Interdisciplinary Multicultural Education: A Unique Approach

By Pass, Marilyn | School Arts, April 1993 | Go to article overview

Interdisciplinary Multicultural Education: A Unique Approach


Pass, Marilyn, School Arts


Education literature is replete with articles involving multiculturalism. The history of the United States is rich with tales of people traveling from distant countries in search of freedom, riches and abundant land. Others came here, not of their free will, but as slaves. Our uniqueness, and some would say our greatness, arise out of the diversity of our people.

Demographically, our country is becoming more and more diverse. Recent studies indicate that by the year 2050, the average U.S. resident will trace his or her ancestry to Africa, Asia, the Hispanic/latin World, the Pacific Islands, Arabia - to almost anywhere but Europe. In some classrooms, the students come from a wide variety of backgrounds and ethnic traditions. In others, particularly those in rural or suburban America, very few of the students are representative of the cultural diversity so evident in much of the country.

A multicultural approach to our educational system and art classes can be beneficial in either situation. For the ethnically diverse school, such a program can be a reflection of the students' backgrounds and ancestry. In schools where students come from similar cultural backgrounds, a multicultural approach can enrich their understanding of other cultures and beliefs.

Background

This year my middle school began to offer a course entitled Art/music/History, in which three teachers team-taught approximately seventy-five students over the first semester of the year. Our civics teacher, our music instructor and I planned the course over the summer. We decided to break it into three groups and cultural areas, and rotate our students through each of our classrooms every two weeks.

Gargoyles and Gregorian Chant

Our first six weeks were spent on the Gothic and Renaissance periods in Europe. In the music section, the students studied Gregorian chant and wrote their own chants on parchment or aged paper. For the history section, the civics teacher developed a unit describing the historical changes and devastation brought about by the Black Plague in Europe. He also discussed the power of the church and its political implications.

In the art section, I showed slides from both the Gothic and Renaissance periods and discussed ways the art differed. I also discussed how the Black Plague influenced the artwork, and why most of the artwork of the period reflected religious themes. We took a field trip during this session to a nearby abbey, where our students were able to see authentic illuminated manuscripts, stained-glass windows and religious icons. They were also able to speak with one of the monks, who was glad to answer their questions, and to give them a feel for what it was like to live the monastic life in the time period we were studying.

For the production aspect of the art class, the students were given a choice of creating a gargoyle out of clay, making a facsimile of an illumination or designing a rose window. While most of the students chose to create gargoyles, all of the creations were unique and detailed.

At the end of the art course, the students were tested on the information they had been taught. They were shown slides of two Pietas: one was a Gothic work, and the other was Michelangelo's famous sculpture. The students had to identify which sculpture was Renaissance and which was Gothic, and give reasons for their identifications. The students were amazed at how they could connect the three aspects of the time periods. It actually began to make sense to them!

Japan: Prehistory to the Present

Our second session was spent studying Japan, which allowed the students to see how eastern and western art and life have influenced each other. The history section outlined the various periods of Japan, from its isolation to its opening to the west. In the art section, I showed slides of artwork from prehistory to the present. We also saw the video, Living Treasures of Japan, which illustrated the importance of the arts in this unique country. …

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