Skip Navigation
Oklahoma State University

A Different Civics Lesson

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A unique after-school program created by curriculum studies assistant professor Seungho Moon is using art to promote citizenship and a sense of community in Tulsa.

Moon has a passion for equality and social justice, which led to his developing the ARtS Initiative.

“It’s how we live together in a challenging society, economically, socially and beyond,” Moon says. “I like to generate multiple perspectives and not limit ways of thinking. My goal for this project was to learn how to promote children’s ideas about active citizenship through art.”

ARtS is an acronym for Aesthetic, Reflexive thoughts and Sharing. Moon sees art as more than leisure; it can be a vehicle to create a public space. His line of thinking and academic work have been influenced by the late Maxine Greene, a professor under whom he studied while pursuing his education doctorate at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Both the Oklahoma Arts Council and the College of Education provided grant support for the ARtS Initiative. Robin Fuxa, current field experiences coordinator for the college and a former Tulsa campus instructor, served as the co-principal investigator for the project.

During the nine-week program, the project team worked with school teachers and teaching artists to deliver the program to upper elementary students at two Tulsa public schools sites — Mark Twain Elementary in the fall and Celia Clinton Elementary in the spring — twice a week. College of Education graduate students Ana Yeorim Hwang, Mary Danley and Natalie Astigarraga also provided support during the after-school sessions.

The program was designed to enrich existing communities with an emphasis on arts-based inquiry in creative writing, visual art and movement.

“It was really exciting to be able to give back to our school-based partners,” Fuxa says. “(Mark Twain Elementary) had a well-established afterschool program that we were fortunate to build upon. (Celia Clinton Elementary) was working hard to build up greater after-school opportunities for the students and community. We were thrilled to contribute to this endeavor. At both sites, the children’s art and words hold a lot to teach us.”

The opening three weeks of the program were dedicated to creative writing. Students offered metaphors and wrote poetry to explain what citizenship meant to them. A student described active citizenship as a “puzzle piece” that is part of a community. The puzzle needs this “one piece” to “hold it together, to keep it in order… to make the puzzle complete.”

During the second three weeks, dance and movement were the art form. In the final three weeks, students created pinch pods, empanadas and wind chimes as part of the clay art segment.

At the conclusion of the semester, elementary students have developed both their own artistic skills while gaining a better understanding of democratic citizenship. The reach extends beyond the school. Parents and family members attended an orientation to prepare for the program and a family community night to see and experience all of the art their children created.

“So often children are asked to memorize and carry out others’ notions of citizenship,” Fuxa says. “For me, the critical piece here is that the children conceptualize and articulate their own understandings — and, in sharing, expand upon one another’s ideas. Because of this, the initiative’s design is a truly authentic reflection of its community-based design.”

This project is an example of scholarship, teaching service and community engagement, carrying out OSU’s land-grant mission. After a successful first year, the ARtS Initiative was funded once again and is continuing during the 2014-15 school year.