Multicultural Art and Visual Cultural Education in a Changing World

Article excerpt

The school reform movement termed multiculturalism requires us to think deeply about our roles as elementary, secondary, and arts teachers. Since prehistoric times, all peoples have had informal and, at times, formal teachers who have helped the younger generation to understand and create meanings of and for life. We may have lost sight of this essential teaching mission, of life's meaning, and we may have become bogged down in the teaching of school subjects or disciplines in a way that they are no longer connected to the students' lives in contemporary institutional education.

For this reason, it is important to understand culture and cultural diversity because culture provides beliefs, values, and the patterns that give meaning and structure to life. It enables individuals within the multiple social groups of which they are a part to function effectively in their social and cultural environments, which are constantly changing. Education is part of cultural experience; therefore, it cannot be reduced to disciplinary parameters but should include issues of power, history, and self-identity (Bromley & Apple, 1998; Dewey, 1916; Freedman, 1995; Friere, 1978; Neperud, 1995).

We understand multicultural education/art and visual culture' education as school reform, which are processes and not products. It is necessary for us, as teachers, to continually consider and question how this school reform movement can best affect our current classroom practices (Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 1998).

We are not of the mind that multicultural school reform has an answer or a model that can be learned once and for all and put in place in a prescribed manner in a static curriculum. Rather, teachers and students should learn to look at their own cultural traditions, as well as the cultural construction of others, from a critical perspective with the understanding that what has been socially learned can also be unlearned or changed by individuals within the group, if it is deemed necessary to do so. Rights and blame are often attributed to cultures; however, cultures don't have rights or deserve blame because they don't act. People within groups, which are part of a nation, who are also influenced by global events and media, do. Getting people to think critically about their own and their group's actions and who they are empowering or disenfranchising through their personal lives, actions, and work, which includes making and interpreting the meaning of art and visual culture, is important. In this article, we provide for consideration a discussion of culture and cultural diversity, a brief historical perspective on multicultural education, and an example of curriculum appropriate to this reform movement. Later, to assist in the exploration of culture at the personal (largely social), national (largely political), and global (largely economic) levels (Stuhr, 1999a), we give an example concerning the concept of violence. We believe the purpose of multicultural school reform is to help students identify and deal with cultural complexity and issues of power as associated with social affiliations and aspects of personal, national, and global cultural identity (ies).

History, Heritage, and Tradition2

The dynamic and interactive concepts of history, heritage, tradition, and culture need to be defined from a social anthropological perspective to facilitate the understanding of multicultural art and visual culture education. History can be understood as an oral or written story of a particular people's past. It is the past collective experiences of sociocultural groups as often privileged representatives of that group recorded them. Heritage can be explained as what we have inherited from a specific sociocultural group's history and utilize in our lives. Traditions are the practices based in heritage that tie the culture or lived experiences of a person within a group to the past history and memories of the group. …