Cultural Responsiveness in the Art Classroom
In order to prepare for our upcoming generations, we must change our curriculum to be taught in a culturally responsive way. National Geographic published an article about what our future generations will look like. It indicated that by 2040, almost every child born will be of mixed race. In the article, photographers set out to take pictures of current humans who identify as mixed race. The people they photographed varied in ages, genders, and each had a unique mix of two or more cultures. Every person looked racially ambiguous and questions started to surface. If the majority of our future students are mixed raced, how will it affect our educational system? Are we preparing ourselves for our future students who are more culturally diverse than ever? Are we preparing ourselves and our future students by helping them identify personal and cultural bias? How can our westernized curriculum evolve to honor all cultures? It is imperative for students to identify with their educational content on a cultural level in order for them to engage in the deepest level of learning—especially when students identify with two or more cultures (Hammond, 2015). The art classroom is a natural and essential place for culturally responsive teaching and can be used as a model for other subjects.
The rationale for culturally responsive teaching has also led the foundations for my personal artwork. I have created a body of work based on this research. It begins with an interview from my students who are mixed race at Lowell High School in Lowell, Michigan. I photograph them and create their portraits with colored pencils. Each portrait is unique and tells an individual story; yet there are similarities in artistic approach. Every portrait incorporates a youthful glow and uses patterns to showcase their mixture of cultures. Each students' skin tones are primarily created with green and pink, opposing yet complementary colors, to showcase the emergence of different cultural backgrounds. I took the time to dialogue and let each student share their story about being a mixed-race student in a predominantly Caucasian area. The most common remark was that they felt dehumanized. They are constantly asked "What are you?" or "Can I touch your hair?" Their peers generalize them into a single narrative, and it can be frustrating and confusing.
I was surprised by the fact that every student was not only excited that I asked to draw them, but very candid and forthcoming with their feelings, personal anecdotes, and experiences as a biracial student in this school. Their honesty demonstrated the need for culturally responsive teaching and opportunities. As a Caucasian female teacher, I learned a lot about each person I drew as an individual and we bonded over our discussion. I rarely spoke besides asking the questions, but the experience created a relationship where students felt comfortable expressing themselves knowing I would listen. My goal was to celebrate their origins and uplift their beauty. I did this by gifting them their portraits afterwards and spending time making them something they felt reflected themselves. Some students I have interviewed have never had me as a teacher and yet after I took the time with them, they now go out of their way to stop by my room or talk with me in the hallway. I believe that taking time to really learn about my students allowed me to have a far deeper and longer lasting connection than I would have had otherwise.
What my time at KCAD meant to me
My time in Kendall's graduate art education department has strengthened my teaching practices, artwork, and overall global awareness. My curriculum and teaching practices have grown in aesthetics, cultural competency, and honoring all students. In addition to creating new curriculum and writing a thesis, I was able to grow as an artist in my studio courses, mastering drawing techniques and practices.