In Critical Perspectives in Art Education last week, students were asked to consider how they would teach about the shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed African-American 18 year old, by a white police officer and the subsequent events surrounding his death in Ferguson, MO. The course is a research course that focuses on long-standing debates in the field of art education as well as current research topics. Students also learn how to critique and analyze research and ultimately use that knowledge to design a research proposal on an art education topic of interest to them.
The course is not about curriculum development. It is however, at least in part, about using current research in the field to understand what art education is and should be, and what contributions art education can make to the educational experiences of our students and towards educational reform in our school system. To that end it seemed important to consider how we would teach students about the events of Ferguson through the lens of art.
Students were asked to consider 4 questions: What do I know about the shooting of Michael Brown and the subsequent protests and policing of Ferguson? What ideas/concepts/questions are at the forefront of my mind? What do I want students to know? Why do I want them to know it? How will I use art-making and inquiry to address these issues/concepts/ideas in the classroom? Students worked together in groups to create ideas for use in the classroom.
One group decided that they would like to work in conjunction with the social studies teacher to investigate activist art since the 1960s and then ask students to draw on historical and contemporary examples to make their own activist art about Michael Brown and Ferguson. Their unit culminated in having students find readings that are hopeful about positive social change in the United States. Another group created a unit that was focused on imagery and how our perspectives can shift based on the ways in which media presents images to viewers. Their art-making ideas focused on having students create images that represented different perspectives. Yet another group used Ferguson as a jumping off point to address issues as wide ranging as social media, gun control and the responsibility of authority.
Questions that came up in our discussion included: how can we teach about these tragic events in a constructive manner and help students find ways to be optimistic about creating change in the future? What is our role as teachers in teaching about violent events? What if it conflicts with what students’ families want them to know? How can current events inspire us as art teachers to focus on social justice themes even if we don’t refer to specific events?
Art after Ferguson: what will you do in your classroom to make a difference?