confer different meanings on these images? How do we design symbolic images of our own?
Sample Icebreakers and Opening Exercises
Think of an instance when you looked at or saw an image—a symbol, picture, advertisement, poster, whatever—that moved you in some way—moved you to do something or caused you to feel something strongly. What was the image, and what did it move you to do or cause you to feel? How did it do this, how did it work on you?
Take a few minutes and sketch out a picture that symbolizes something that matters to you. Don’t worry about the quality of the picture—consider it a rough sketch, like an outline, but pay attention to what you want it to say and how you think the picture will explain it. Once you’re set, pair up with the person next to you, share, and explain.
Images and Discussion Tools
The following links contain the selected image (or image details, if the image is unavailable for web delivery), background information, “Looking Questions,” further discussion questions, activity ideas, and resources. Consult the Engage! pilot site pages to see how the pilot libraries put Engage! into action.