Friday, September 30, 2005

Multiculturalism: Should I be Afraid of it?

As my teachers continue to remind me "Revisionist" is really shorthand for a much larger group of ideas. I am still struggling to define the term or even continue to use the term. I came about the term through reading works by Howard Zinn. What I am hoping to embrace in my teachings from this canon is one, the flux nature of revisionist literature. Revisionist works are constantly engaged in the society they come up in. There are always more voices to include and as history progresses there will be more to add from multiple perspectives. The second aspect of revisionist history I look to embrace is its influence of multiculturalism. In the past I have been afraid to really dig into this term because of its complex and multiple meanings. I do not want to have my curriculum pegged as multicultural without understanding what type of multiculturalism I am actually promoting.

However through further reading within Doing Democracy with Professor Tavin (one of my Fall 05 classes) and readings outside of that course I am finding that I should not be afraid to use the term multicultural as long as I am unpacking that term and concretizing it within my subject. In readings by Kinchloe and Steinberg as well as Takaki and Hooks, I am attempting to engage a type of course that is based in Critical Multiculturalism. Art History cannot be colorblind. I cannot teach a course where race is the only starting point. Should artists of other races be as prominent as white western males? Yes. But this cannot be the only factor. What about class, age, ability? These must also be factors in presenting an Art History that students can engage in personally and critically. I mentioned at one time that I did not want the materials in the course I teach to be "separated or generated by culture" (Ruthven, Thesis Panel Presentation) Hehe, I just quoted myself! I was asked to unpack that statement and I believe with critical multiculturalism I can now do that. One element is that in creating a more rhizomatic course content I do not want culture, meaning Chinese, Greek, etc. to be the only starting point or organizational method. But what I also mean is that only looking at works of art's culture leaves out a discussion of economics, abilities, and age. The art history class that I TA in now is a multicultural course. The professor is very careful to not just present western art. This is important but in doing so is engages in a type of "essentialist multiculturalism" defined by Kinchloe and Steinberg. This type of multiculturalism sees a set of unchanging properties that defines a category of people. (Kinchloe p19) By looking at images that "represent" a culture but only one aspect of that culture, art history misses out on other discussions. For example, this week in the survey course I TA in the lecture was on early Greek works. The images were shown and their location was described and seen. We saw the disc thrower and the spear bearer and many of the heavy hitters in art but also less seen images. The class saw that now many of the works have artists so we know the role of the artist is now more important. This still barely hints at a discussion of art from different economic classes, or from young apprentice artists versus older master artists (the early buddings of the apprentice system). In engaging students in multiple entry points I can allow them to bring in their own experiences as well as help them to avoid making large generalizations about one culture. A critical multiculturalist approach I believe would require art works that address these issues and not essentialize but explore differences in a critical way.

Works cited:
Seinberg, Kinchloe. (1997). Changing Multiculturalism. Buckingham Open University Press

The Limitations of Office Hours

This week students attended my office hours for the first time! I emailed my group of 43 students that I was changing my "office hours" from questions and answer period or tutor time to discussion groups. I informed them that I would be available to answer questions still but wanted to engage in discussion of things that interest them in relation to the subject matter. I also let them know that I would love to use their discussion as the source for their essay questions. This gave them the opportunity to let me know what they found interesting and what they might be interested in writing about. I feel like this is the most critically pedagogically correct thing I have done. I let the mandatory assignment come from the experiences and interests of the students. I feel in this way that I will not be giving them a starting point but that they have decided where they will enter into discussion. I had three students come to the first meeting and 4 come to the second one. I suspect that I will have more next week when the assignment goes out. I am also encouraged that this method brought in the students. They came because they wanted to have a say in their assignments and possibly wanted the opportunity to discuss what they are learning about. I hope that in this way I have in the words of Paulo Friere "demystify" the student TA relationship and brought us all to the point of being learners as opposed to me being the source for all information.

I did learn that this young group of people in their first semester/year are not completely comfortable in dialogue and that they were very quiet. I truly needed to develop more in depth and probing questions so that they could join in as they felt comfortable. I hope that once they have written the first paper they will come to discuss and have a more confident opinion or contribution. I have three students committed to coming to discussion after their papers are turned in. This is helpful in determining the format of a future course. I may be able to do some lecture and present the information required by standards but also engage students in smaller discussion groups to engage the materials in a critical way. This is my attempt to code the observations I am participating in. While it may be simplified I am attempting to code them in terms of teaching methods and course structures.

Friday, September 23, 2005

A Practice Observed

As a TA in a freshman art survey course I am required to attend all lectures. I have the opportunity to listen to and critique the lecturer as well as observe my students and their study habits and reactions to the content. These observations are proving to be rather fruitful in thinking of my praxis as well as obstacles that will arise.

First of all the class is a lecture class because of the 175 students enrolled. Group discussion of content is impossible. There is the realization that any survey class I may teach in a community college will have the same problem. The structure of the class is rather important to a truly critical approach to art history. How then will I arrange a course to come from students experiences if they are unable to share with each other? In reading an essay by Bell Hooks she expressed a similar concern in some of her larger classes. She says, "In much of my writing about pedagogy, particularly in classroom setting with great diversity, I have talked about the need to examine critically the way we as teachers conceptualize what the space for learning should be like." (Hooks 39) So I know have the charge of thinking about the space for the future class I would like to teach but also how to manipulate the space I am currently in to help my 40 students dig deeper and get more out of their time in this survey course. For the current situation I have decided to turn my unsuccessful office hours into discussion groups. My students will be invited to come for 30 minutes to an hour and discuss course content and anything else that comes up. They will understand that their essay questions will come straight from their discussion groups. I think this not only allows them to spend some time in dialogue about art but also allows the essays to be more personal about things that interest them and possibly stem from their own experience. As for the future class I would like to teach I realize that to truly create a revisionist and critical course the format may have to stem from the students but I think it would be good to require small group meetings with or without me. It is not necessary to have a safe classroom but my students have to feel comfortable talking about unsafe issues. This is an issue I will need to continue to research and address.

I am also encouraged by Bell Hooks writings as they directly address critical pedagogy as well as mutliculturalism and privledge at the university level.

Works Cited

Embracing Change: Teaching in a multicultural world by bell hooks. In hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom (pp. 35-44). New York: Routledge

Friday, September 16, 2005

Brief Description of my Project and Fieldwork

The purpose of my project is to create a revisionist art history curriculum. The purpose of a revisionist art history survey course in a community college is to reach the changing needs of the institution, as well as to meet the needs of the changing community of learners and teachers. This includes presenting critical pedagogical methods into the teaching of art history. It is meant to reposition art history as a tool to create context for each student as well as to be a lens to see history and experience through. As the community college changes so must the courses it offers. Defining the needs of the community college and those associated with it is important to the understanding of what a class may do as is defining or exploring art history as a field of research as well as a visual form of history. It is important to place art history within the context of new forms or versions of history; this addresses the needs of students as well as reaching out to a globalization and less westernized community of learners. The purpose of this project is a prescriptive one. My fieldwork experience and activities will lead to offering a new way of teaching an old subject.

It is necessary to define what "revisionist" means or how I will be using the term through the course of this project. The following list is meant to provide aspects of "revisionist" history.

Use of Local Art
Not separated or generated by culture
Looks to connect global and local histories
How a work addresses the human spirit
Encourages students to use their experiences to understand works
Approaches work form multiple perspectives
Use of hermeneutics as a method of inquiry
My Fieldwork this semester will include the following:

TAship (6hrs. A week)
Participant observation
Teaching learning as a member of the class
Journaling conflicting and similar methods of the lecturer and myself
Reviewing starting points and type of information presented
Discussing materials with student during my office hours
Creating assignments that involve elements of my ideas of art history education (test for validity)

Writing (6hrs. A week)
Content Analysis (code)
Begin the process of evaluating resources from multiple multicultural and interpretive viewpoints
Use these evaluations to guide where I will focus, understand, and then teach.

Curriculum Writing
Begin writing lesson plans and resource materials that implement hermeneutics and contain multiple
starting points that also meet or exceed state standards.

Research possible test sites for Fall and Spring Semesters (guest speaking?)
Research class proposal process

Evaluation Team
Line up community college students and professors as readers and evaluators of the lessons/class proposal Design a survey for both groups to gain their perspectives and check for validity and generalizability.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


This blog has been created to journal my process through fieldwork for the Fall 2005 semester at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago.