Art Education for Social Justice

I wanted to share a great book that I’ve learned so much from, it is called Art Education for Social Justice by Tom Anderson & Co. This book is filled with stories about educators who have used aesthetic strategies to achieve or maintain social justice. These stories provide models for how and why we can strive to do the same. The arts are forms of communication between human beings about things that count. (Anderson & Milbrundt, 2005, Dewey 1958/1934, Gardner 1994, Goodman 1978, Langer 1980) Since art is used to communicate content, it only makes sense to use it as a tool to communicate social justice.

The author begins the book by defining what social justice is. He states that social justice is tied to the notion of social equity, people’s perceptions of whether they have been granted equal access or equal opportunity, been treated fairly, and/or granted the respect they feel or deserve. (Pg. 2) These inequities cause misunderstandings and conflict between people. When people see each other in terms of stereotypes or labels rather than as people first, it encourages distance and estrangement between people of different groups.

Art for education of social justice takes a contextual position in which art is about something more than just decorative purposes or for it’s own sake. (Pg 9) To help students understand the concept of justice and equitable opportunities for all, the people featured in this book created opportunities in which they actively participated in and experienced these concepts firsthand. They presented concepts with more meaning by posing them as a question for the students.

The stories address gender, community, national, post-traumatic issues and agism. Some of the stories were a little hard to understand like Chapter 7: The Beehive Collective- but others resonated on more of a personal level and I found hope and inspiration such as Taft Richardson’s story and Mosaic Raising as a means to enact socially responsive pedagogy. I have already used some of their ideas in my Saturday class. I appreciate how sometimes groups are even chastised within their own art community such as in the story about the Women’s studio workshop. These women held onto their core beliefs and in the end created a safe place for these women to be able to make the most of their art.

Every time I read another story in this book, I felt a little more inspired in my work as an art educator. The reason I decided to change careers from being a graphic designer to a teacher is because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of children and in the world. I have been getting a lot of negativity from current teachers and other people bashing the arts. This book has given me the encouragement that I needed to believe that I can make a difference and that I have made the right choice. If I am not able to land a job in a school, I have devised alternative projects that I will work on through the local art college and community.

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