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[teacherartexchange] Respecting diverse cultures in the art curriculum and being willing to adapt


From: Kevan Nitzberg (knitzber_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Mar 11 2006 - 05:15:33 PST

I thought I would start this thread (which might well have already been
addressed before at some point), regarding multiple cultures being
represented in the art curriculum and the challenges that sometimes are
posed as a result. In my district we recently had a meeting to address
concerns that had been brought forward by a representative from a local
Native American group regarding the creation of artifacts representing some
aspects of Native American religious beliefs in the artroom (particularly at
the middle school level), that were found to be offensive by this group.
This included sand paintings, some masks, katchina dolls, and totems. While
the intent was to share and expose students to Native American cultures
through the creation of these artifacts as art projects, the effect in these
cases was to cause some serious although unintended pain and anger.
Throughout the secondary art department leader meeting during which this
issue was brought to light, it was obvious that the situation was a long way
from being merely a cut and dry issue of simply eliminating certain projects
from the curriculum and substituting others in their place. Information was
shared during and subsequent to the meeting regarding a range of beliefs
from different Native American groups as well as individuals within those
groups, who held a wide range of beliefs on what in fact was sacriligious
and what was simply manifestations of culture. I think that it behooves all
of us as art educators to be particularly sensitive to the choices that we
make in presenting and developing curriculum when we are using those choices
to represent cultures other than our own. We need to become educated about
the range of beliefs that in fact surround those items. The presenter at
the meeting who had brought the issue to light had also brought a clown
figure mounted on a cross to symbolize the level of insensitivity that she
had experienced with some aspects of the existing curriculum that dealt with
her religious beliefs. Of course, the assumption made by this person was
that everybody in the room who was not of Native American descent was also
Christian by default. What became apparent to me through all of this was
that we should be careful to not paint everyone from any given group with
the same brush, so to speak, but to be sensitive to the needs of individuals
from within a group whose beliefs may represent a wide range of levels from
what we might consider to be 'reformed' to quite fundamental within their
specific culture. As our population continues to grow and become more
diverse in its composition, more and more of these types of scenarios are
bound to play out. Hopefully though all of this we can become better
educated ourselves as well as more aware and respectful of cultural


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