Considering Multicultural Art Education

By Adejumo, Christopher O. | Art Education, March 2002 | Go to article overview

Considering Multicultural Art Education


Adejumo, Christopher O., Art Education


Several art educators and educators in general have written extensively about the merits of a culturally inclusive curriculum that would represent the ways-of-life of disenfranchised minorities in U.S. classrooms (Grant & Sleeter, 1992; Banks, 1989; Chalmers, 1996). This approach to the school art curriculum is widely known as multicultural art education (Stuhr, Petrovich-Mwaniki, & Wasson, 1992; Grant & Sleeter,1992).

For art educators to understand and maximize the benefits of multicultural art education, we must engage in a critical and honest dialogue about its potentials and limitations. This article examines the purpose, functions, and implications of multicultural art education through a critical review and analysis of the concept, which had its genesis in general education as seen in the work of James Banks (1989). Eradicating discrimination and prejudice against minorities in U.S. public schools has been the core of the premise for multicultural education. However, some of its opponents consider multicultural education to be more of a political movement than a forum for true educational reform (Stotsky, 1992). Does the perception of multicultural education as a trendy euphemism or political cause undermine its pedagogical values? This question and related issues are addressed here.

Historical Overview

Most of the 1960s and 1970s in the United States were marked by insurgent social concepts espoused by feminist and Civil Rights movements. These movements were developed for the purpose of rectifying social inequalities. One of the most divisive and heatedly contested issues during this period was "equal access" to education. The Civil Rights movements advocated school desegregation and bilingual education as initiatives for equal access to educational opportunities. The concept of multicultural education evolved from these social and educational movements (Haynes, 1997).

Despite its broad-based popularity among advocates of educational reform through curriculum diversification, the effectiveness of multicultural education as pedagogical approach has been controversial. Opponents of multicultural education criticized it for having ambiguous objectives, poorly defined process of application, and speculative results (Stotsky, 1992). Conflicting views about multicultural education undermine its core import, which is to expand students' understanding of the history and cultural traditions of minority groups in the United States. Informed knowledge about these cultures is expected to generate better appreciation and tolerance of difference. Ultimately, it is assumed that all students would be treated with equal dignity and respec in the school environment, due to the recognition of cultural diversity as a source of cultural enlightenment and not a condition for discrimination (Petrovich-- Mwaniki, 1997). For this reason, several academic disciplines have explored multicultural education. One such discipline is art education.

Contemporary Views on Multicultural Art Education

The current approach to multicultural art education is concerned with promoting cultural pride and equal learning opportunities in art for all children in U.S. schools through a diversified art curriculum. However, this approach to the art curriculum continues to be controversial among art educators. Based on a review of art education literature, art educators engaged in multicultural art education discourse have debated the and the challenges of implementing such curriculum. Its proponents perceive multicultural art education as ar instrument of school and social reform. For example, Stuhr (1994) and Daniel (1990) believe that representing the cultures of minority groups in the art curriculum wil have life-enhancing impacts on students, such as improved social and cultural awareness and enhanced ability to make informed decisions in the process of social action (Banks, 1989). Some advocates have gone beyond theoretical discourse to highlight examples of successful multiculticultural art education experiences (Cho, 1998) and make practical suggestions on how to implement multicultural art education in the school curriculum (Daniel & Daniel, 1979). …

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