“I'm so offended!”: Curriculum flashpoints and critical arts education.

Kraehe, A. M., Hood, E. J., & Travis, S. (2015). “I'm so offended!”: Curriculum flashpoints and critical arts education. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 16(18).

Abstract:

Inspired by critical race and feminist perspectives, this study seeks to expand the conversation on preparing arts educators for diversity and equity. The research is grounded in the premise that arts educators committed to challenging social inequalities must understand sociocultural influences on art, curriculum, teaching, and learning. The paper reports a qualitative study that investigated how pre-service arts educators make sense of sociocultural differences (i.e., the dynamics of race, class, gender and sexuality). Findings articulate key curriculum flashpoints that emerged when art teacher candidates engaged with sociocultural knowledge: identity formation, questioning knowledge, and discourses of offense. The authors argue that these flashpoints present curricular provocations that can assist in developing the critical capacities of art educators. The conclusion explores the implications of these findings for organizing and teaching sociocultural content as foundational knowledge for arts educator preparation.

Key Findings:

Seeking to better understand the how pre-service art educators engage with the concepts of cultural differences (such as race, gender, class, etc.), the study provided training in incorporating these socioeconomic differences into their pedagogy. The researchers found:
  • Students were able to better understand the impact of negative labeling and when labeling can be used for positive purposes.
  • Identity, particularly for minority students, is “negotiated” with the understandings and expectations of the majority. This has a strong impact on the categorization of their identities.
  • Learning about the socioeconomic differences impacted the content that pre-service teachers chose to further. In particular, it pushed them to question their “knowledge” and consider disciplinary content outside of the traditional Western canon.
  • White pre-service teachers indicated that they would need to gain more cultural knowledge in order to better serve their diverse student populations.
  • The students explored how best to address the concept of offensiveness and support students who might otherwise experience miseducative art experiences.

Significance of the Findings:

As arts education classrooms continue to be increasingly more diverse and as our understanding of the importance of culturally-responsive education grows, this study provides an important qualitative analysis in how impactful training pre-service teachers on socio-cultural differences can be. In particular, this study supports the need for encouraging educators to question their “knowledge” to ensure that they are not isolating or mis-educating students through cultural assumptions.

Methodology:

This study sought to better understand how pre-service art educators make sense of the role of culture and socioeconomic differences in the classroom. Participants included 25 undergraduate and 2 graduate students in courses for either elementary level or secondary level visual art pedagogy. The teacher-researchers incorporated lessons, speakers, and reflections focused on cultural and socioeconomic differences into the traditional pedagogy coursework in order to help their students explore these concepts through the lens of the visual art classroom.

Data was collected through student work product throughout the course, particularly through in-class discussions, written reflections, and video journaling. Students were able to opt in to the study at the end of the class through an informed consent. The authors then conducted a comparative qualitative analysis and coded the data to identify potential themes through an iterative process.

Limitations of the Research:

This ability to generalize this study outside of this setting is limited by the small number of students and the selection bias inherent with students opting into the participation of the study. In addition, the study’s findings could have been skewed based on the cultural and socioeconomic make-up of the student population involved.

Questions to Guide New Research:

This research provided evidence of the importance of teachers being able to understand cultural and socioeconomic differences. Potential questions for future research include:
  • Will these results hold with a larger and more diverse sample of visual art education students?
  • What would be the longitudinal effects of this culturally-responsive education programming on visual art teachers?
  • How would these results differ in other artistic disciplines?