Dialogic Encounters as Art Education

Article excerpt

Although educators believe in the importance of dialogue and dialogic encounters, and often propose to engage their students in "discussion," dialogic communication is rarely used in the classroom (Alexander, 2005). Rather than through relational and substantive conversation, most educational dialogue in public schools is limited to telling, asking one-way questions, and seeking "correct" answers (Pinar, 2004).

Educational contexts and methods that restrict and regulate dialogue in the classroom - such as federal education legislation that rewards and penalizes schools based on standardized test scores as sole indicators of student learning - have seriously curtailed the possibilities for a dialogic education. In fact, the mandates that The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) has imposed have had a devastating impact on teachers, students, and education as a whole (Apple, 2007; Chapman, 2007; Giroux, 2009; Fehr, 2008; Hursh, 2008; McLaren & Farahmandpur, 2006). Areas of specific concern have been the decrease of instructional time and resources in arts education due to schools' emphasis on improving students' skills to meet NCLB's requirements (Sabol, 2009).The enforcement of NCLB has prevented pedagogies of democratization that foster dialogic encounters.

Henry Giroux (2009), David W. Hursh (2008), and Laura Chapman (2007), propose that educational mandates that rely on rigid standards, assessments, and accountability devalue and de-skill the teacher's role as educator. The function of the teacher is reduced to the position of technician, whose purpose becomes to manage and administrate curricular programs. This diminishes opportunity for critical examination and reflection upon the conditions that organize and construct the ideological and material practices of education (Giroux, 2009).

Robin Alexander (2005), Jonathan Kozol (2005), Peter McLaren and Ramin Farahmandpur (2006) demonstrate the same concern when they argue that teaching that is closely focused on standards Is counterproductive in that it limits the scope and breadth of education. David Hursh (2008), Jonathan Kozol (200S), and bell hooks (2004) explain that ready-made curricula and standardized education have mostly served to amplify inequality between advantaged and disadvantaged students by promoting uniformity (single-voiced discourses) in the what, why, and how of learning.

In short, institutional mandates that put forward measures that regulate and restrict dialogue contribute to power imbalances, which lead to intolerant social and educational practices, such as heteronormative mores and androcentrism. In most educational settings, this asymmetry of power limits or only superficially recognizes social difference (gender, race, ability) and fails to acknowledge curriculum that does not privilege the voices of the dominant (Apple, 2007; Giroux, 2009; hooks, 2004). Ignoring the socio-cultural specificity of linguistic diversity (voice) of students, as well as that of teachers, is tantamount to complicity in creating, and sustaining hegemonic ideologies.

I propose that art educators consider a theory of dialogism, a theory developed by Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975); and Pablo Helguera's1 public artwork, The School of Panamerican Unrest (SPU), an artwork grounded on dialogic encounters. Bakhtin's (1986) and Helguera's (2006) work is important because their theories make significant inroads, through counter-discourses and dialogic praxis, to (re)envision dialogue as a communicative action from relational, dynamic, participatory, and probing/critical (responsible) viewpoints. A relational dialogue "always includes a question, an address, and the anticipation of a response, it always includes two (as a dialogic minimum)" (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 170). From a Bakhtinian perspective, an answer must generate a new question from itself. Otherwise, communication falls out of true dialogic exchange (Bakhtin, 1986). Foreshadowing the basic tenets of cultural studies and reader-response theories, Bakhtin rejects the idea of passive transference, reception, and consumption of language and culture. …