Empowering Arts Education to Design an Anti-Racist World – Part 2

By Joni Starr

To read the first in this two part series see the July 8 blog post. Read Dr. Rolling’s Black Lives Matter, An Open Letter to Arts Educators on Constructing an Anti-Racist Agenda.

“Toward the achievement of social justice and the work of shaping human potential, the value of each life and every creative act indispensably enriches us all.”

Dr. James Rolling, Jr.                                                          President-Elect of the National Art Education Association Chair of the NAEA Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion Commission Professor of Arts Education at Syracuse University

Educators work simultaneously in a micro and macro manner. We look for student achievement in the daily activities and assignments defined around the curriculum. We also expect that the lessons learned in the classroom will carry beyond the school walls and lead to success as students grow into adulthood. We are working to create conditions for students to value themselves and others inside the school building and outside in the wider world.

Dr. Rolling in his writing Black Lives Matter, An Open Letter to Arts Educators on Constructing an Anti-Racist Agenda reasons in both micro and macro ways as he suggests “ideas for applying the arts as a catalyst for anti-racist actions and outcomes.” Dr. Rolling creates a “framework of suggested interventions.” These interventions can feel small or big, easy or difficult, and less or more attainable depending on your own personal experience. He begins each with the powerful word, altering. He notes, “It won’t be easy. Remember, systems resist change.” Here are my summaries of his framework.

Altering Parameters asks:

  • How do we allow all voices to be heard all of the time?
  • How do we make all cultures and colors be seen in everyday life?
  • How do we make social justice a way of life?
  • How do we think of these practices beyond the classroom?

Altering Feedback asks:

  • Are we aware of public language that minimizes lives of color?
  • Can we stay ahead of the biased stories?
  • Can we speed up the process of equality by celebrating contemporary artists of color?

Altering Design asks:

  • Are we paying attention to teaching materials and avoiding racist artifacts and images?
  • Are we willing to step outside of the norm to support artists/art from all cultures and colors?
  • Are we truly mentoring the next generation of artists and creative leaders of color?

Altering Intent asks:

  • Can we move beyond ‘color-blindness’ into naturally seeing an extended palette that represents all of the people in our shared humanity?
  • Will we raise up people of color to leadership positions, recipients of awards, and shared professional advantages?
  • Will we shift from a racist paradigm to a love supreme?

As a founding contributor and current writer for MAEIA, I have been thinking about how the performance assessments might connect to Dr. Rolling’s ideas. How they work toward the achievement of social justice and the shaping of human potential? Here is what I found.

MAEIA assessments:

1. Were created to authentically assess all students in K-12 fine arts programs.

2. Make use of a variety of materials, reflective of many cultures and colors.

3. Are adaptable to meet the criteria of differing classroom and student needs.

4. Ask for individual responses that are authentic to each student and their background, culture, and color.

5. Encourage students to think beyond the classroom in their art-making and empower them to engage in community involvement.

6. Results can foster meaningful conversations about student needs and common planning that can motivate and guide change.

7. Can celebrate student strength in art and meaning-making to improve the world around them.

8. Empower students to walk in their artistry with every step they take.

This is a powerful list of achievements and speaks eloquently to some of Dr. Rolling’s inquiries. The assessments alone, however, do not address all of his points. It is possible that they can’t, but they are a strong support for teachers. They can be a good starting point. A starting point that compels us to pay attention to our choices; to stay conscious to anti-racist teaching; to celebrate all students and to act with empathy and love.

Dr. Rolling writes, “Our lifelong commitments as artists and educators have taught us to discover, share, and then reinforce connections that others sometimes overlook.” As artists, creative teachers, and inspired leaders you are invited to do the same and together we can design an anti-racist world.

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