Friday, March 16, 2007

Change Seekers Manifesto

I believe that the socially-constructed, political notion of "race" was developed in the sixteenth century for the express purpose of the exploitation of people of color by those who inhabited the continent of Europe at that time and that this exploitation continues still--brutally, unapologetically, and with the realization of great wealth. As a person bearing the physical characteristics attributed to Europeans and European-Americans, I accept the responsibility of becoming ever more cognizant of this reality, ever more sensitive to its effects, and ever more committed to changing it. I do not perceive myself as worthy of particular benefits such as are bestowed upon me, often without acknowledgement or even awareness.

I stumbled upon this on a website but now cannot find it again. While i try to stick to actual experiences teaching on this blog I could not help but address this statement in relation to what I have been working on.

One of my favorite things about my community college teaching job is that there is so much more to do besides teaching. Obviously teaching is the root and all other activities lead back to it in some way.

One major project I have been able to work on has been revising General Education Goals. These goals are so important as they are part of the basic building blocks of the classes I teach. The idea is that after any and all gen ed classes there are skill sets that all students will have had exposure to. These are the characteristics of great students who enter the world to be great citizens.

I got involved with this topic when I called into question eurocentric language and priveledge in our newly formed gen ed goals. This is not to pat myself on the back since recognizing my priveledge as a white middle class american is hardly something to stand up and cheer about. Recognitiion does not always mean action. As the Change Seekers Manifesto states that we must be committed to changing this not just being aware of it. Though awareness is not easy and is a very important first step.

In our gen ed goals when it came to critical thinking a definition was given that was "logical" or some might say "common sense" Either way it was giving priviledge to one way of knowing which is not so different from the practice of racism, sexism, classism, and globalism (in its negative lets all be humans and pretend race doesn't matter but it obviously does kind of way).

When it came to the arts gen ed goals the term fine art was used. While the art world is making changes (though some would say at a snails pace) fine art still excludes women and minorities as well as untrained or folk/craft artists.

These terms and definitions were not meant to be harmful and were in fact written for a greater educational purpose. They are also a textual example at the way many times people forget or do not have to consider priviledge.


Jenny! said...

I am so lucky to be your friend, you are so smart! I totally can't think of anything to say as a comment, b/c you seriously said real good!

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Doctor Pion said...

Off hand remark: Sounds like you are working on a QEP plan for re-accreditation. Been there, critically thought that. And I must say, the definitions we work with (particularly that of applying knowledge in a new situation, quite relevant to your own class) have none of the narrowness you ascribe to the definition you were talking about.

An observation: One semester teaching at your CC? There is a time for caution when arguing academic issues, and also for learning from your colleagues. For example, you are in/near Chicago. What influence does the U of Chicago "great books" curriculum have on the gen ed program at your CC? Always remember: Academic politics are extremely vicious because the stakes are so low.

As for your main point, my observation is that I can think of no reason to assert that the term "fine art" excludes women and minorities or that you have to talk about folk art to include them. Some could even construe such remarks as sexist or racist. My (female) colleagues' work is definitely "fine art", as is work you can see in many museums.

I do, however, agree that the term should be broadened in the description of your curriculum, although "fine art" might not have a pejorative connotation in your colleagues' minds. Folk art in a museum is automatically fine art, just as 21st and 17th century symphonies are both great music.

PS - Yes, I am a physicist, but I have had something exhibited in an actual art museum. You don't see that every day!

Sarah said...

the term fine art when used inthe world of history is in reference to a very specific collection of works. The term fine art is a classification of a specific kind, otherwise we would just say art. When I am using it here it is not to say that many artists make works that can and should be hung in museums, collected or even studied. It is exclusionary, however, by nature. In fact there are quite a few female artists, as well as the ever popular outsider artists who make works specifically to place themselves outside the realm of fine art.

I would love to reclaim the term fine art to mean art but currently it specifically references a select group of people.

Especially when it comes to general education goals a limited term such as that is not appropriate.

As we continue to work on General Education Goals we have really broadened out this term to be more about aesthitcs (which many of us teach) instead of specifically refrencing visual arts.