The Culturally Competent Art Educator

Article excerpt

Issues of diversity and multiculturalism continue to be in the forefront of educational and social concerns.

Art teachers have a responsibility to develop and implement culturally responsive curricula even though their training experiences may not have involved multicultural education. While experts agree that multicultural and antiracism instruction in preservice education are critical to embracing diversity and reducing discrimination in the long run (Gayles, 1978; Eldridge, 1998; Frykholm, 1996; Parks, 1999), teacher preparation programs may lack adequate course work and field experience in multiculturalism. In order to advance educational reform, attention to teachers' personal preparation as art specialists in a multicultural world is required. This article will discuss the importance of such preparation and suggest ways for both preservice and inservice art teachers to acquire cultural competence.

There exists a need for better teacher training and continuing education to address the following:

* Elimination of personal bias that negatively affects all aspects of educational experience.

* Acquisition of a more complete understanding of multiculturalism in order to assure sound pedagogical practice.

* Inclusion of cultural content in art curricula beyond holidays and events.

* Becoming discerning consumers of educational materials in order to recognize "multicultural art activity" ideas in the literature that inadvertently perpetuate rather than eliminate stereotyping.

* Mimicry of cultural objects that have highly religious and sacred cultural connotations.

It is essential that teachers recognize the dangers of the "quick fix" and "recipe" approaches. While it does take time and commitment, refocusing and redesigning curricula will increase the integrity of the multicultural programs required in the schools of today and the future.

Qualities of a Culturally Competent Teacher

Sahasrabudhe (1992) describes a multicultural art educator as a person committed to humanity who considers the development of cultural competence as a priority. Others describe such teachers as possessing sufficient compassion and character to commit themselves to reducing racism and healing its effects, not shrinking from the effort when it becomes distressing (Derman-Sparks & Phillips, 1997; Parks, 1999).

Culturally competent teachers are individuals who:

* Have examined and resolved personal biases and are aware of and accept their own cultural backgrounds.

* Possess an inclusive understanding of multiculturalism and incorporate an anthropological approach to art education.

* Are sensitive to others' cultural backgrounds and tailor their teaching to meet their students' culturally particular needs.

* Have an understanding of the traditions of diverse world cultures.

* Have made the commitment to continue their own education in multiculturalism and diversity.

A Place to Begin

Today's teachers are busy responding to changes in standards and assessment. Demands on their time can be daunting, sometimes obscuring understanding of the equal urgency for developing cultural competence. While preservice programs catch up in their efforts to provide such training before employment, inservice teachers need to be encouraged and supported in this endeavor. It helps to begin by increasing understanding of what constitutes culture.

Smith (1995) reminds us that learning about a culture and its people goes beyond a simple examination of external expressions. He recalls Mazrui's seven functions of culture (1990) that explain the basic process by which all cultures operate. As Smith states, understanding of these functions is the "crucial point of departure for any meaningful program in social or educational endeavors" (p. 15).

The seven functions of culture are:

1. Lenses of perception: A person's view of the world is conditioned by culture. …