By PAUL KENNEDY
Mary Berle is a teacher at heart.
A little more than a year ago she was named the new Chief Educator at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Mass. A Harvard-trained educator, Berle is a former high school principal. And before that a third-grade teacher.
She seems perfectly suited for her new role because kids and Rockwell go together like peanut butter and jelly.
“There is nothing I love more than sitting in front of a Rockwell image with a group of elementary school children and hear them talk about it,” Berle says. “Before I was a principal I taught third grade for quite a few years. The first day of school, the first moment I met my class, I would pass around the image of The Golden Rule.”
Rockwell painted The Golden Rule for The Saturday Evening Post in 1961. The work is as powerful today as it was nearly 60 years ago.
“By having our first conversation be about an image gave everyone access and everyone could notice something,” Berle says. “When we took all that we noticed and shared it then that became the beginning of a conversation of how we would create a caring community as a class. It was extremely effective, I must say, and it was something we could all refer back to.”
Rockwell gave the teacher and her students a starting point, a means to share and shape a better classroom. Of course Rockwell has been offering that opportunity for children of all ages since he first picked up a paintbrush.
Rockwell’s work gives us pause, a fitting gift in a world that seldom seems to offer just that.
Although created in 1943, Rockwell’s famous Four Seasons, illustrating the freedom of speech, the freedom of worship, the freedom from want, and the freedom from fear, remains a powerful reminder of what we have and what we must protect, not just for ourselves but for all.
“The Four Freedoms really invite us to think about what freedom means today,” Berle says. “And there’s a huge, wonderful conversation around what it means to be an American.”