Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Social Justice and Informal Learning: Breaking the Social Comfort Zone and Facilitating Positive Ethnic Interaction

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Social Justice and Informal Learning: Breaking the Social Comfort Zone and Facilitating Positive Ethnic Interaction

Article excerpt

Many of us have grown up in neighborhoods that offered limited opportunities to meet, talk to, and share with people different from our own ethnic or racial backgrounds (Tatum, 2000). Even though great improvement has been made in the area of desegregation since the onset of the Civil Rights Movement in America, we have continued to see the prevalence of resldentlally segregated neighborhoods where Whites and Blacks choose to live separate from each other (Krysan, Couper, Farley & Forman, 2009; Massey, 2004; Charles, 2006), resonating social and economic stratification based upon race and class. As a Korean Immigrant and citizen of the United States, I have been exposed to Asian American culture and lifestyle for more than a decade. In that time, I have noted the existence of some Invisible barriers or walls that separate Korean Americans and other ethnic groups. Those involved in this interaction are often uncertain how to approach one another In order to bring about some sort of change to the status quo. I have even encountered some Korean Americans who have almost entirely given up their Korean identity, language, and culture in an effort to assimilate themselves into the mainstream American lifestyle.

Art educators have argued for the necessity of teaching issues of social justice and diversity to the next generation while providing responsible strategies to fight against racism, prejudices, and other forms of individual, institutional, and structural discrimination (Banks, 2009; Chalmers, 1996; Chappell, 2009; Collins & Sandell, 1992; Darts, 2004; Freedman, 2000; Pincus, 2000; Stuhr, 2003). As an extension of recent Interest and scholarship concerning social justice and diversity, this article shares a community-based ethnic art and culture research project that I developed and implemented. In it, students purposefully sought to engender interethnic cooperation and communication between members of different races or ethnic groups. In working with my students toward the development of interethnic meetings and interaction, I discovered many things that were unexpected, unintended, and unplanned. However unexpected, the results of my research offer learning outcomes worthy of note. This uncharted, often accidental, kind of learning is conceptualized and framed as "informal learning," or that which specifically illuminates aspects of learning that are unplanned, unsystematic, and unofficial.

In this article, I explore informal learning as a conceptual framework for contextualizing community-based ethnic art and culture study, and as an application of my teaching strategy to deal with sensitive and loaded subjects, such as discrimination and social justice, in the classroom. In the following sections, I discuss informal learning as a means to teach students effectively about diversity Issues, and I report on what my students learned as the informal learning outcomes of the project.

Interethnic Interaction and Informal Learning

Scholars have noted that facilitating interethnic or Interracial interaction is a significant educational goal (Banks, 2009; Levin, Van Laar, & Sidanius, 2003; Rodenborg & Huynh, 2006; Plant, Butz, & Tartakovsky, 2008; Tatum, 2000), a prerequisite to creating a more democratic and multicultural society in which one honors and respects those of other ethnic groups or races (Garber, 2003; Rodenborg & Huynh, 2006). Gurin, Dey, Hurtado, and Gurin (2002)1 noted that attending an ethnically diverse public school or university does not necessarily guarantee meaningful interracial interaction; they emphasize that students must actually engage with diverse others in deeper, more meaningful ways. They argued that college education should go beyond teaching diversity subjects in classrooms, and instead should provide more opportunities to engage with "informal interactional diversity" (p. 333) among racial and ethnic groups in students' college lives by promoting such campus-sponsored events as daily interactions in dormitories, occasional social meetings, or club activities. …

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