Culturally Responsive Teaching for 21st-Century Art Education: Examining Race in a Studio Art Experience

By Lee, NaJuana | Art Education, September 2012 | Go to article overview

Culturally Responsive Teaching for 21st-Century Art Education: Examining Race in a Studio Art Experience


Lee, NaJuana, Art Education


Exploring the role of culture and race in students'lives and introducing racial dialogue into art education courses helps teachers perform better within increasingly diverse school populations, and prepares them to connect more meaningfully with students and their creations.

In the art classroom - where art, identity, and culture are inextricably linked - racially and culturally responsive teaching play a critical role in how teachers interact with students and ultimately how students themselves come to understand cultural diversity, social inclusion, and antiracist behaviors. It is important that teachers understand that students learn in different ways and effective teaching requires recognizing and responding to those differences. It is equally as important that teachers understand that racial experiences are real and impact how each of us views and understands the world. Teacher educators can guide preservice teachers7 investigations and dialogue about race and racism in ways that lead to such understanding. This process can facilitate them in gaining a foundational understanding of race, which will likely play a role in determining their success or failure in working with today's diverse students.

While race is a social construct, it plays a decisive role in the sociopolitical arena of our society. This results in many people being treated differently based on their race. Examining the role of culture and race in students' lived experiences helps teachers begin to understand how and why students' worldviews may be different from their own.

This article shares an approach for introducing racial dialogue into an art education course, an epistemological stance that encourages students to connect meaningfully to an unfamiliar topic and visual thinking strategies for expressing understandings of complex issues, such as race, through artmaking. This universitylevel studio art experience aimed to examine racial issues in education and express preservice teachers' understandings of the topic through artmaking (see Figures 1 and 2).

Why Engage in Conversations About Race?

Understanding of the Meaning of Race. Race is often defined as a controversial concept grounded in the idea that a group within the human population is considered distinct based on physical characteristics. Although historically race was thought to be a biological difference, today it is generally agreed that race is socially constructed - a phenomenon invented by our society (Orni & Winant, 2007). Sadker, Sadker, and Zittleman (2008) distinguish between race, ethnicity, and culture. They define race as a "group of individuals sharing common genetic attributes, physical appearance, and ancestry" (p. 68). Race is considered a physical attribute that cannot be altered, such as the color of ones skin. They distinguish race from ethnicity, defining ethnicity as "shared common cultural traits, such as language, religion, and dress" (p. 68). Ethnicity does not describe ones skin color, but rather a particular group's common belief systems and customs. This is closely linked to culture, which is defined as "a set of learned beliefs, values, and behaviors, a way of life shaped by members of a society" (p. 68). Race, ethnicity, and culture are all related to Propriospect or ones personal culture (Wolcott, 1991), which shapes the lens through which we subjectively view the world. Although these terms are often used interchangeably, and have commonalities, their meanings differ subtly. A comprehensive resource for exploring this discussion further can be found at the ? BS -sponsored website, RACE-The Power of an Illusion (www.pbs.org/race).

In an effort to understand issues of race, it is important that race be distinguished from ethnicity and culture because understanding race as a concept is a key component of understanding how racism is "a system of advantages based on race" (Tatum, 1997, p. 7). Using terms that only emphasize ethnicity or culture conceals the issue of racism in our society and how the meaning of race and racism changes over time (Nieto & Bode, 2008; Orni & Winant, 2007). …

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