Art Education / September 201248
Responsive Teaching
for 21st-Century
Art Education:
N a J ua n a L e e
n the...
September 2012 / Art Education 49
examine racial issues in education and
express preservice teachers’ understandings
of th...
Art Education / September 201250
comfortable teaching diverse populations
(Burriss & Burriss, 2004; Cho & DeCastro-
September 2012 / Art Education 51
An Approach for Racial Dialogue. Students
and instructors often bring preconceived
Art Education / September 20125252
ability of some ethnic groups, like those from
Italy and Ireland, to transition into
September 2012 / Art Education 5353
Adams, C. (2008, Jan/Feb). What are
your expectations: The challenge of
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.
Upcoming SlideShare
Loading in …5

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


Published on

Published in: Education
  • Be the first to comment

  • Be the first to like this

No Downloads
Total views
On SlideShare
From Embeds
Number of Embeds
Embeds 0
No embeds

No notes for slide

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

  1. 1. Art Education / September 201248 Culturally Responsive Teaching for 21st-Century Art Education: N a J ua n a L e e I n 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 them- selves come to understand cultural diversity, social inclusion, and antira- cist 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 teachers’ 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. 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. 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 university- level studio art experience aimed to ExaminingRaceinaStudioArtExperience
  2. 2. September 2012 / Art Education 49 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 (Omi & 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 one’s 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 one’s 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 one’s 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 comprehen- sive resource for exploring this discussion further can be found at the PBS-sponsored website, RACE-The Power of an Illusion ( 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; Omi & Winant, 2007). Class discussions about racial issues can be difficult. Many people, regardless of their race, would rather not talk about race or racial issues. This is partly due to the fact that discussions about race can be uncomfortable, create anxiety, and sometimes result in conflict. Additionally, many individuals have been taught that in polite society, it is not okay to acknowledge difference (Marx, 2006). This color-blind socialization process wrongly positions race-consciousness as equivalent to racism and further complicates teachers’ understanding of the important role that race plays in the lives of their diverse students. Critical discussion about race, racism, and color-blindness can help teachers bridge the cultural divide between them- selves and their diverse students, help them understand why the past three decades have been immersed in a more comfortable color-blind discourse, and facilitate exam- ining the racial achievement gap among students as an educational consequence of pretending race does not exist. Understanding Diverse Learners. The student population is rapidly becoming more diverse. According to the U.S. Census Bureau News (2008), “Minorities, [are] now roughly one-third of the U.S. population, [and] are expected to become the majority in 2042…. By 2023, minorities will comprise more than half of all children” (para. 2). Additionally, the Multiracial population is projected to be the fastest growing population in the US and their numbers are expected to more than triple by 2050. However, even as the US rapidly becomes more diverse, only 6.7% of the 3.8 million teachers in public schools are Black (NCES, 2009). Latino/Hispanic teachers make up 6.9% and 1.3% are Asian. Only 0.5% of teachers are American Indian and Native Alaskans and 0.9% identified as Multiracial teachers. This shortage of diverse teacher role models is compounded by a myriad of research which supports the notion that many White preservice teachers are not adequately prepared, culturally competent or Figure 1. Alex’s collage explores how media defines American identity. Figure 2. Kyle and Laura’s clay piece examines difference and sameness.
  3. 3. Art Education / September 201250 comfortable teaching diverse populations (Burriss & Burriss, 2004; Cho & DeCastro- Ambrosetti, 2006; Hinojosa & Moras, 2009; Hollins & Guzman, 2005; Sleeter, 2001; Sleeter & Thao, 2007; Van Hook, 2002). This is cause for alarm when one considers that 83.5% of all public school teachers are White (NCES, 2009) and 40% of schools do not have a single Teacher of Color on their staff (NEA, 2004). The fact that many prospective teachers entering the field feel inadequately prepared and uncomfortable working with diverse student populations (Van Hook, 2002) and a lack of Teachers of Color in our schools begs the question, are those entering the field equipped to teach children who have racial and cultural backgrounds different from their own (Sleeter & Thao, 2007)? Examining racial issues positions future teachers to begin developing the skills necessary for cultural proficiency. This means that as teachers move out of color-blind discourse, become race- conscious, culturally proficient, and race literate, they can begin to gain insight into how their race, ethnicity, culture, and life experiences have come together to form their worldview. Examining Teacher Expectations and the Racial Achievement Gap. Are we as teachers failing at fairness? Some would say yes. As the number of Students of Color continues to grow, so does the academic achievement gap between them and their White counterparts. Academic achievement reflects various aspects of educational success including tracking, grades, standardized test scores, suspension rates, and dropout rates. Many more Students of Color find themselves suspended (Adams, 2008; Sadker, Sadker, & Zittleman, 2008; Villegas & Davis, 2008); being tracked into the lowest academic track (Staiger, 2006; Sadker, Sadker, & Zittleman, 2008; Villegas & Davis, 2008); overpopulating special education, repeating a grade, dropping out of school, and being unable to be accepted into a university system (Villegas & Davis, 2008). While socioeconomics does play a part in this achievement dynamic, the fact that students who are of different racial backgrounds but within the same economic level continue to show a difference in academic achievement calls into question what other factors are contributing to this difference (Singleton & Linton, 2006). Some scholars suggest that many teachers’ cultural expectations are not aligned with students’ cultural needs. This plays a key role in the racial achievement gap (Nieto & Bode, 2008; Sadker, Sadker, & Zittleman, 2008; Singleton & Linton, 2006). They suggest that a teacher’s overt and covert cultural biases send messages to students about their academic capabilities. This is often referred to as the Pygmalion effect. The Pygmalion effect is a phenom- enon in which a teacher’s high expectation of his or her student will result in enhanced student performance. When teachers believe that a child is capable of educational success, he or she will pass on these expectations by showing more support, giving more encouragement and positive feedback, providing more challenging material, and giving more time to answer questions. The student receiving all of this positive attention will learn more and as a result do better in school (Nieto & Bode, 2008). Understanding how one’s racial and cultural background and lived experiences impact cultural expectations of others, helps preservice teachers understand the development of their internalized set of cultural rules for appropriate behavior. In turn, this allows them to also critically examine how these cultural rules influence their views and expectations of students. Significance of Addressing Racial Issues in Art Education. Visual thinking in art education facilitates the exploration of emotional associations, provokes emotional responses, and influences the way individuals feel and think about an issue. Participation in art education focused on the social justice issues of race and racism can aid preservice teachers in making an emotional connection to their learning, leading to a personally mean- ingful experience. This meaning making, which refers to the process of developing a personally meaningful learning experi- ence, is critical to unlearning cultural bias because racism is considered to be deeply rooted in the emotional processes of the brain (Amodio & Lieberman, 2009). Furthermore, exploring complex issues, such as race, in and through art, allows future teachers the possibility of “capturing the ineffable, the hard-to-put-into-words” (Weber, 2008, p. 225) and engages both their affective and cognitive processes. Because visual expression allows one to expand their understandings beyond the limitation of words, artmaking provides an often overlooked avenue of understanding and an underused avenue for exploring a phenomenon. Examining Race in a Studio Art Experience Investigating Race in the Art Classroom. In an education foundation course taught through the art education department, preservice art teachers learned about state and national education issues. As one component of this course, several class sessions were spent critically examining and discussing racial issues in education. Specific pedagogical attention was given to this topic because, while race is just one axis of a much broader debate on social justice, too often it is an underemphasized aspect of understanding educational equity and an under-examined dimension of the dynamics of student achievement. Students began this 3-week examination by reading recent writings on racial issues and exploring their role in education and culturally responsive teaching (Berger, 2004; Marx, 2006; Sadker, Sadker, & Zittleman, 2008; Sleeter, 2001; Winant, 2004). These readings helped to guide the dialogue about racial hierarchies, passive racism, Whiteness, racial identity, stereotypes, privilege, and the racial gap in student achievement. Students reflected on these readings both in writing and group discussions. As teachers move out of color-blind discourse, become race-conscious, culturally proficient, and race literate, they can begin to gain insightinto how their race, ethnicity, culture, and life experiences have come together to form their worldview.
  4. 4. September 2012 / Art Education 51 An Approach for Racial Dialogue. Students and instructors often bring preconceived ideas, attitudes, and beliefs related to race with them into the classroom. This indirectly and directly affects teaching and learning by closing off the opportunity for open inquiry and dialogue. In order to reduce such tensions and create a classroom climate that was conducive to productive discussions about race, the students were asked to approach the topic of race as if they were an investigator examining a crime scene. A thorough investigation of a crime scene involves careful and detailed inquiry into unfamiliar territory. This analogy as the springboard for the class discussions, placed the students in a position of inquiry, redirecting them from starting with strongly held and often misguided opinions. This re-orientation allowed the evidence they collected through readings and discussions to shape their understanding of racial issues in education. Rather than utilizing a lecture format, students were engaged in both small group and whole class dialogue. All questions of a racial nature raised in the class conversa- tions, even difficult ones, were acknowledged as valid. This was done in an effort to demonstrate the process of examining a question about race without passing judgment on the person(s) who inquired. Listening calmly, attentively, and non-judg- mentally to the students’ questions and thoughtfully responding to them also had the effect of immediately reducing tension in the room. Actions, reactions, and the nature of the dialogue can set a tone that welcomes or hinders inquiry. In discussions about race it is import to model behavior that facilitates open inquiry rather than shutting down dialogue prematurely. Utilizing a Constructivist Epistemological Stance. Constructivist learning theory was the foundational basis for the teaching strategies and dispositions utilized in the course. This theory supports the notion that learning increases and is more meaningful when the course instructor serves as a guide for students as they explore and build their knowledge through engaging in a variety of experiences (Brooks & Brooks, 1993). Retention of the information that partici- pants gained in this course was a key objective in facilitating a long-term transformational learning experience. Brooks and Brooks (1993) point out that courses solely based on lecture and/or reading formats tend to result in students’ long-term retention of only 5-10% of the information they have learned. In contrast, courses that utilize discussions, hands-on learning (learning by doing), teaching through demonstration, and immediate application of knowledge result in students retaining between 50-90% of the informa- tion they have learned over the long term. Students were immersed in experiences designed to challenge their current concep- tions of race. Additionally, a safe and accepting environment was created to encourage in-depth examinations and discussions of racial issues. Students were also encouraged to take the initiative to further develop their awareness with optional readings and process their thoughts, feelings, and understandings through their visual art. Each activity was designed to provide opportunities for students to construct their own meanings in terms of race and further their understanding of its potential impact on classroom dynamics. The constructivist learning methods utilized in this course included: encouraging self- directed learning; written and visual reflection of learning; ongoing assessment of students’ needs and prior knowledge of the topics; fostering non-judgmental communi- cation and open inquiry among students; and engaging students in artmaking as a cognitive and affective process of meaning making (the process of developing a personally meaningful learning experience). Expressing Understanding Through Art. After reading, reflecting, and discussing, the students were asked to visually express their understanding of a racial issue through artmaking (see Figure 3). Students were given the option to choose the media in which they would work. Using art as a means of assessing understanding facilitated these preservice art teachers visually and emotion- ally engaging with the complex issues of race and developing a sense of social agency. Clover and Stalker (2007) point out that artmaking focused on social justice issues allows individuals to make a personal connection to problems of justice and equity and then use their imagination “to make sense of their world, create meaning in their lives and re-create a better world” (p. I). Stevie decided to visually express her understanding of what it means to be White in a collage (see Figure 4). She explained that her work aimed to problematize how many Whites struggle to see themselves as racial and cultural beings. In her artist statement, she wrote that when asked about their culture, Whites tend to reply that they don’t have a culture or that their culture is simply being “American.” Her artwork reflects that by equating being White with being American, many Whites position Whiteness and themselves as the norm, setting the bar to which all Others must achieve in order to be seen as American. Stevie revealed that the “map of White America” she created was placed on top of a blank sheet of black paper, symbolizing the continued racial hierarchy and tension in the United States and the Figure 3. Kyle, Brittany, and Stevie begin creating artworks.
  5. 5. Art Education / September 20125252 ability of some ethnic groups, like those from Italy and Ireland, to transition into Whiteness, while others are denied such access. She covered the entire image with drips of white paint symbolizing how saturated our society is with Whiteness. In Brittany’s piece she explored racial stereotypes by creating a book (see Figure 5). She examined how society first assigns individuals to different racial categories based on physical appearances and then uses that grouping to create stereotypes about the individuals within a particular group. She explained that when we initially meet someone, one of the first things we notice is skin color and too often this one physical attribute is used to define someone. She symbolized this idea by using phrases cut and pasted throughout the book. For example, one set of pages is titled, “you are BLACK if you look like this,” while another set reads, “you are HISPANIC if you look like this.” The images of different racial groups that cover one side of the pages in the book aim to highlight how society tends to stereotypically group people based on their race. Opposite these images, Brittany covered a list of common stereotypes associated with that particular racial group under a thin veil of tissue paper (see Figure 6). She marked each stereotype with an asterisk, symbolizing the importance our society places on properly categorizing, labeling, and stereo- typing individuals. She explained that listing these stereotypes under a thin layer of tissue paper symbolized our society’s acknowledge- ment of their existence and its simultaneous need to pretend as if we don’t see and believe them. John chose to express his understanding of invisible race privilege in the form of a clay sculpture (see Figure 7). He hand built clay heads, stacking one on top of another as a way of symbolizing the different racial groupings in America and the hierarchy that each racial group holds in our society. He described the meaning behind the different expressions on each head’s face. The top head has no mouth, symbolizing a desire by those at the top of the racial hierarchy not to talk about race and race privilege. This mouth- less head symbolizes a lack of protest and contentment with its higher positioning in society, resting comfortably on the heads of the other races below it. In contrast, the head at the bottom of the sculpture has its mouth open in protest as it bears the weight of the other two heads on top of it. John also pointed out that the clay head located in the middle has a mouth, giving it the ability to protest, but it chooses to keep it closed, reflecting a complacency with being neither on top nor on the bottom of the racial hierarchy. He explained that each of the clay heads is affected by and connected to the other. All of the clay heads have eyes allowing them to see the injustice of the situation, although only the race on the bottom uses its voice in protest. This artmaking experience facilitated students exploring the topic of race in a way that was both personal and meaningful. Art as another way of knowing allowed these preservice teachers to move outside their comfort zones, take risks, and learn to view the world through multiple frames of reference. Through artmaking these future art teachers visually engaged with the complex issues of race and demonstrated that creative expression linked to emotions, fosters transformative learning. Brittany’s book illustrates an astute understanding of the impact stereotypes have on our perceptions of others, while Stevie’s artwork visually expresses a developing, yet studied under- standing of White privilege and the role it plays in the dynamic between self and other. Figure 7. John’s clay sculpture represents his understanding of invisible race privilege. Figure 5. Brittany’s collaged book explores stereotypes. Figure 6. Detail of Brittany’s book. Figure 4. Stevie’s collage visually problematizes Whiteness.
  6. 6. September 2012 / Art Education 5353 References Adams, C. (2008, Jan/Feb). What are your expectations: The challenge of teaching across race. Scholastic Instructor, 26-32. Amodio, D. M., & Lieberman, M. D. (2009). Pictures in our heads: Contributions of fMRI to the study of prejudice and stereotyping. In T. Nelson (Ed.), Handbook of prejudice, stereotyping, and discrimination (pp. 347-362). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Press. Berger, M. (2004). White: Whiteness and race in contemporary art. Baltimore, MD: Center for Art and Visual Culture-University of Maryland. Brooks, J., & Brooks, M. (1993). In search of understanding: The case for constructivist classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Burriss, K., & Burris, L. (2004). Competency and comfort: Teacher candidates’ attitudes toward diversity. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 18(3), 199-209. Cho, G., & DeCastro-Ambrosetti, D. (2006). Is ignorance bliss? Pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward multicultural education. The High School Journal, 89(2), 24-29. Clover, D. E., & Stalker, J. (2007). Introduction. In D. E. Clover & J. Stalker (Eds.), The arts and social justice: Re-crafting adult education and community cultural leadership (pp. 1-18). Leicester, England: Niace. Hinojosa, M. S., & Moras, A. B. (2009). Challenging colorblind education: A descriptive analysis of teacher racial attitudes. Research and Practice in Social Sciences, 4(2), 27-45. Hollins, E. R., & Guzman, M. T. (2005). Research on preparing teachers for diverse populations. In M. Cochran-Smith & K. M. Zeichner (Eds.), Studying teacher education: The report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education (pp. 477-513). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Marx, S. (2006). Revealing the invisible: Confronting passive racism in teacher education. New York, NY: Routledge. National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). (2009, June). Characteristics of public, private, and Bureau of Indian Education elementary and secondary school teachers in the United States: Results from the 2007-08 schools and staffing survey. Retrieved from pubs2009/2009324/tables/ sass0708_2009324_t12n_02.asp National Education Association (NEA). (2004). Assessment of diversity in America’s teaching force: A call to action. Retrieved from www.ate1. org/pubs/uploads/diversityreport. pdf Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education (5th ed.). New York, NY: Pearson. Omi, M., & Winant, H. (2007). Racial Formation. In P. S. Rothenberg (Ed.), Race, class and gender in the United States (7th ed.) (pp. 13-22). New York, NY: Worth Publishers. PBS—Race—The Power of an Illusion. (n.d.). Retrieved from www.pbs. org/race Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (6th ed.). (2010). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Sadker, D. M., Sadker, M. P., & Zittleman, K. R. (2008). Teachers, schools, and society (8th ed). New York, NY: McGraw Hill. Singleton, G. E., & Linton, C. (2006). Courageous conversations: A field guide for achieving equity in schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Sleeter, C. E. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools: Research and the overwhelming presence of Whiteness. Journal of Teacher Education, 52(2), 94-106. Sleeter, C. E., & Thao, Y. (2007). Guest editor’s introduction: Diversifying the teaching force. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(4), 3-8. Staiger, A. D. (2006). Learning difference: Race and schooling in the multiracial metropolis. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria? New York, NY: Basic Books. Tucker, C., Kojetin, B., & Harrison, R. (1995). A statistical analysis of the CPS Supplement on race and ethnic origins. Report for the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Bureau of the Census. Retrieved from www. ivatuck.pdf U.S. Census Bureau News (2008, August 14) newsroom/releases/archives/ population/cb08-123.html Van Hook, C. W. (2002). Preservice teachers’ perceived barriers to the implementation of a multicultural curriculum. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 29, 254-264. Villegas, A. M., & Davis, D. E. (2008). Preparing teachers of color to confront racial/ethnic disparities in educational outcomes. In M. Cochran-Smith, S. Feiman-Nemser, & K. E. Demers (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education: Enduring questions in changing contexts (3rd ed.) (pp. 551-558). New York, NY: Routledge. Weber, S. (2008). Visual images in research. In G. Knowles & A. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research (pp. 41-53). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Winant, H. (2004). The new politics of race: Globalism, difference, justice. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Wolcott, H. F. (1991). Propriospect and the acquisition of culture. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 22(3), 251-273. John’s sculpture captures a keen awareness of invisible race privilege, highlighting how color-blindness perpetuates racial hierarchies. These students’ artworks suggest that art can play a critical role in furthering under- standing of complex issues such as race. Conclusion Teachers play an important role in how students come to understand what it means to respect, understand, and value diverse cultures. How future art teachers define concepts like race, racism, and culture are ultimately reflected in their teaching choices. Their understandings of these concepts impact what they choose to include and exclude from an art curriculum. Their racial attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors toward diverse populations impact whether they support deficit thinking or high expectations for all of their students. These constructs are all paramount in determining the success or failure of teachers to bridge the cultural gap between themselves and their students. Exploring race through artmaking facilitated these preservice art teachers’ learning to perceive and understand the world through multiple frames of reference, better posi- tioning them to work with an increasingly diverse school population and better preparing them to connect meaningfully to student’s lives and lived experiences. NaJuana Lee is Visiting Assistant Professor of Art at the University of Georgia. E-mail: Author's Note The terms used throughout this paper aim to respect individuals’ preferred racial designations. Hence, terms that are widely accepted and commonly used when referring to racial groups are employed herein. Terminology was chosen based on the guidelines provided in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010) and a study conducted by Tucker, Kojetin, and Harris (1995) for the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This study surveyed almost 60,000 households to determine what racial and ethnic terminology individuals who self-identified as White, Black, Latino/Hispanic, and American Indian preferred. Nonetheless, the use of these terms does not suggest that they are the only terms that should be used, nor does this author seek to impose a preferred word usage on others. Also reflective of the guidelines set forth in the sixth edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (2010), “Racial and ethnic groups are designated by proper nouns and are capitalized” (p. 75) such as Black, White, Multiracial, and so forth. When I use the term People/ Teachers/Students of Color, it is my intention to include all racial and ethnic minority groups.
  7. 7. Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.