Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Parents, Middle-Class-Ness, and Out-of-School Art Education

Academic journal article The Journal of Social Theory in Art Education (Online)

Parents, Middle-Class-Ness, and Out-of-School Art Education

Article excerpt

With him, I have enrolled him in a variety of different courses up until this year, trying to find one that would inspire him. We did creative movement, we did karate this year, and I never could find the right one. And finally a light went on and he discovered painting and drawing and pottery. And for him art, and being able to represent his thoughts, has become a huge opening. It's a form of expression that he's never had before, and he's just excited by it, which is nice to see. Its been interesting to watch him. He has a passion. (Parent interview transcript, Christa, in Lackey, 1997, p. 144)

The quotation above is an excerpt from an interview conducted in the course of my2 dissertation project, completed over ten years ago. The speaker, given a fictitious name, is the mother of a six-year-old boy who was at the time enrolled in a children's art class at the West Side Center, a pseudonym for a recreation facility located in an established upper-middle-class, tree-lined neighborhood in Vancouver, British Columbia. The perspectives of parents were not really central to the dissertation, which explored more widely how various actors interacting in two community centers within socio-economically and culturally different neighborhoods, viewed and experienced leisure art programming relative to the more dominant center agendas that promoted sport and fitness. This particular quotation, however, was mysteriously compelling to me at the time, and lingered in the back of my mind for years. I was drawn to it in part because I recognized myself, a white middle-class woman like Christa, in the seemingly systematic and almost urgent way in which this mother spoke about finding "the right" activity for her child, one that would match his interests and ignite something (what?) in him. I wondered at the way in which it implied a deeply careful almost scientific observation of her son, both "who" he was and how he responded to each of the experiences that she had him "try on." I puzzled at why a six-year-old would need a "passion." More than these, however, was my sudden recognition of her-and my own -taken-for-granted construction of what "good" parenting entailed with respect to children's education, broadly conceived. The presumption was that good parents took seriously a felt responsibility for seeking supplemental, out-of-school educational experiences that were unique to their children's personalities. A revelation came when I realized that this parenting practice that seemed normal to me, and was also something about which I felt mysteriously driven, was in fact a cultural assumption, not universal, and arguably grounded in my own middle-class-ness. That the ultimate 'fit' in the case of Christa's son turned out to be an out-of-school art class, cemented her words in my memory and caused me to ponder how these out-of-school forms of art education might be caught up in middle-class parents' agendas in both general and specific ways.

The purpose of this article is to explore some of the intersections between a particular logic of middle-class parenting and the use of out-of-school art education to foster socialization and cultural capital3. I suggest that middle-class parents use extraschool art educational programming to promote children's classed values and privilege in general. These parents also, however, view out-of school art education as contributing in distinct and particular ways to sought-after middle-class characteristics for their offspring. In this moment of crisis for public school education, within which school art is persistently constrained by practices of standardization and vulnerable to defunding and de-schooling, scholars and educators increasingly seek ways to reimagine and re-locate places of learning as well as to forge coalitions with organizations in out-of-school sites (Ellsworth, 2005; Sandlin, Schultz, & Burdick, 2010). While nonschool settings do hold vast potential for re-thinking and invigorating art education, they simultaneously provide fields of play that permit those who already hold power and resources opportunities to activate privilege and maintain inequities in informal ways. …

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