Cultural Appropriation within the Classroom

Cultural appropriation of crafts within the classroom can be a sensitive subject to teach. In an attempt to teach diversity, educators will make crafts which are representative of a specific culture, or society. Many times, these crafts created in schools are generic and do not celebrate the unique meaning in regards to a specific group of people. If teachers employ crafts to enhance knowledge of a specific holiday, group of people, or a culture, then measures should be taken to ensure that students creating the crafts have extensive knowledge of the origin of the craft as well as any unique meaning behind it. Unfortunately, many teachers do not go to such lengths. Dr. Richard Bay, Art Education Professor of Radford University states “It’s hard to embrace the vast knowledge necessary to learn about a culture. It’s easier for teacher’s to pick up a ‘cookie-cutter’ pattern or lesson plan and say it’s done the job.”

Individuals who employ cultural appropriation have the ability to produce works of considerable aesthetic merit.  Using properties of art from different cultures such as decoration or emulation of creative process can foster a greater understanding and appreciation of crafts from different cultures. This technique can be appreciated in the production of African or Native-American mask making projects, where students emulate technique and explore new material use and construction methods which esteem those practices of different cultures.

Cultural appropriation has the potential to bring many new learning experiences into a classroom. When teachers do not take care to respect the context of art work from other cultures, they are telling students that it is ok to steal from another culture. Dr. Bay explains that taking one item from a culture, such as Day of the Dead masks, or African traditional masks and saying that these specific articles encompass the entire beliefs of a culture is an abomination to the true context of the craft. “Within cultures are sub-cultural groups, and within those sub-cultural groups are families, and each family may have a cultural context, each is to be valued.”

If cultural crafts are to be created in the classroom, there is a fine line between the celebration of a culture and abuse. When teaching cross cultural appreciation, be sure to appropriate appropriately.