What Does a Global Arts Classroom Look Like?

gifted and talented students of colorJulie Midkiff, an art teacher at Bradley Elementary School in Mount Hope, West Virginia, is an NEA Foundation Global Fellow who studies the connection between global arts and the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Tradition. She is also a contributor to 12 Lessons to Open Classrooms and Minds to the World, which supports students’ need for a globally conscious education.

NEA Today spoke recently to Midkiff about what a global arts classroom looks like.

How does arts education lend itself so well to global education and crossing international lines?

Julie Midkiff: Arts education is one of the core pillars of the Humanities; it helps us to gain a higher understanding of common human experiences.  The visual arts and the arts in general help us tap into this higher understanding of the human experience through the senses, whether it be what we see, hear or feel, or common things we all experience, such as growing up and going through life’s milestones while learning about our culture and the emotions we feel along the way.

Throughout history visual artists have used universal human experiences, feelings, and emotions in their work, and students from many different countries and cultures can easily relate to, for instance, a photograph of a mother cradling a baby, a painting such as Picasso’s Guernica, depicting the ravages of war, or emotions captured in Käthe Kollwitz’s drawings.

What commonalities do students from different parts of the world find in your art and theirs? What traditions are shared?

JM: When students see or experience a painting, sculpture, drawing, or installation, it helps them tap into these core experiences and they start to interpret these works within the framework of what they already know of the world.

It is my goal as an elementary arts educator to use a global lens to help my students expand their world from the familiar and local to include regional, national and international perspectives.  I like to use functional craft as a common example in my elementary Art classroom to help my students find commonalities between traditions and cultures shared around the world.

We use the four global competency domains to not only investigate and analyze artwork, but also as a lens for understanding the history and cultures of the artists we study.” – Julie Midkiff

My students in Appalachia can relate to quilting as an art form. They understand that quilts have been made and passed down from generation to generation and that some are used to keep them warm at night while others have been made to memorialize family members.  I build a regional perspective by helping them compare quilt making in Appalachia to the quilts of Gee’s Bend, Alabama.

On a global scale, I’m expanding their understanding of textile arts by introducing my students to artists I met and learned about as an NEA Foundation Global Fellow in southern Africa, including the work of Anthony Bumhira from Zimbabwe who uses blankets, doilies, and painting techniques to explore cultural and contemporary traditions.

I’m also researching the work of Thania Petersen from South Africa whose work taps into her Indonesian heritage and experiences with Islam and uses costume as imagery to explore personas and her own identity.

What does global competency mean for students in your classroom? What about global citizenship?

JM: According to the Asia Society, students can demonstrate global competency in four ways: When they can investigate their world with awareness and curiosity in learning about how it works, recognize their own perspectives and those of others with the understanding that others may not share their perspectives, effectively communicate ideas verbally and non-verbally with diverse audiences, and take action to use their knowledge and skills to make a difference in the world.

My young learners range from Pre-Kindergarten through fifth grade and we use the four global competency domains to not only investigate and analyze artwork, but also as a lens for understanding the history and cultures of the artists we study.

Global citizenship naturally goes hand in hand with global competency. By being engaged in lessons that use the global competency domain framework, my young learners gain the understanding that they are more than citizens of our town, region and country, but that they actually belong to and live within a world that is interconnected and that we all share the responsibility of making our world a more equitable, fair and sustainable place.

Julie Midkiff

How does creating a lesson with a global reach differ from creating other lessons?

JM: Lessons with a global reach dig deeper into the human experience and condition.  These lessons tend to be longer, and often cover a range of topics connected by a common thread of curiosity, gaining perspectives, communicating specific ideas, or taking action to solve a problem.  Giving yourself time to make these connections as an educator will help you be able to facilitate this in-depth learning in your classroom, no matter your content area or specialization and to help students make connections to real world problems, issues, cultures, etc.

How does global competency starting at a young age help tackle major issues of poverty and climate change?

JM: Tackling issues of poverty and climate change at a young age within the framework of global competency is a tall order for young learners.

Developmentally, they are just discovering themselves as individuals and the world immediately around them.  However, if these young learners can learn to make connections to these larger issues and taking action from an early age, we are positioning them on a trajectory where they will be able generate innovate solutions and to be the creative problem solvers of the future.

When possible, I try to partner with other teachers, community groups or organizations to help my students take action and participate in being part of a change or solution.

This year, I facilitated a partnership between my fifth-grade classes and a citizen’s conservation group in the Florida Keys. The group sent my students plastic trap line that is commonly used by commercial and recreational fishermen that had been cleared from the canals and waterway after the marine devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.

My goal is for my students, who live in land locked state, to gain an understanding of why we need to be good stewards of environment and to care about ocean pollution, which is one of the factors contributing to climate change.  My students researched the problems of recycling trap line, the affect of trap line has as marine pollution and its’ affect on local marine life and ecosystems.  They are in the process of building a sea turtle sculpture out of the trapline to be displayed with a QR code to bring awareness to the marine pollution and climate change issues to our local community.

By engaging in the trap line sea turtle sculpture lesson, my students have an increased sense of agency that they too, at a young age, can take action as global citizens and make a difference in the world.