Academic journal article High School Journal

The Dance of Diversity: White Male Teachers and Arts Based Instruction for Classrooms

Academic journal article High School Journal

The Dance of Diversity: White Male Teachers and Arts Based Instruction for Classrooms

Article excerpt

Reading and Writing for Adolescence and Adulthood is a course for teacher candidates that introduces them to arts-based literacy instruction. The purpose is to train teachers to enhance reading and writing skills in adolescents. The pre-service teachers were encouraged to study theory and perform practical exercises using the arts so that they could share their experience with their own high schools students. Evidence of their growth as teacher/leaders who understand and value the arts, regardless of the content area that they work in, is evident in their comments about arts-based literacy instruction. This study is a reminder that young teachers from all backgrounds represent a significant opportunity to change the course of literacy instruction so that more youth are successful in and outside of formal learning institutions.

Introduction

The dilemma we are now facing in education is that the teaching force in the U.S.A. is homogenously white, middle class, female, and Christian (Landsman & Lewis, 2006). Further, researchers conclude that many teachers are inadequately prepared to teach ethnically diverse students (Leavell, Cowart & Whelm, 1999; Zeichner, 2003; Cochran-Smith, 2003; Sleeter, 2003, Gay, 2000, Ladson-Billings, 1994, 1995; Howard, 1999, 2006). Teacher educators are aware that according to the results of the 2000 Census, the U.S. population is becoming increasingly diverse (Villegas & Lucas, 2002) and that it is critical for teachers to be properly oriented to ideas and practices that will enhance student learning in their classrooms (Jordan-Irvine & Armento, 2001).

Howard (2006) contends that at the present time in North American public education there are three simultaneous statistical realities we are faced with: (1) the teaching force is mostly White; (2) the student population is highly diverse and is growing; and (3) the students of color are most at risk of being caught on the negative end of the achievement gap. Faced with the contending forces of the modern classroom Cumrot (2002) stated that schools have become a meeting ground of cultures where the worlds of the students meet the worldview of teachers. Garcia and Willis (2001) assert that avoiding a cultural clash in the classroom requires that pre-service teachers learn to become culturally responsive to students from diverse backgrounds.

Scholars have described the crucial need for teachers to be consciously responsive to their students' cultural backgrounds and learning styles in order to improve students' academic achievement (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994a). Banks (2006) states that effective teachers in a diverse and flat world need an education that enables them to attain new knowledge, paradigms, and perspectives on the United States of America and the world. Furthermore, teachers must critically analyze their ideologies, journeys, and dispositions and engage in personal transformation in order to be effective.

Arts in the Classroom

Art creates avenues for the intellectual powers to open spaces where freedom is concerned (Albers, 1997). Moreover, the arts allow teachers to work with their students to create a classroom where studying and learning are continually engaged. In the spirit of art-based pedagogy, teachers of urban youth have long extolled the virtues of using culturally relevant content to ensure that students stay motivated and committed to learning the craft of writing (Szustak, 1993; Mahiri & Sablo, 1996; Bean, Valerio, Senior & White, 1997; Nurss, Abbott-Shim, McCarty, & Hicks, 1994; Taggart, 1994). If students can enjoy learning something new through the arts, as well as being able to understand why they are doing these activities, they can easily help themselves to grasp personal goals. Henderson and Kesson (1999) acknowledge this space of possibility when they suggest that school is a place where learning in the present can act to give new life and vitality to the past and to create new possibilities and plans for the future. …

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