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Lesson Plans

Re: Cultural Cautionary Concerns

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Mark Alexander (mamjam)
Fri, 17 Oct 1997 23:38:07 -0500

Dear folks,

The world is getting smaller every day, due in large part to communication
and transportation advances, as well as the exponential growth of the world
population. Obviously this will impact on the art and artifact making of
various cultures, and efforts at the preservation of endangered cultural
image making, icons, and artifacts of minority cultures must be supported.

However, I do NOT believe that those of use who are of the dominant culture
should avoid teaching what we can about other cultures. Having visiting
artists who represent other cultures come to school is a good way to offer
expanded programs, but that isn't easy. This is not to say that we as art
teachers should ask our students to create katchinas, totems, or ofrendas
and imply that these creations are authentic. Instead, I believe it is our
job to learn and teach as much as we can about the customs and artifact
making of cultures different than our own, and along with these lessons
must be a discussion about our perception of the original intention of the
artists and craftpeople who made them. The duty of all good teachers is to
teach the need for respect for others and that, of course, includes the
artisans of endangered, minority, and extinct cultures.

Many have said that for us to teach about the art and artifacts of cultures
of others makes those cultures seem trivial. They could be right. However,
I also think that NOT teaching about the cultures of others would
eventually be even more harmful. Isn't most bigotry based on ignorance?

My eighth graders are learning a little about El Dia de los Muertos, and
making their own versions of el esquilitos. They do know that what they are
making shouldn't be considered authentic, because we include that in our
discussions about them. But when they run into an authentic icon of El Dia
de los Muertos, they will recognize it. Later on, having some knowledge of
the customs and rituals of Mexico will help them get beyond the differences
so that they will be better able to learn that they have more in common
with these people than they ever could have imagined before.

I have taught a little bit about Native American dream catchers in church
school. We made a stylized version of them out of materials we found in the
fields and woods of our town. There are still a few hanging around the
church school and my home. I enjoy seeing them, not because I hope they'll
catch my dreams, but because I enjoy the idea that some cultures believed
that they did. Really, what a really cool way to deal with good and bad
dreams! I enjoy thinking about how their lives must be or were. Is this
disrespectful? Am I doing these Native Americans a disservice by teaching a
group of Christian children about the existance of different beliefs?

I like to think that when my students leave my class they are a little
better prepared to engage in self motivated learning, and I hope they are
less likely to feel threatened when they encounter new thoughts and ideas.

The ingredients of art can be found anywhere. As an artist I use that
knowledge and as an art teacher I teach it. Appropriation has been going of

I'm starting to ramble now, so I'll leave it here.


Mark Alexander, 1-8 Art
Lee H. Kellogg School
47 Main Street
Falls Village, Connecticut 06031

"The object of education is to
prepare the young to
educate themselves
throughout their lives."
Robert Hutch