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

The Failure of Whiteness in Art Education: A Personal Narrative Informed by Critical Race Theory

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

The Failure of Whiteness in Art Education: A Personal Narrative Informed by Critical Race Theory

Article excerpt

Many interconnected notions of failure contextualize and inform my practice as a white art educator who is deeply invested in educational equity for marginalized and underserved students. Among the most salient of these are: my own learning from personal failure as a process of professional growth over the course of my career; the specter of "school failure" and its impact on K-12 students' educational opportunities and experiences; entrenched, systemic inequities in public schools and their failure to serve marginalized students and communities; and the potential complicity of my individual professional failures - if left unaddressed - in perpetuating racialized inequities in art education. Whiteness, or white power, knowledge, and privilege, is implicit in all these failures, both in the ways it shapes the uneven landscape of public education (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995), and in my own process of professional growth as an art educator. I began my career as an elementary art teacher in a low-income African American community in Florida. This experience shaped my scholarship as a doctoral student, which employed critical race theory (CRT) in order to understand the systemic, racialized educational inequities that impacted my former students and others like them. My K-12 teaching experiences and my scholarship continue to inform my evolving practice as a university art educator working with racially diverse pre-service and novice teachers. I entered each of these phases of my career feeling well prepared, only to be repeatedly chagrined at my racial ignorance and humbled by the extent to which my whiteness shapes my attitudes and assumptions about race. This writing discusses interrelated personal and systemic failures of whiteness over three phases of my career, and some of the insights these failures yielded for my own work, with implications for racially equitable art education practice.

Failures of Whiteness in Art Education: A Personal Narrative F(l)ailing as an Elementary Art Teacher

I came to art education from a fine arts background. When I started my first job, through an alternative certification program, I had an MFA and a lot of enthusiasm but no classroom experience or preparation. I naively relished the opportunity to facilitate meaningful art learning for my students and quickly realized I had no idea how to actually make this happen. I struggled with even the most basic aspects of classroom management and teaching. I marveled at my colleagues' facility with such things as taking attendance, getting students' attention, making transitions from one activity to another, distributing materials, and minimizing class disruptions, all of which were confounding mysteries to me. My classroom management skills were so poor, in fact, that fistfights occasionally broke out in the art room during my first few years of teaching. But my biggest struggle was against time. With a class period of only 30 minutes, it was easy for me to spend half or more of my instructional time on discussion, attendance, and giving directions, leaving a pathetic ten minutes or less for my students to work independently. The end of class always came too soon, and cleaning up always took longer and was more confusing and contentious than I anticipated. Not surprisingly given the chaotic classroom climate and minimal work time, my students' artistic achievement was mostly lackluster, which posed serious challenges in grading their work fairly. In my first years of teaching, I went home many days in tears and wondered despairingly what my students could possibly be learning from me.

As with my veteran colleagues' teaching and classroom management skills, their cultural competence and connectedness with the school community impressed me. Teaching in a predominantly African American context made me acutely aware of my race as a white person and painfully conscious of my lack of cultural knowledge about my students and school community. …

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