Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Theoretical Considerations for Art Education Research with and about "Underserved Populations"

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Theoretical Considerations for Art Education Research with and about "Underserved Populations"

Article excerpt

Though it is widely used, the concept of "underserved" is sorely undertheorized in art education. Before the field of art education can effectively address the persistent educational disparities across different sociocultural and economic groups, we need deeper understandings of entangled sociocultural and political processes that create and conceal underservedness. The term"underservedness" moves us away from conceiving of populations, and instead draws attention to cultural articulations and material conditions that prevent certain groups from fully accessing and benefiting from the resources and opportunities for effective education, including high-quality art experiences. In this article, the authors discuss four theoretical perspectives-critical race theory, intersectionality, critical multiculturalism, and social justice education-that can foster nuanced analyses and cogent explanations of art education in the context of underservedness. The discussion focuses on key tenets of these theoretical perspectives, important points of tension and synergy, and their relevance for art education research.

More than a decade after the introduction of No Child Left Behind, there continue to be concerns that not all students are well served by the current educational system.Though rhetoric about closing the quality-of-service gap (Hilliard, 2003) typically has pertained to "core" academic content areas, The President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities released a report in 2011 that built a case for directing educational policies toward redressing longstanding inequities in arts education. The report argued that "students in schools that are most challenged and serving the highest need student populations often have the fewest arts opportunities" (President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2011, p. 32). This statement reflected the Obama administration's increasing awareness and recognition of the negative effects that curriculum and budget compression have had on arts education for many public school students, especially "underserved populations"(Duncan, 2009).

While critical questions of access and quality of arts education for low-income and minority students has gained more national attention (e.g., Catterall, 2012), there have been numerous art educators, researchers, and art education scholars who have urged the field to consider the relevance of sociocultural, economic, and political influences on art learning, curriculum, teaching, and policy (e.g., Ballengee Morris, 2013; Bey, 2011; Cahan & Kocur, 1996; Chalmers, 2002; Check, 2004; Collins & Sandell, 1992; Daniel & Stuhr, 2006; Delacruz, 1996; Eisenhauer, 2007; Freedman, 1987; Garber, 2004; Grigsby, 1977; Knight, 2006a, 2006b; Lee, 2012; McFee & Degge, 1980; Slivka, 2011; Young, 2011). Of these and other pioneering scholars, some have focused on one or more social category (e.g., race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexuality, ability, age, nationality, immigration status, language, culture, and religion) while others have tended to speak more broadly of the social construction and institutionalization of difference(s) and inequality within art education. Additionally, recent studies have demonstrated the presence of racial, economic, and gender gaps in art achievement (Keiper, Sandene, Persky & Kuang, 2009) and access to learning opportunities in art (Rabkin & Hedberg, 2011). These findings suggest that art education is deeply implicated in the production and maintenance of social inequalities.

Today, school art teachers, supervisors, and policymakers as well as art educators in out-of-school settings are faced with questions of how to conceptualize and respond to these disparities. We, the authors, believe that art education research influences how our field understands and articulates the way particular children and communities have been served inequitably.1 Unfortunately, it has not been uncommon for these inequities to receive cursory treatment in analyses and interpretations. …

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