Teaching Art for Social Change: An Interview With Art Teacher Meredith McDevitt
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Teaching Art for Social Change: An Interview With Art Teacher Meredith McDevitt

Meredith: NYU taught me that art is how you can reimagine the world and that through imagination, you can just have a clear idea of like how you
want change to happen. I try to think about us as
like coinvestigators for an issue. But then also taking action and really
thinking critically about the world around us. I have white privilege. I don’t have to deal with racism
the same way that students do. And I need to check myself every day. Being a white woman teaching all black and
brown students was really something I did not know how to deal
with until I went to NYU. And NYU has given me the theory to understand
how to approach this dynamic and practical things. One of them being to understand like the social
and political contexts of which you are learning. Um, to do everything that you can to understand
who your students are and the community that you’re working in. Critical Race Theory is another component
that has informed my practice, just naming racism. So not skirting around race. It’s actually being really transparent about
where racism exists and the way that I do that is through how images are represented. I show my kids, probably 90% of the artists that I show them are African American or, uh, people of color. Because I want to show them that you can be
an artist too, and here are the ways that people of color are making art
and telling their story. Like around the classroom I
have so many artists that look like them. If the kids can’t see themselves in the curriculum,
they’re not gonna want to be a part of it. Teachers need to make a really active effort
to address race and who their students are in every aspect of the curriculum. Even their classroom culture and their environment. A lot of times, you’ll walk into an art classroom
and you’ll see this little box that says “Multicultural Skin Tone Set.” But really in that box, there’s just four colors. And to a child, when they see those four
colors and they don’t see themselves represented, then there is exclusion. So, what I try to do in those types of units
where I’m really naming race is I’m deconstructing preconceived ideas in a
very digestible way for elementary such as can you mix your skin tone and can we talk about the uniqueness of our skin tones. Students come to this classroom with expertise
and my job is to just realize what they are the expert in. I will just put an image up on the board and
I’ll tell them to turn and tell their partner what they see, think, and wonder. And then they’ll have lots of questions. And I think the questions, um, is something
that I’m still trying to figure out and NYU is giving me the tools to understand how to
answer these questions in an age-appropriate way. But think the most important thing is that
they are having these questions. Because if they’re doing that here in the
art room, then hopefully, they can do that outside of the art room too. You can learn so much from just giving a child a simple question and then seeing what they visually create. And I think I learn, but they also learn from
each other and then this beautiful like community culture happens because they’re appreciating
each other’s stories. And, so I had kids interview someone that immigrated
to the United States, which is most of their families. And then we took those interviews and then
we transformed them into a visual story. Into a narrative. And I think that’s another big part about
my curriculum is teaching them empathy through art. I think it’s really important to have
conversations with families first. Uh, I’ve done several community events to
know who the parents are, to understand what they are comfortable with. And I think a lot of times that people come
into the art room and they think, like, “Oh, like, they’re just learning how to mix colors.” Art education is so much more than that. We should teach them how to use the materials,
but we should teach them how to think. And like, give them the
tools to think critically about the world. If we’re not incorporating social justice in our curriculum, I don’t think we’re really preparing our students.

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