Sunday, May 29, 2011

Individualization and Diversity


("Last Night's Dinner" or  "One In Christ" by Kathy Grimm was painted to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King's important contributions to his church, community and country for a national exhibition. approx. 7'x5' oil on canvas.)

"Good art is art that allows you to enter it from a variety of angles and to emerge with a variety of views." Mary Schmich

       I've included in my private portfolio collections of observation papers and lists focusing on students with disabilities, a case studies about a gifted students and a variety of lesson plans adapted to the learning challenges and culturally diverse backgrounds of my former students. In "Learning To Teach," Richard I. Arends uses the metaphor "salad bowl" to describe the now popular priority to preserve diversity and individualism in our contemporary American culture. Most of us grew up with the old metaphor, "melting pot." But times have changed. Arends says,  
"The melting pot was the metaphor often used to describe this blending process. Today, however, many prefer the concept of cultural pluralism, a perspective that acknowledges the existence of a dominant American culture but also recognizes the permanence of diversity. This view normally purports that each cultural, racial, or ethnic group will accept some of the common elements of the dominant culture as it interacts with that culture, but will also inject into the culture new elements for the benefit of all. Thus, the "melting pot" metaphor, with its implications of homogeneity, has been replaced with the "salad bowl" metaphor, in which each ingredient is distinct and valued by itself, while at the same time contributing to the whole and binding to others with a common dressing--that is, the dominant culture." 
      I have observed over the past twenty years of my life that this is indeed the truth of how most art educators approach teaching and I believe that it is important to be clear about this perspective in my own classroom as well, in order to preserve, appreciate, and respect the work of all students under my care.
      The multigroup membership in the United States is described as having the following cultural characteristics: social class, age, ethnicity, special needs, national origin, sexual preferences, U.S. region, religion, gender, and race. I believe that a contemporary art educator demonstrates both love and tolerance for a wide variety of students, even though their experiences may differ greatly from those students given to their care. The true definition of tolerance does not disrespect it's practitioner but, allows for the teacher to have his or her own belief as well. In other words, students who are different from myself can know that they are safe from abuse in my classroom environment, even though I may identify myself with the beliefs and characteristics of a subculture different than their own. They can know this because as an artist, I value the freedom to practice my own individuality. Ethical teachers most frequently teach and exercise those ideas, principles, and values that they would wish others to apply to themselves. If a teacher believes in education, then he/she will teach students to value education. If a teacher believes in the freedom to practice diversity and individuality, then he/she will teach students to value the same.
      Ordinary classroom lesson plans should also be relatively adaptable for those students who may have one or more learning dissabilities. I have written lessons previously adapted to particular needs such as blindness or autism. But special needs also includes those students who need more challenging adaptations because they are very gifted. During my art internship, I gained experience in teaching such a student. I adapted my own behavior to both include and challenge him weekly during my visits to his school. I wrote a case study and include papers concerning him for my private portfolio that may be accessed by invitation only.
      Visual and cultural diversity in classroom literature and lesson plans helps children feel as though they are included in the education process. A growing number of minority students in St. Louis schools need to feel welcomed and valued by art teachers! I keep many culturally diverse resources in my classroom for both direct instruction and independent learning. Below are just a few selected children's books that are a part of my storybook collections. The collections are from top to bottom: African American, Asian American, stories about American immigrants and one book thus far about a deaf child. On my education blog, I have included many articles and book reviews for parents and school teachers to read about. Diversity in literature is one of the most productive ways to promote tolerance in the classroom. When students learn to identify and appreciate differences in a peaceful and artistic environment, they are far less likely to engage in both violent behaviors or prejudicial activities outside of that environment.
      Diversity in the study of Art History is also very important in American art classrooms. In our contemporary culture, art teachers are expected to expose students to a greater variety of artworks across a broader venue of human history. Included in my journal are just a few of the art history lesson plans that I completed while studying at the Saint Louis Art Gallery in the Fall of 2010. These lesson plans where written based upon my investigative research of the ancient collections at the museum. I developed an entire litany of materials during this course that may be viewed in a journal called, "Art At The Museum," during a private interview.
      Art teachers can and often do promote the majority of cultural education in American public schools today. My lesson plans can be adapted over night and I have the freedom to address current issues in a very creative venue. During my art internship, I worked with a partner of African American descent. Both he and I developed a set of lessons that were designed to promote cultural awareness in our student's community. The chief difference between quality lesson planning and purchasing lessons that may contain ill conceived notions about other people's heritage and behaviors is the added element of choice. The best cultural instruction makes room for students to define what they know personally. Art promotes process, not just technical process, but the very process of discovering one's self. No two individuals are ever exactly alike in every respect. Art lessons that qualify this obvious fact, make greater room for the tolerance of "differences" among people. In the near future, I will include all of these lessons in my online journal as well.