During my practicum, I developed a quick two-period exercise to introduce the importance and effect of the location of public artworks. We began with a brief introduction to public sculpture. We examined the powerful Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, the public artworks of designer Thomas Heatherwick. We then investigated several popular works based in Vancouver and did a quick class exercise where we collectively imagined how the significance of those works would change when placed in an altered context. Afterwards, students were asked to critically examine, consider, and relocate well known works within an alternative context that would somehow alter their meaning.
The emphasis was on conceptual comprehension rather than developing competency with the computer software. As such, they were provided with a link to pre-cut high-resolution copies of each sculpture so that they could simply insert their own background behind it in order to present their conceptual remix. You can find some samples of the work they produced below.
In a recent Canadian Studies course, I had the opportunity to build a microsite as an alternative to the typical essay format. I observed that there were several major benefits to the web-based format, primarily that it is composed in a non-linear format that allows the viewer to explore the content in their own sequence. As important as traditional composition can be, I can imagine huge benefits of organizing information in a manner well-suited to a non-sequential assembly of written content. I also believe that this generation is much more accustomed to interpreting information from the web than they are with long-form prose or other types of persuasive writing.
Fortunately, I had a background in web design, but it certainly requires technical skills that would typically lie outside of the students technological abilities. I could see myself utilizing this alternative format in a class focused on media or graphics, where the format could build upon an existing knowledge base of the medium. It could be used to summatively assess student competence with web-design as well as to formatively assess their exploration of a contemporary concept within design.
I personally do not object to being targeted by certain media based on my reported interests. If I am going to be exposed to advertising, my preference is that it be for products and services of some personal relevance, and not simply those which target a broad demographic that I can be placed within. As an adult who has learned to competently read media, I would much rather hear about the new album from a musician I enjoy than a generic advertisement for a tooth-whitening system or Paris Hilton’s latest perfume. It isn’t such a revolutionary concept that advertisers are marketing to a target audience: thirty-second advertisements for the latest toys are going to make more impressions when screened during Saturday morning cartoons than during daytime talk shows, and movie trailers for an upcoming romantic comedy would be better placed before a similar feature than a ultra-violent slasher film.
The primary fear in this multifaceted age is that as these previously competing media bodies merge over time, the concentration of their previously competitive nature is diluted. In a capitalist democracy, the more media is monopolized by media corporations, the less it is expected to meet the needs of its consumers and the more control it has to determine their beliefs and needs. In The political economy of media: An overview, the authors cite the News Corporation’s (internationally infamous) Fox News, which aggressively promotes its right-wing agenda across all of its media influences. Historically, Fox News consumers had been inundated with a single, conservative subtext across all media which was available to them. I believe that the internet poses a major challenge to that narrative and provides a platform to access a broader range of media influences, affording interested consumers with options which may not have been otherwise available. Beyond that, the recent convergence of digital media channels cannot be easily stated to be better or worse, but simply different from its predecessors.
Through a lifetime of exposure, adults have hopefully learned how to (somewhat competently) read media and to understand it on an intertextual level. From there, they can ideally make conscious decisions to consume media which is in alignment with their particular economic comfort zone, disposition, or political ideology. However, that is not the case for children and adolescents. Their brains are not fully developed and they have not learned to critically consume media, and yet they have access to revenue far beyond their own means. For this reason, they represent an incredibly lucrative market in a capitalist society. The recognition of the tween demographic as a target market clearly distinguished from the marketing towards kids or teens more aggressively targets what has become an industry in North America which is said to generate over forty billion dollars annually. I believe that it is the responsibility of schools to provide students with respite from this kind of aggressive advertising. Further, I propose that they should actually scaffold a process of critical media literacy that equips students with the facilities to maintain healthy skepticism of the media they consume. This is of particular relevance in my field of Secondary art education, where the lines between art and media studies have been irrevocably blurred, but I assert that all educators equally bear the responsibility of creating independent citizens that are critical of their environment.
In Social Justice and Art Education, Elizabeth Garber draws a connection between the common practice of challenging issues of social justice in contemporary art and how these practices can be developed within art education. She draws on great exemplars like the Kantonens who utilize culturally enriching projects which challenge and engage students on both technical and social levels.
Student are participants and not just recipients of curriculum. “Students reclaim their voices as part of a process of empowerment, not as a means to acquire personal power over people or goods, but by learning how to resist oppressive power that subjugates or exploits themselves or other people” (pg. 6). The power they hold in the classroom needs to be effectively understood in order to successfully engage youth in social issues. Curriculum that integrates and challenges their rapidly-developing understanding of themselves and the world around them enables Secondary students to become engaged in issues of social justice such as corporate sponsorship, prejudice and discrimination, and transforming identities.
Teachers are almost always able to provide guidance when it comes to art-making technique and content development. However, they are by nature composed of a preceding (or at least different) generation of individuals who have themselves arrived at certain conclusions given their own experience of being oppressed by or participants in a society of inequity. They may sincerely wish to guide students towards a place of genuine empowerment, yet their own understanding of issues of social justice isn’t inherently more developed than that of their students. How can teachers effectively and organically challenge their student’s understanding of social justice while respecting their own limitations and not imparting their individual conceptions upon their students? In a polarizing democratic society, should they even strive to?
There’s an exciting trend in education right now that I may revolutionize the way we teach. Teachers are starting to bridge the gap between the curriculum students are immersed in for thirty-plus hours a week with their real lives.
Math has typically been taught by giving examples which might be applicable to the students. “If you have this much change, and Jill has that much change, how many candy bars can you buy together?” I have recently heard these kinds of challenges described as “real-fake” interactions. This situation is meant to emulate a real life situation, but the narrative itself is fake; it is purely fictional and of no direct relevance to students.
New data is starting to show that it is much easier to engage students in “real-real” interactions, using activities that have real world applications in their lives. A chemistry teacher doesn’t need to ask students to work through a theoretical, pretend problem. The can have their students measure the quality of water throughout their own city, compare it to local published levels or national average, track changes and try to theorize why the quality drops in certain areas. A math teacher can have their students examine wages, break down the cost of living in their communities, analyze their own projected wages and cost of living after inflation, and hopefully develop their own opinions on the provincial minimum wage in the process.
Connecting the classroom to communities and homes has been made much more accessible by the new opportunities presented by place-based education. By liberating the classroom from the confining societal notions of where and how education should occur, we stand to gain a great deal of student engagement in curriculum, all while encouraging active participation in their communities.
While in deep discussion of the limits of communication in one of my classes recently, I was reminded of one of my favourite excerpts from Kurt Vonnegut’s final novel, Timequake:
I taught how to be sociable with ink on paper. I told my students that when they were writing they should be good dates on blind dates, should show strangers good times. Alternatively, they should run really nice whorehouses, come one, come all, although they were in fact working in perfect solitude. I said I expected them to do this with nothing but idiosyncratic arrangements in horizontal lines of twenty-six phonetic symbols, ten numbers, and maybe eight punctuation marks, because it wasn’t anything that hadn’t been done before.
In 1996, with movies and TV doing such good jobs of holding the attention of literates and illiterates alike, I have to question the value of my very strange, when you think about it, charm school. There is this: Attempted seductions with nothing but words on paper are so cheap for would-be ink-stained Don Juans or Cleopatras! They don’t have to get a bankable actor or actress to commit to the project, and then a bankable director, and so on, and then raise millions and millions of buckareenies from manic-depressive experts on what most people want.
Still and all, why bother? Here’s my answer: Many people need desperately to receive this message: “I feel and think much as you do, care about many of the things you care about, although most people don’t care about them. You are not alone.”
Reading is so much more immediately available and accessible than not just other media, but even the kind of experiences that they typically describe: tales of travel, adventure, whole lives lived out. We tend put “climbing Mt. Everest” and “comfortably reading a book on the sofa” in two entirely opposed categories, but in many respects they are quite similar. They are both experiences which occur outside of our existing understanding of ourselves.
It is human nature to believe that truth can be more clearly perceived through personal experience than through the written word. Most people would agree that communication is limited by language; we have a limited vocabulary that confines expression. I would argue that the same could be said for personal sensory experience; we have a limited mode of experiencing the world confined by our own time, identity, bodies… In my eyes, the defining difference is that our minds are not nearly as strong in their ability to create a cohesive construct based on language as other more immediate sensory experiences. The beautiful part is that we can take parts of these worlds, regardless of if they ever existed, and bring them into our lives.