Dismantling a Master Narrative: Using Culturally Responsive Pedagogy to Teach the History of Art Education

By Acuff, Joni Boyd; Hirak, Brent et al. | Art Education, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Dismantling a Master Narrative: Using Culturally Responsive Pedagogy to Teach the History of Art Education


Acuff, Joni Boyd, Hirak, Brent, Nangah, Mary, Art Education


Teaching students to view the prescribe Master Narrative of art history with a skeptical eye allows them to dismantle the traditional textbook lessons and to reinterpret art history in a more complex and substantial way.

The whats and whys of narratives are never chance occurrences or mere happenstance. They have deliberate intentionality, 'voice/ positionality and contestabtlity.... The telling of one story is the genesis of yet other stories.

-Gay, 2000, p. 3

The consequence of narratives becoming stagnant or controlled is that they become a Master Narrative (Moyers, 1990; Ladson-Billings, 1 999). The Master Narrative is an "ideological script that is being imposed by the people in authority on everybody else: The Master Fiction... history" (Moyers, 1990, para. 4). Master Narratives use myths and ideologies to sustain a sanitized version of history. Others" may not enter it as their voice puts the narrative at risk of being contaminated. A Master Narrative "shapes and defines historical significance" (Huggins, 1991, p. 31). In art education, some histories of the field perpetuate a Master Narrative that is rarely rejected or disrupted. In many tellings of the History of Art Education, rarely are there entry points for Others" to explore ideas that differ from the primary storyteller's (Ladson-Billings, 1999).

What and when information is disseminated tells us how the Master Narrative is constructed. Some historical narratives maintain an idealistic evolution of history that focuses on "great men" and "great events." This one dimensional, truncated narrative denies students a "complex, realistic and rich understanding of people and events in American history" (Alridge, 2006, p. 1). In addition to what is taught, we must be cognizant oí when information is communicated. For example, the educational circumstances and needs of people of color should not be first mentioned when Multiculturalism appears on the chronology of Education. In the History of Art Education narrative, there is often an explicit, single entry point for people of color. This narrative is fixed and helps to construct and strengthen the Master Narrative (Huggins, 1991). Adopting culturally responsive pedagogy establishes a platform for multiple voices to be used in the construction of knowledge at all times.

Narrative functions within a culturally responsive pedagogy (Gay, 2000). Culturally responsive teaching in the 21st century combines curriculum with a narrative that contains various entrances and exits, and allows all students to engage with and see themselves in the content. In the following section, I assert that there is an existing Master Narrative within the History of Art Education, and, I share how my implementation of culturally responsive pedagogy in a History of Art Education course opened this narrative. Additionally, two students from the class communicate how my employment of this pedagogy resulted in their active, authentic engagement in the course content, because they could see themselves within the historical narrative, moving freely, entering and exiting as they pleased.

Teacher Narrative

It's 10 years, three degrees, and one semester of teaching as an Assistant Professor in Art Education later that Yve finally reconciled my resentment towards the History of Art Education. As a student, learning about the History of Art Education was always uncomfortable. It wasnt that I believed the information was invaluable or irrelevant, but as a Black woman, I simply felt alone, isolated, and outside of the conversation. As I sat listening about the Massachusetts Drawing Act and the prominent men and petitioners that made a difference, I knew none of those people looked like me. I know African Americans existed when the Act was enacted; I wanted at least an acknowledgement of my presence in the world. This Act did not affect Black people s experiences in public schools because schools were segregated. …

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