Magazine article Art Education

Sortings, Cutaways, and Bindings: Quilt-Making as Arts-Based Practice for Social Justice Teaching

Magazine article Art Education

Sortings, Cutaways, and Bindings: Quilt-Making as Arts-Based Practice for Social Justice Teaching

Article excerpt

Like many universities across the country, Towson University-located outside of Baltimore, Maryland-requires future teachers to take only one stand-alone multicultural course. A single introductory course offers very limited assurance that preservice teachers will achieve the familiarity and comfort to transfer what they have learned to the classroom (Van Hook, 2002). Preservice art teachers need multiple opportunities to explore the complex nature of race, class, nation, ability, sexuality, and gender-as situated in the context of art education (Lee, 2013). Teachers need an array of experiences to explore their culturally embedded values and assumptions so they can see how these affect a myriad of daily decisions including the selection of art and other curricular materials, designing of classroom space, and instructional practices (Congdon, Stewart, & White, 2002; Gay 2000). In order to become culturally competent with diverse populations at the interpersonal level, preservice teachers must begin to develop analytic skills to recognize systemic causes and effects of racism, sexism, classism, and so on. Moreover, they will often be required to move back and forth among these skill sets every day. This article describes a studio assignment grounded in social learning theory and intersectionality completed by preservice teachers during their first art education class, enabling students to begin to develop nuanced understand ings about categories of d ifference.

Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger (1991) argue that learning is not simply the transmission of decontextualized knowledge from one individual to another; it is also a socially situated process whereby knowledge is co-constructed and embedded within a particular social community. From their study of craft apprenticeships, the authors developed the concept of legitimate peripheral practice to describe the characteristic features and organizational structure of social learning in this context. They proposed a social theory of learning that emphasizes the way learners grow toward full participation in a dynamic community of practice. A community of practice is defined as a group participating in a shared endeavor, continuously co-constructing the groups identity and work.

Lave and Wenger (1991) make the distinction between a learning curriculum based on the learner's standpoint and one based on the educator's. They posit that the former is a more powerful and meaningful force for the learner. Expertise dwells in the overall organization of the community rather than in an individual. Learning comes from varied and multiple engagement in practice and has an improvised character. Knowledge often circulates quickly and effectively among peers and near-peers. Resources might include broad access to experts, historical artifacts, and technologies; finished products; and more advanced peers.

Motivation, commitment, and intensified effort evolve through increased participation-developing a sense of identity as an expert practitioner. Structured on an apprenticeship model, a cohort of preservice teachers travel through our program formally and intensely for a year and a half, participating-peripherally at first and then more fully-in the practice of art teaching. The preservice teachers experience a variety of museum, community, and school-based settings with their peers and young people, and learn from the technologies, artifacts, and stories about teaching.

Introducing the Studio Assignment

Sorting. Handling and sifting through a variety of evocative materials, resources, and ideas is research for the artistic problem.

We gave the students the following assignment/studio problem, tied to a planned visit to quilt-maker Joan Gaither's studio:

Using a variety of materials and techniques, create a quilt triggered by one of the following two phrases:"beneath the surface"or"layered meaning."You may approach this theme from many perspectives including but not limited to an idea related to your own identity, or you may explore the theme through an historic or social justice lens, or you may combine perspectives. …

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