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Supporting Student Agency, Engagement and Success Through Inclusive Folk Arts Pedagogy

Date: 04 April 2018

As a folklorist, I know that narratives based in racism, sexism and other ideologies of power and control act insidiously (and often invisibly) in our schools and communities to create fear and division. In an effort to create safe spaces in classrooms across the country for learners from all walks of life, inclusive folk arts pedagogy can facilitate greater understanding between students and educators of many cultural backgrounds.

Small, yet critically engaged, academically rooted, and progressive, the field of Folk Arts in Education builds knowledge and skills through traditional and meaningful community art practices. Local Learning began as the National Task Force for Folk Arts in Education at the National Endowment for the Arts, and it continues to serve the field of education by bringing a cultural framework to professional development and educational resources. To serve the field of folklore, we create pathways from schools and learning spaces to traditional artists and bring educational models to folk arts programming.

For 25 years, Local Learning has encouraged inclusive pedagogy focused on radical student engagement and agency. Greater awareness of self through a discovery process rooted in ethnography increases student engagement, confidence and readiness to learn. Additionally, there is a pedagogical advantage to teaching students who know that their epistemological capital is a valid currency in the classroom. When educators acknowledge this cultural knowledge that walks into the classroom with students every day, they may open doors to many voices. As Founding Director of Local Learning Paddy Bowman and I recently wrote: “Educators stand at the forefront of social change. Whether the issue is immigration, migration, economic downturns, trending naming traditions, health, bigotry, civic engagement, or civil society, teachers are often the first to recognize cultural shifts that directly affect their classrooms. Thus, they are often the first who must develop responses to change.” Through Local Learning, we continue to create opportunities for cultural art forms and local aesthetic values to have a place in our diverse, dynamic classrooms.

The Journal of Folklore and Education offers case studies of programs around the nation that create safer, more just and equitable learning spaces and curricula. We also publish research and framework articles that theorize our practice, and in the coming year, we will amplify the linkages between folklore and science. Folk arts are uniquely suited to explore the history, aesthetics, geography, sense of place and values of different cultures and communities, including school communities.

These stories illustrate how educators in the arts utilize folk arts in education to foster inclusive learning:

Learn more about Local Learning on our website.

This is guest post comes from Lisa Rathje, executive director of Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education, a partner of the Arts Education Partnership.

Title: 2280 Pasos Bajo un Cielo Nublado | Artist: Hernán Jourdan | Medium: Film

When I was asked to create a work of art exploring literacy, I wanted to create a dance but I had no dancers or a studio, so I chose to use my own body in the space I had, my yard. Fluent Nature is video of micro-choreography that explores what cannot be expressed with words, how nature has its own language, and how placing the human body in nature changes the story.

Title: What Is Me and What Is Not Me | Artist: Alex Chadwell | Medium: Music

My thinking on arts and literacy centers around the concept of literacies and artmaking as both sense-making and meaning-making processes that organically and inevitably overlap, intersect, and reciprocate. Compositionally, What is me and what is not me is a sound collage of sorts (there is no notation for the piece, and I'd be hard pressed to recreate it accurately) that abstractly and aurally represents the relationships between literacies and artmaking.

Title: A Curious Honeybee | Artist: Gideon Young | Medium: Film

Offering welcome through traditional and digital elements of literacy, A Curious Honeybee provides an experiential learning environment by activating visual, musical, natural, and emotional literacies.

Title: Tercera Llamada | Artist: Karilú Forshee | Medium: Audio

La Carpa Theatre is a project that I am currently directing in the Detroit Latinx community. The project aims to strengthen and uplift youth voices through devised theatre, in the style of the Mexican Carpas. This audio was created in the theatrical environment envisioned for our project. The ways in which literacies are re-defined are at the heart of La Carpa Theatre's mission.

Title: Literaseas | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite and ink on paper with digital edits

Title: A Riddle | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits

Title: False Binaries | Artist: MJ Robinson | Medium: Graphite on paper with digital edits