Discuss inequality as you explore Rockwell’s “The Problem We all Live With.”

“The Problem We all Live With” was created for “Look” Magazine to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education which ended racial segregation stating that separate was not equal. The painting shows a young girl being escorted into her newly integrated school by US marshals as onlookers protest all around her.  It was inspired by Ruby Bridges, who, in 1960, was among one of the first children to integrate the schools in New Orleans.


  • Explore desegregation and racial inequality
  • Build descriptive language skills
  • Build perspective-taking skills
  • Participate in collaborative conversation


  • A printed or digital copy of “The Problem We All Live With” [insert link to images].
  • Writing paper

The Problem We All Live With, Norman Rockwell. 1952
©1952 SEPS: Licensed by Curtis Publishing, Indianapolis, IN

[One line activity for teaser: What might this little girl be thinking about the things happening around her?]

Before you begin the activity: 

  • Read aloud “The Story of Ruby Bridges” by Martin Coles




  • Look at the painting together. Ask:
    • What do you see first when you look at this painting? 
    • What do you think is happening?
    • What do you think the girl is feeling?
    • What do you think is happening just beyond this painting? 
    • To encourage conversation you might point out the tomato and ask. Who do you think threw this? Why do you think they threw it? How do you think it made the little girl feel?
    • Point out the grownups in the picture. Ask, what do you notice about them? Why do you think they are there?  (to escort and protect the little girl)
    • Draw connections to the story that you just read. Mention that this little girl is headed to her newly integrated school just like Ruby Bridges.


  • Have students work in three groups. Explain that there are many feelings and emotions happening in and around this painting.
  • Put one group in charge of The US marshals. Have them write a list of words that describe what the marshals might be feeling. Put another group in charge of the little girl. Assign them the task of listing and describing the girl’s emotions. Put the third group in charge of exploring the onlookers’ emotions. Explain, the onlookers are the ones just beyond the painting, the ones who threw the tomato.
  • Gather as a class and have students share the emotions that they came up with. Discuss how the characters emotions are similar and different and why this may be the case.


Try these activities to go even farther with your explorations.


  • Create three poems, one for each list of emotions. One will represent the girl’s feelings, one will represent the Marshall’s feelings and one will represent the onlookers’ feelings.  Print a copy of Rockwell’s painting and post your poems in and around the painting.


  • Begin a group discussion about inequality. Ask children, this painting was called “The Problem We All Live With.” Is this still a problem that we live with? How has it changed? How has it stayed the same?