Creating Artwork in Response to Issues of Social Justice: A Critical Multicultural Pedagogy
Noel, Jana, Multicultural Education
Approaches to teaching multicultural education range from a recognition of diverse cultural contributions, to a focus on specific cultural groups, to critical pedagogy, in which individuals and communities can engage, with others, in the critique of culture, of the hegemonic practices with schools and society (Sleeter & Grant, 1999; Banks, 1999). Located within this framework is the empowerment of individuals to come to a clearer understanding of their own identities within a complex structuring of race, class, gender, and power.
But such critical examination of society, and of our own identities within that society, is not an easy task. Many people have not had the opportunity to publicly address or discuss such issues; many others do not desire to engage in such reflections, remaining, instead, silent about such issues (Noel, 2001).
This article describes an arts-based approach to the study of multicultural education that challenges students to address these topics, while enabling an aesthetic understanding of the issues. It describes how the creation of artwork serves as a personal act of meaning-making for students, allowing them to create a vision for a project of social transformation for themselves, for their own students, and for society.
Making Social Justice a Part of Our Teaching Identities
This class, titled "Education in a Democratic, Pluralistic Society," involved a cohort of practicing teachers working on their Masters degree in Curriculum and Instruction, with a focus on the Arts. As the professor of this course, my approach to teaching social justice issues is to immediately problematize the nature of society and of education. I want students to have an "awareness of immediate political and social realities" (Billings, p. 22). As the basis of all the readings, my students and I construct our identities as individuals, as members of communities, and as social transformers of society.
In class, we read articles discussing the history of oppression, cultural and socio-economic conditions, and various philosophical views on how students experience schools (Noel, 2000). In these discussions we examined the practices of cultural imposition that have been attempts to establish, solidify, and strengthen the dominant culture. We engaged in critical multicultural pedagogy, in examinations of "how power works in the interest of dominant social relations, and how such relations can be challenged and transformed" (Giroux, p. 179).
We read articles on racism and prejudice, on White silence and on poverty, along with others. In these discussions we tried to lay bare the presence and impact of these practices on many people in society. The first step in developing a consciousness of such influences on our identities is for those prejudices or for the issues surrounding them to enter into our consciousness, to actually 'disturb' our identities. In Gadamer's terms, they must 'address' us.
This work on actively constructing our identities toward a socially transformative perspective can be for some confusing, for some disturbing, and for some psychologically risky in terms of our own feelings of understanding and of competence. The effort is vitally important, though, because, as Nieto (1996) describes, "Without this transformation of ourselves, any attempts at developing a multicultural perspective will be shallow and superficial" (p. 353).
Experiencing Issues of Social Justice Through Artwork
It is through creating artwork that our identities can become 'disturbed' by issues such as those addressed in a social justice course. And specifically, it is through using the kind of "pedagogy in art education which...take[s] seriously the political nature of the empowerment that education offers to students" (Hicks, p. 43) that my students and I have learned that the creation of artwork just may be the catalyst needed to enable us take the identities of socially transformative educators. …