Article: Bridging Socioeconomic Gaps

More than 1 billion of us live with disabilities. We must remove all barriers that affect the inclusion and participation of persons with disabilities in society, including through changing attitudes that fuel stigma and institutionalize discrimination. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (UN Department of Public Information, News and Media Division, New York, 2013)

In the course of teaching many individuals with dis/abilities throughout my career, I received overwhelming responses to texts such as Alice Walker’s “Beauty, When the Other Dancer is the Self.” Since I had the opportunity to screen films such as Majid Majidi’s The Color of Paradise, I discovered that crucial issues of challenge, treated with sensitivity and nuance, were welcome in classes at all levels, ranging from introductory creative writing  to advanced critical analysis. Throughout those experiences, I asked myself whether my classes attracted students with dis/abilities because of unstated understanding, or because my syllabi moved issues of physical and other challenges from the margins to the center. As an assistant professor in writing, I wondered why literature departments, among others, did not as a rule include courses on the literature of dis/ability, here defined as literature about dis/ability (and so much more) by authors who, through their work, opened up a rich dialogue about their challenges, as well as triumphs.  When year after year, class participants cheered at the conclusion of Jim Sheridan’s My Left Foot, I felt that the academic community at large was missing something—a chance to examine issues of creativity in their complexity, issues that embraced the centrality of the body, not as the object, but as the subject of – critical discourse.

In Teaching to Transgress, Bell Hooks writes, “One of the central tenets of feminist critical pedagogy has been the insistence on not engaging the mind/body split. This is one of the underlying beliefs that has made Women’s Studies a subversive location in the academy” (193). When I teach, I endeavor to counter marginalization, as well as to summon images as spaces where individuals of diverse cultures and backgrounds can meet without subscribing to an elision of differences. I try, insofar as possible, to validate multi-perspectival approaches to learning through the incorporation of critical thinking that the arts encourage. It is my belief that artists in education are at the forefront of educational innovation and creativity. Through their work, artists not only combine theory and praxis, but also engage feelings, commitment, problem solving. For the future, I envision an international curriculum that foregrounds dis/ability studies. Can we imagine a course taught in the diverse sign languages of the world? Because of their groundbreaking work in non-traditional spaces, many artists offer perspectives on creativity, access, and bridging socioeconomic gaps.

     Artists who teach often incorporate highly individual perspectives; as a result, they encourage diversity through a complex exchange of ideas and artistic practices. My own conversations with artists who share specific, international approaches with their class participants affirm that they cultivate diversity through meaningful, nuanced cultural exchange. Other, dynamic roles of artists in education are likewise discussed in Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future through Creative Schools, President’s Committee on Arts and Humanities, 2011.

The focal point of this blog, then, is to foreground an ongoing dialogue about agency and inclusion in arts education, through highlighting artists’ works. In conclusion, Paolo Freire’s words about inclusion and agency, in Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach, still resonate with artists in current times:

     We must dare, in order to say scientifically…that we study, we learn, we teach, with our entire body. We do all of these things with feeling, with emotion, with wishes, with fears, with doubts, with passion ,and also with critical reasoning. However, we never study, learn, teach, or know with the last only .We must dare so as to never dichotomize cognition and emotion… We must dare to learn how to dare in order to say no to the bureaucratization of the mind to which we are exposed every day. We must dare that we can continue to do so, even when it is so much more materially advantageous to stop daring (ix).

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