November 1, 2011

Rationale for Celebrating Diversity Through the Arts

Below is the supporting statement that I wrote for my graduate class on Celebrating Diversity Through the Arts.  My mother, a former library development officer, extols the virtue of looking for books in library stacks, as books adjacent to the one that you seek can prove to be gems.  I found the concept of "species-centrism" using this method. 

Hands On
Schools cut arts education to focus on standardized test prep.  Critics claim that most teachers are unprepared for roles as multicultural educators since 90% of teachers are white and 36% of students are minorities (Parks, 2004).  Furthermore, as student diversity increases, time restraints might necessitate ignoring certain groups, negating the goal of fully inclusive multiculturalism (Adejumo, 2002).  Alternatively, a broad-brush approach to cultures can lead to superficial treatment.

I believe, however, that the arts are a wonderful way to celebrate diversity and to guide students towards visual and cultural literacy and academic thriving. Therefore, I will counter these criticisms.
 Beyond Black and White (Venetian Blinds)
Sternberg (2010) listed qualities of creative thinking – create, design, invent, imagine, suppose – and gave examples of how these key artistic ideas relate to learning across the curriculum.   For example, challenging students to “Invent a new means of transportation.”  Likewise, Baker (2011) studied the effect of music and arts instruction on the state test performance of 8th graders in Louisiana and concluded that students excluded from arts instruction to focus on math and English did not increase their scores.  However, scores for students that attended music class were significantly improved.

Art: The Heart of Education - Greenfield (MA) High School
The white teacher/minority student ratio will shift as minority populations continue to grow, but teachers learning about their students’ cultures is a key tenet of effective teaching:  know thy students.  Provided teachers work through their own biases and prejudices, Roland (2006) points out that: “The Web offers unprecedented access to the work of countless artists from historically underrepresented cultural and ethnic groups.”   This easy access to material makes for easier inclusion of all cultures that are represented in a classroom.

In our class, James Rollins (whose article mentioned Music In Our Schools Month) reminded us that authentic multicultural education needs to be continuously woven into curriculums, rather than ghettoized into superficial theme months.

Intertwined Synapses (Rail Yard)
Andrea Swenson’s arts exemplar of her elementary students drawing portraits of each other demonstrated not only powerful artistic expression, but also pairing Limited English Proficiency students with native speakers in an engaging task allowed for socialization and English language development.  Likewise, creating an art project relating to English Language Learners’ home cultures activates background knowledge and creates important connections to school learning. (Carrigo)  Prior to his captivating participatory drumming arts exemplar, Shawn McGann noted the many ways music can reach Special Education learners, including building self-esteem and integrating development of cognitive, motor and emotional responses.

Many Kinds, All Corn
The possible downfall of multicultural arts education is the focus on how students are different and different from each other.  These differences can be fodder for teasing or bullying.  Therefore, it is vital that teachers incorporate “species-centrism” into their arts education.  Species-centrism suggests that “we can appreciate that the arts are common to humans of all times and places (Dissanayake, 1992, p.15).”  This central task of creating a unifying connection as “inhabitants of the Earth who also belong(s) to many social groups (Matonis, 2003, p.37)” is key to using the arts as a vehicle for global education and understanding.

From Mandarin to Sanskrit to Jeans
Artist, educator and photojournalist John Nordell received a Masters of Education in Arts Education from Fitchburg State University.
Adejumo, C. O. (2002). Considering Multicultural Education.  Art Education, 33-39 

Baker, R. r. (2011, May 1). The Relationship between Music and Visual Arts Formal Study and Academic Achievement on the Eighth-Grade Louisiana Educational Assessment Program (LEAP) Test. Online Submission, Ph.D. Dissertation, Louisiana State University. 212 pp Retrieved from EBSCOhost.

Carrigo, D. Strategies for working with English Language Learners.  Center for Collaborative Education, 1-6

Dissanayake, E. (1992). “Species-centrism” and Cultural Diversity in the Arts.  Seminar Proceedings:  Discipline-based Art Education and Cultural Diversity, Santa Monica: The J. Paul Getty Trust

Matonis, M. (2003). Towards Multicultural Awareness:  Problems and Perspectives.  Dialog and Universalism, 1(2), 27-38

Parks, N. S. (2004). Bamboozled: A Visual Culture Text for Looking at Cultural Practices of Racism.  Art Education, 14-18 

Roland, C. (2006). Promoting Respect for Diversity.  School Arts, 16 

Sternberg, R. (2010).  Creativity is a Choice, Retrieved from