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Art Education for Diversity: Expanding the Realm

This is response to NAEA Webinar and Podcast: Connecting with English Language Learners in the Visual Arts Classroom & If Equity is a Priority, UDL is a Must


What is diversity? How can we set the range of the realm of diversity? These kinds of questions lingered around me occasionally even before I went to the U.S. I met with some books dealing with diversity in art education (to my knowledge, they were probably written by scholars who studied in the U.S.). For me, they looked like focusing on equity and diversity through only, at least majorly, multiculturalism. Seeing those arguments, what repetitively resonated questions were like these: “Where is the diversity in the non-plural society? Is there any theory or curriculum focused on diverse characters in a mono-ethnicity society?”

Thanks to Ms. Stephanie’s special lecture held last week in our class, which dealt with diversity and inclusion in the art classroom, I have realized that educators are well-known and trying to expand the realm of diversity in the classroom. She argued that above all, the art classroom should be the “safe place” where all students can feel a sense of belonging, the prerequisite to raise their own voices and create freely. This safe place should concern not only their race, ethnicity, or cultural differences such as religious belief but also each student’s language proficiency, academic and artistic ability, comfort level with failure, disability, and even fine motor ability. For sure, every student is a three-dimensional creature and therefore you should closely look into them individually and make sure the environment does not exclude each of them at once (Ayers, 2019).

A webinar lectured by Febo and Villanueva (2022) gives valuable sources for a more unbiased art classroom. As an ongoing English Language Learner (ELL) and as one still in the process of understanding the culture in the U.S., the sentence “You cannot translate culture” truly blew my mind. What was interesting, rather surprising was that most ELLs are born in the U.S. I cannot hastily assume how struggling to live as an ELL at such an early age, not fully understanding what teachers and students are saying. They would fall into deep feelings of being alienated from their world (school). Admittedly, ELL refers to linguistically diverse so specific care for ELLs is a necessity for a more equitable classroom culture. The equitable approaches for ELL presented at the webinar were not those I thought and expected about. It is not only specific care of giving detailed instruction and integrating their culture in the curriculum, but also including mentioning, empowering, encouraging, and just not ignoring their presence. Phrases like “Don’t assume silence is understanding,” “Culturally responsive arts classroom,” “Don’t assume that everyone has similar mindsets and cultural upbringings,” and “We’re all very layered individuals and human beings” resonate with the mind.

Visual art can be a good storytelling method to express and respect the diversity of students since we can use more universal (visual) languages to express ourselves and communicate with each other. To strengthen and empower individuals’ voices, the UDL (Universal Design for Learning) framework can be considered. UDL is a neuroscience-based educational reform movement that allows universal and general application for several disciplines, arguing that learners are highly variable in their learning and these variabilities are usual (Glass, Meyer, & Rose, 2013). The podcast “If Equity is a Priority, UDL is a Must” explains how a UDL-based curriculum can be effectively used to enhance inter-individual diversity and introduces a project to solve a general topic (e.g., preventing epidemic disease) during individual choices of their own topic (Novak & Chardin, 2021).

In conclusion, reading and listening to a wide range of articles, books, and lectures about diversity gave me the opportunity to rethink the concept and the realm of diversity. Surely, “the continuing marginalization of large numbers of students in…schools” (Glass, Meyer, & Rose, 2013, p. 98) can be resolved by educator’s efforts to be more responsible in their teaching and setting the classroom environment.

References

Ayers, W. (2019). About becoming a teacher. Teachers College Press.

Febo, N. M., & Villanueva, T. (Speaker). (2022, February 2). Connecting with English language learners in the visual arts classroom [Webinar]. NAEA. Available from https://virtual.arteducators.org/products/connecting-with-english-language-learners-in-the-visual-arts-classroom

Glass, D., Mayer, A., & Rose, D. H. (2013), Universal design for learning and the arts. Harvard Educational Review, 83(1), 98-199.

Novak, K., & Chardin, M. (Speaker). (2021, March 21). If equity is a priority, UDL is a must [Audio Podcast]. Cult of Pedagogy. Available from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/udl-equity

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