AWTT FAQ

Subject: Frequently Asked Questions for Educators and Others Interested in the Project
Age groups: Elementary School Middle School High School Homeschooling
Resource type: Teacher Tools

The following are a set of questions that have been asked of us at AWTT over the years. Hopefully, they will help you better understand the potential for this project in your classroom, library, church or other organization. If you have more questions, please feel free to contact us.

How big are the original AWTT portraits? How are they painted?

Each AWTT portrait is 30" x 36". Robert Shetterly paints them in acrylic paints on wood panels.

How many portraits are there?

There are about 180 portraits at this moment (September 2012). Robert Shetterly paints between 10 and 20 new portraits each year. When we post new portraits, we will put up a news bulletin so that you can keep track.

Why is the series called Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizenship?

In the aftermath of 9/11 and the buildup that (mis)led us to war in Iraq, artist Rob Shetterly was looking for inspiration from wise Americans who reminded, pushed, warned, challenged and exhorted the country to live up to its ideals of freedom and equality for all. He painted a portrait of Walt Whitman to honor the poet´s credo:

This is what you shall do: love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone who asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown.

Then he painted another portrait. And another. At the first show of the paintings, in a cafĂ© in Ellsworth, Maine, Shetterly saw people react strongly to the series, as they drew hope and inspiration from the portraits and their subjects. So, he kept going, deciding to call the series Americans Who Tell the Truth as a way of describing the citizens who have summoned courage to focus not just on the great things about America, but on strengthening our society by working to right the country´s inequities and injustices and increase transparency in government decision making.

Now, ten years later, the series has been exhibited in 26 states and Washington, DC and has become a powerful educational tool for citizens of all ages who want to know more about American history, our struggles for social and economic justice, and how we can continue this work for a brighter future.

Read the AWTT mission statement.

Read more about Shetterly and what he has written about the series here.

Watch Shetterly speak about the series here.

What does the word "truth" mean in the name of the series?

We recommend that teachers ask students about the meaning of "truth" in classroom conversations about the portraits. Ask students to think about what "truth" may have meant to each subject in the context of their time and place. The portraits are meant to inspire and provoke these conversations.

In his most recent Artist´s Statement, Rob Shetterly outlined four ways in which "truth" is important to the Americans Who Tell the Truth project:

1. Foundational Truths: The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution express our ideals of equality and justice, which are defined truths of our nation.

2. Truth and Trust: Unless people try to tell each other the truth as they know it, they cannot trust each other. And, obviously, any relationship, personal or public, fails without trust.

3. True Challenges: Unless we are willing to name the true causes of a problem, we cannot fix it. For instance, if we deny that the burning of fossil fuels plays a role in Climate Change, we will not be able to avert climate catastrophe.

4. True Knowledge: If we don't teach our true history, its infamy as well as its nobility, we cannot know who we are. People who don't know themselves are dangerous to themselves and to others because they act from ignorance and self-serving myths.

There are so many AWTT portraits. How do I know which ones to use with my students?

On the Portrait Galleries page educators can sort the portraits by recommended education/age level and by theme. This should help people find the portraits best suited to the content area being taught. There are also three AWTT Units of Study, one each for elementary, middle and high school.

How do I get started using the portraits in my classroom?

We recommend that you start by familiarizing yourself with the portraits. Click onto the different portrait pages and expand each portrait by clicking directly on the image. Read the quotes and the short biographies. Explore the themes and recommended age levels on the Portrait Galleries page.

Then, look at our Resources for educators, beginning with the "Getting Acquainted with AWTT" page.

This will give teachers an overview of how the portraits have been used in classrooms and the potential for their classrooms.

Are there posters for classroom use? A book? Cards?

Yes, you will find posters and cards at our AWTT Store. These beautifully printed reproductions are perfect to display in classrooms, libraries, or at home. They make popular tools for teachers in the classroom.

Soon there will be Curriculum/Poster/Book packages for teachers that can be used in specific grade or content area studies. Please contact us about these.

Contact us about education pricing for your school. To take advantage of this discount you will need to make the purchase through your school/district.

We recommend that you order the award-winning AWTT book from your local bookstore. It is also available at Indiebound, Powells, and other online sites. If you would like a copy of the book signed by the artist for $25, send us an email!

How do I find resources for my students so they can learn more about the people represented in the AWTT portraits?

We are working on uploading a set of Resources to each Portrait Page. Typically we will link you to an organization related to the portrait, videos for classroom use, articles that can be used to prompt classroom discussions, and other related materials. When available, we also link to Zinn Education lesson plans, resources and articles.

I want to have an exhibit at my school. How do I do that?

Go to the Traveling Exhibit page and the Bring AWTT to Your School pages to learn more about how you can bring the AWTT portraits or people into your school.

I can only manage to host two of the portraits. Is that ok?

Yes, you can make an exhibit as small or as large as makes sense for your school, library, community center, college, church or other venue.


How do I bring Robert Shetterly to my school/classroom or organization?

That's a great idea. Please see Bringing AWTT to My School to learn more about how to do that. Also, look at our Speaking and Consulting page.

What are some ways teachers have used the portraits in their classrooms?

Teachers from around the United States and at all educational levels have used AWTT in their classrooms. From the University of Southern Maine´s Lewiston-Auburn campus where professors built a curriculum around AWTT to Louisville´s Jefferson County Public Schools, where evaluations have shown that student attendance, retention, and performance all improved when they brought AWTT into the classroom.

In general, AWTT has been used in an integrated fashion to enhance core curricula in elementary, middle and high schools and to spark debate and dialogue at all levels, and particularly in colleges and universities.

Email us with specific questions or for more detail.

What other educational organizations does AWTT work with that I might be interested in?

On the AWTT Partners page you will find a list of organizations with which we work. Keep checking back, as that list will continue to grow!

Some of teachers, students and parents have suggested that the series is too political or one sided. How should I respond?

AWTT is not asking citizens to agree with every portrait subject's point of view or work. The portraits and the accompanying materials are meant to instigate discussion and debate. Consider them, discuss them and use that process to try to find common ground.

We believe that this engaged dialogue is at the core of our democracy and can be employed to great effect in classrooms. If we are teaching our students "21st Century Skills", we will want them to think critically, articulate their points of view, and defend these points of view with documented evidence. We would also encourage them to be flexible thinkers. Creating dialogue around the AWTT portraits develops these skills.

Look at the portraits with your students, colleagues or family and ask yourselves, "What is the other side of this story?" This is an essential part of teaching the AWTT portraits.

For example, what is the "other side" of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.´s work? Who opposed his work and why?

It is always important to understand all sides of an issue.

There are portraits that will be considered controversial by some people, while other people will find different portraits to be provocative. We encourage those conversations and do not shy away from them. When speaking publicly about the portraits we are always pleased when those listening voice their objections. That's what a democracy is all about.

What are the most common core content areas to which the project connects?

Social Studies, US History, Sociology, Science/Environmental Studies, Gender Studies, Race/African American Studies, Politics, Economics.

What evaluation and/or research exists about using AWTT in the classroom?

For four years the portraits were used in Grade Three/Four/Five classrooms at a Title One school in Louisville, Kentucky. For two of those years the program was used and evaluated by SYNAPSE, a Louisville arts organization. Findings included attitudinal shifts, improved behavior and attendance, increased reading ability and frequency among students. In addition, teachers involved in the program demonstrated greater knowledge of their students and improved problem solving skills in the classroom.

For more detailed results of the above mentioned studies, please send us an email.

On some of the portrait pages, I see a section called "Moment of Truth". What is that?

Several years ago, Rob Shetterly wrote to some of the people whose portraits he has painted and asked each to identify a key moment or decision that influenced choices they have made and work they have done. They were then asked to write a short narrative that could be used in the classroom.

The 'Moment of Truth" narratives proved to be excellent "emotional hooks" for students, helping them to understand how particular people choose their life´s path.

Does AWTT offer training in how to use of the portraits and curriculum in classrooms?

Training and teacher workshops can be arranged with AWTT. Professional Development sessions are designed to meet a school or district´s specific needs and requirements.

At every PD, we try to invite teachers who have used AWTT in the classroom to share their experiences and ideas with the attendees. This, along with guidance from AWTT educators creates a powerful experience for teachers. For more detail, see our Speaking and Consulting page.