Published June 25, 2009
Symbols of communism and marijuana and a prediction that "capitalism will fail" aren't exactly the sort of end-of-year messages you'd expect from an eighth grader.
But that's precisely what some students at the Black Pine Circle School, a private school in Berkeley, Calif., chose to include in their "Class of 2007" mosaic.
The symbols, which are prominently displayed outside the school, have prompted questions about the appropriateness of images like a hammer and sickle and a marijuana leaf on school grounds — and have led critics to say they are blatant proof of political indoctrination of young children.
Black Pine Circle bills itself as a day school where students from kindergarten through eighth grade will be "maximally free of all the 'isms' which pervade most aspects of the world around them: from racism to sexism to the less obvious forms of discrimination," according to its Web site.
Capitalism, even if it fails, apparently isn't one of those: Tuition for a 10-month term costs more than $17,000.
Laura Wolff, assistant director and head of BPCS's Lower School, told FOXNews.com that each graduating student makes a tile to commemorate his or her time there, sometimes teaming up with other students to make a "dual tile." She said school officials do not edit or otherwise influence the end products.
"Being Berkeley, of course, we don't censor their creative expression," Wolff said. "It's fun to see what they come up with."
During a brief interview, Wolff said she was not familiar with the images in question — including the four-tile hammer and sickle depiction — and referred inquiries to John Carlstroem, director of the school, and art teachers Kieren Dutcher and Kim Buckingham. Multiple messages seeking additional comment were not returned.
Ron Reynolds, executive director of the California Association of Private School Organizations, said the images were in "bad taste," but stopped short of calling for their removal.
"I am certainly not enamored by that particular expression and I certainly disagree, but I don't think there's a law against someone expressing a stupid thought," Reynolds told FOXNews.com. "If they felt capitalism will fail, I'd be curious to see what their alternative is."
The mosaic's location on the perimeter of the school serves as an "advertisement for discriminating parents," according to Reynolds, who said he thought the images were conjured up solely by the students.
"Living in Berkeley, I don't think it's a tremendous stretch," he said. "If it were in Irvine or Van Nuys, yeah, I think there would be some raised eyebrows."
Alice Davis, 21, attended Black Pine Circle School from 1998 to 2001 and remembers painting her own tile — a "cityscape scene at nighttime." Davis, now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., said she doesn't recall receiving any instruction regarding the content of her creation.
"They left it up to a bunch of 13-year-olds to decide," Davis told FOXNews.com. "They were hands off in telling us what was appropriate and what wasn't. It was left to our judgment."
Meanwhile, Danae Condos, president of the Berkeley College Republicans, said she found the images "shocking" and not suitable for young children.
"I know some people might say it fits in with the Berkeley atmosphere, but it does say something about the type of education the students are receiving," she told FOXNews.com. "It's obvious that they're receiving some political indoctrination from the school or from their parents. There's no doubt in my mind they're being politically influenced in their education."
Condos, a 19-year-old student at the University of California-Berkeley, said she doubted that school administrators would allow any and all symbols.
"They wouldn't allow a swastika symbol," she said. "It shows where the school's standards lie. If you're seeing this at one of the top-notch schools in the area, imagine what's going on it other schools that don't have the same privileges."