Social/Ecological Caring with Multicultural Picture Books: Placing Pleasure in Art Education

By Reisberg, Mira | Studies in Art Education, Spring 2008 | Go to article overview

Social/Ecological Caring with Multicultural Picture Books: Placing Pleasure in Art Education


Reisberg, Mira, Studies in Art Education


This study explores the concept of finding pleasure in social and ecological caring from the a/r/tographic stance of the author as artist, researcher, and teacher. I combine place-based and visual culture art education with multicultural children's picture books to promote more connection and pleasure in the teaching and learning process. The article also provides an exploratory model for art education reform, encouraging art teachers to participate in pleasurable forms of social and ecological caring by becoming art educator activists.

We live in a fragmented and disconnected global culture, alienating us from each other and our environment (Bowers, 2005; McLaren & Houston, 2004a, 2004b; Orr, 1992). The American model of education reinforces this fragmentation with the discrete parceling of subject matter and students as separate from each other and their environments (Dewey, 1891/1980, 1921; Gruenewald, 2006; Reisberg, Brander & Gruenewald, 2006). While changes in art education have been initiated by visual culture and by social reconstructionist art educators specifically addressing diverse disjunctions (Blandy & Hoffman, 1993; Freedman, 2000a, 2000b, 2003; jagodzinski, 1997; Keifer-Boyd, Amburgy, and Knight, 2007), quality multicultural picture books have rarely been explored in depth as a powerful means for promoting interconnections between social and ecological caring. In addition, the problems and possibilities of pleasure as a pedagogical approach warrant further exploration within art education literature. Consequently, this article adds to the discourse in current art education literature by focusing on pleasure and social and ecological interconnections, offering a practical method for their incorporation into art education curricula.

The article begins with a brief description of prior scholarship on social and ecological connections in cultural theory. I provide some key definitions to clarify the meaning and use of various concepts describing my contextualized placing of "pleasure" as a pedagogical tool for art education. I call this approach a "place-based pedagogy of pleasure" (PBPoP). I then provide my underlying theoretical and pedagogical perspectives. Because the "personal is political," I also reflect on my own a/r/tographic experiences as an artist/researcher/teacher (Irwin & de Cosson, 2004; Springgay, Irwin, & Kind, 2005), leading me to introduce a hybrid pedagogy facilitating more connection and caring in art education. This approach integrates visual culture, place-based education, and intercultural art education ideas with multicultural picture books as a pleasurable means to effect positive changes. Finally, because art educators need more resources to utilize methods of teaching that promote social and ecological caring, I provide an exploratory model for art education reform to engender this support.

Re:Unity: The False Fragmentation of Race, Class, and Environment

Kozol's books (1991, 1996, 2005, 2007) effectively document the interconnections between class, economics, race, and environment. He provides example after example of racially segregated neighborhoods and districts with disadvantaged people living in impoverished, polluted, and ecologically compromised areas. Haas and Nachtigal (1998), McLaren and Farahmandpur (2001), and Schlosser (2001) also point out that impoverished minorities, along with lower- and working-class European-Americans, live and work in ecologically damaged rural and urban areas where out of economic necessity they are forced to participate in ecologically degrading practices.

However, as noted by scholars such as Bowers (1997, 2005), Gruenewald (2003a, 2003b, 2006), and McLaren and Houston (2004a, 2004b), multicultural educational literature and practice have largely ignored the importance of ecological conditions, presenting "racial diversity and inequality" as the primary focus of critical pedagogy's "multiculturalism" - to the detriment of both our environment and those who live in it. …

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