ART IN SOCIAL STUDIES ASSESSMENTS: An Untapped Resource for Social Justice Education

Article excerpt

A relatively new trend in assessment in American history education offers interesting oppor timicies to inject the arts into mainstream education in ways that could provide a catalyst for engagement with social justice issues.

A relatively new trend in assessment in American history education offers interesting opportunities to inject the arts into mainstream education in ways that could provide a catalyst for engagement with social justice issues. Document-based questions [DBQs] on statewide social studies assessments afford art and social studies teachers interested in social justice issues such opportunities. Long a staple of Advanced Placement exams, DBQs are turning up on statewide elementary, middle, and high school social studies assessments and have become an integral part of social studies curricula and tests in NewYorkThese types of questions represent an authentic assessment, in that students read and analyze passages and visual images and then synthesize the information into a coherent essay A pioneer in creating DBQs, New York state suggests that documents should include graphs, charts, maps, cartoons, photographs, artwork, eyewitness accounts, and historical passages and requires that its social studies assessment contain at least 2-3 visual documents per DBQ (NYS Social Studies).The input of art teachers in the creation and analysis of these exams (which are not constructed by a corporation but by New York teachers) is desirable if the assessments areto realize their potential for fostering social justice curriculum and instruction.

Why should art teachers committed to social justice issues care about social studies assessment? The arts are now, and historically, marginalized in American public education. In order to graduate from high school in Germany students need 7-9 credits of art; in Japan, they need 5; in American schools, 0-2 suffice (Fowler 1 996).The central role of psychology in educational theory and its strong emphasis on language help account for this de-emphasis of art in American education (Crain, l992;Cremin, 1 976; Kliebard, 1995). Additionally, freedom of expression, available to American artists, may engender a view that educating for social justice is an endeavor that belongs to the history teacher. Teaming with colleagues to select art images for state assessments provides an avenue to place the arts on an equal platform with text in children's hearts arid minds as they engage in interpreting American culture and history.

Art as a Catalyse for Crirical Thinking

Art teachers' engagement with the selection of images for social studies assessment is also important because the arts promote alternate perspectives on historical events. By stimulating emotional connections to the past, art works motivate young people to relate past issues to those in their own lives and potentially make connections to events in the present. Issues of power, the legacies of slavery and Japanese internment, questions of legal justice, and justifications for war are some of the complex issues in American history that have inspired artists to create provocative works. Adding imagesto the teaching of history is an acknowledgment of the increasingly visual world of our students. In our visually oriented culture, where students' knowledge of the contemporary world, and even of history, is as likely to emanate from television and film it is from reading, it is critical that educators assist students' as analysis of images. Art has the power to ". . . reframe public debate about the past and help transform popular memories and histories" (Desai, Hamlin, & Mattson, 20 1 0, p. 11).

Art that exemplifies the complex contradictions of history can be found in a series of 80 paintings created by Ben Sakoguchi (2009) called Postcards from Camp (1 999-200 1). Studying family photos to substantiate his childhood recollections of his time in a Japanese internment camp in Rohwer, Arkansas, Sakoguchi authenticated his recollections by examining military, civilian, and internee photographs. …