My Teaching Philosophy
I see the role of art teachers as radicalizing the reading of the world. Access to, and participation in art education is a civil right and human right. Paulo Freire explained, “Radicalization, nourished by a critical spirit, is always creative” (p. 19). Art education can implement such radicalization in a web of critical multicultural education and postmodern vision. This web is visible in the interlacing of the knowledge exchanged among teachers and students to make us more fully human. Herein lies the vascular flow of teacher-student curiosity, research and social action entangled with art production and visual culture.
Multicultural education from both its historical and from a reconceptualized perspective is a tenacious reminder to postmodern educators that we cannot leave the marginalized, the most vulnerable and the most impoverished of our students languishing while postmodernists toss around heady semantics that take no action toward social change. Likewise, postmodernism with its focus on questioning boundaries and disarming grand narratives reminds multicultural educators that identities and cultural constructs are fluid and porous and that relationships to knowledge and truth are unstable.
Given these insights, art teacher preparation programs of study need to be strongly re-considered. Some past practices in the field of art education have ensured a modernist stronghold on much of current pedagogy by asserting a framework of art historical knowledge with limited perspectives that draw boundaries around a single art world. I argue for a reframing of art education as a netted fabric of critical social theory, multicultural content, and postmodern philosophy that reconceives perspectives on student and teacher identities, representations, and knowledge constructions within multiple artworlds.
I have seen this engaged praxis come in many forms. First grade students investigate the original meaning of an ancient sculpture from South Asia, and compare it to contemporary sculptures they see in their city or town in the United States while reflecting on the role of enduring material forms in a community, and how such sculptures help them read their world. Teen poets produce video expressions of their spoken words and combine that video with interviews of elders in their families and neighborhoods to reflect on a spectrum of ways of reading their world. Seventh grade painters document the plight of homeless people in their neighborhoods by collaborating with the homeless to produce murals to exhibit in town halls, public libraries and courthouses, calling attention to the disparities in society and motivating government officials to respond. Third graders visit a shopping mall and examine how the design of the buildings, the displays and the signs prey on children’s concepts of consumerism. They design an alternative marketplace that emphasizes community responsibility.
These examples and many more demonstrate the ways in which art teachers demonstrate solidarity with the students who may be striving to read their world and inviting others to read their worlds. Art education holds a unique opportunity to make struggles visible and to offer opportunities for praxis.
This reframing has major implications for the composition of art education programs within the structure of higher education. It is a visioning and revisioning of the field that calls for much more than integrated coursework and active fieldwork, although those pursuits will be valuable. It calls for a commitment to forwarding the role of art as a construction site of critical knowledge and social activism. With the evidence of visual forms pervading cultural discourses, and the growing populace who are constructing knowledge based on image-saturated media more so than print-based experiences, the study of art becomes a matter of citizenship and social justice.
It may come to pass that the terminology of multicultural education, postmodernism, visual culture and even the word art will be replaced in the ever fast-forwarding social construction of language in the globalized, mass media-ized experience of education. But what will remain (and most social scientist also project will increase) is the pervasiveness of visual imagery in our lives. The visual is usually not presented in isolation, like a painting on a museum wall, but exists in a spherical web – a flexible, sticky, strong and spiraling web of various other stimuli such as sound, text, tactile, etc. Navigation of these visual worlds, messages, multiple truths and narratives requires opportunities to think and dialogue in spaces that are a collage of student voice, teacher voice and community voice. Students are calling out for art teachers who jump borders of racialized discourses, cross curriculum constraints and resist bureaucratic expectations to create art making communities that vividly narrate the youth voices who people those communities. The teachers are struggling with competing languages from academic and popular discourse while embarking on ventures to reflect upon and activate anti-racist critical pedagogy in their classrooms. If the role of the art teacher is subversive to practices of schooling what might be a vision for a revolutionary art teacher preparation?
Visual culture art education creates a crossroads – an intersection - of multicultural education and postmodernism that could bring a tangible, recognizable motivation for change among art education communities. Models of practice can be studied through ethnographic sketches and collages to provide inspiration and practical implementation for teachers to question and reconceptualize classroom community and identity through a conscientious curriculum. The un/common language of visual culture is spoken through art teachers who care enough to take time, be patient, laugh and struggle with their students. Art education can lead teachers in a dialectical interplay with teaching, learning and art production.
How can the role of the art teacher and visual culture art education create a crossroads – an intersection - of multicultural education and postmodernism that could bring a tangible, recognizable motivation for change among art education communities? How might art teachers inspire their students – and art students inspire their teachers - to view their global world as more interconnected and ultimately more changeable?
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. (M. B. Ramos, Trans.). New York: Continuum.