Thesis Update: Teaching a Social Justice Rich Art Curriculum in Pre-K, K, and 1st grade

Hi, my name is Emma Mullins Zucker, and I am a grad student in the CCNY Art Education program. This is my sixth and final year here. I have been attending this amazing program since undergrad and have had an extremely enriching and positive experience during my time here at CCNY, but specifically a wonderful experience with the art ed. professors, classes and peers. I am a full-time elementary art teacher as PS 89 in the East Bronx and a rabbit rescuer on the side.

My thesis topic is centered around finding out teacher perspectives on the BEST PRACTICES for teaching an arts curriculum rich in social justice topics to the youngest learners. I was curious to pursue this for many reasons. I have always been interested in justice and equality but studying at CCNY in undergrad really ignited my passion for social justice. So many of the social justice education articles we have read and lessons we have written here were focused on the middle and high school set. I wanted to take these concepts and apply them to the youngest school aged children. My thought was, “there has to be a way to teach big, important ideas to four year olds in a digestible, approachable and fun way!” That idea led me to my research.

I wanted to survey teachers first to see if any are even doing this – do early ed art teachers teach with concepts of social justice at the forefront of their minds? So I began my study with a broad survey of any early ed art teachers I could, found exclusively through Facebook groups. Then, I selected a group of six art teachers who DO teach art to young children with a social justice sense in the hopes of discovering HOW. I then interviewed all six of my selected participants for an extensive 45 minute interview to determine factors that might aid and inspire their curriculums and to determine, most importantly, their BEST PRACTICES of exactly HOW they teach such heavy, often considered “grown-up”, concepts to young children.

So far, after compiling all my interviews, one of the most interesting things I have found is that many art teachers rely on the true stories of artists lives to teach social justice. Because so many artists have lived difficult lives and dealt with hardship, discrimination, poverty, mental illness, or were marginalized in some way, artists, art teachers say, are the path to social justice that kids are both able to understand and hungry to know more about. Because kids, after all, love to hear stories, especially stories about real and interesting people.

Two great resources for lesson planning that I have been suggested by elementary art teachers are: Pinwheels for Peace and the Hexagon Project.

*Note* The photo is of me with my 3rd-7th grade Fashion Design After School Program. This is the 4th year I have run this group and my students have such an incredible bond and have learned SO much about fashion design and illustration. Such an amazing group of girls!!



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