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Art thinking in global way Teacher: Kay Broadwater's trip to Mexico 25 years ago led to a lifelong commitment to using multiculturalism in the classroom


Kay Broadwater will never forget the excitement of the Mayan children in Palenque, Mexico, as they squeezed brightly colored paints onto blank paper.

The monthlong trip as a college student 25 years ago helped spark a lifelong commitment to incorporating multiculturalism into the classroom.

"I was doing this long before it was popular and politically correct," said Broadwater, 45, who has taught arts education at Towson State University since 1980. "I don't know about you, but when I go into a room and see someone from another culture, I'm drawn to them."

The energetic Baltimore native uses this passion in several forums. She organizes events at elementary schools that engage children in games, art and music of other countries. She brings African-American and Hispanic children from West Baltimore to Towson State to work on art projects with her students. And she shows her students how to intermingle art with any subject, be it math, social studies or literature.

Jon Meyer, art department chairman at Towson State, said Broadwater's projects and philosophy complement the department's goals.

"One of our greatest priorities is to think globally as well as to establish strong links to the communities of Baltimore," Meyer said.

About 10 years ago, Broadwater started organizing "Multicultural Days" at schools in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Howard County. At a recent event at Catonsville Elementary School, her Towson State students gave the children a taste of eight distinct cultures.

Decorated with flags, maps and posters, the school gymnasium was transformed into a mini-United Nations. At the Chinese station, for example, students dressed in kimonos taught the children how to eat rice with chopsticks and make moon lanterns. In Greece, students dressed in togas and ivy wreaths taught Zorba's dance and mask painting. The children also learned the hula, made Scottish whistles and beat African drums.

"The more we learn about different cultures, the more we can appreciate one another," Broadwater said.

The movement toward multicultural education in the past decade has provoked fierce debates on campuses across the country. In inner-city public schools and at Ivy League colleges, teachers have been questioning old-fashioned history books that exclude non-Western countries and broadening the traditionally European, white and male literary canon.

But Broadwater's multicultural approach comes less from an ideology than from a desire to break down stereotypes.

"I don't think of multiculturalism in political terms," Broadwater said. "I think of it in terms of art transcending cultural differences because it is deeper and universal."

Broadwater, who lives in Catonsville with her husband and four sons, spoke about her background and teaching philosophy in her tiny office choked with books, art supplies and children's artwork.

After graduating from Towson High School, she attended Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, and majored in arts education. She returned to Baltimore County to teach art at public schools in Parkton and Randallstown for seven years.

She earned a master's degree in arts education at Towson State in 1978 and started teaching there part time in 1980. She now teaches two courses: "Art and the Child" and "Art for Early Childhood Education."

While "Multicultural Days" embrace the traditions of different nations, Broadwater initiated another program three years ago that focuses on children closer to home. About 25 inner city children from the New Song Academy in Sandtown-Winchester visit Towson State a few times each semester to learn art from her elementary-education students.

The sixth-, seventh-and eighth-graders, who are considered vulnerable to drug abuse, teen pregnancy and dropping out of school, don't have a full-time art teacher.

"I saw they had a need for one-on-one art instruction, and also that we had a need," Broadwater said. "I want my students to get to know kids who are from different backgrounds than their own."

On Halloween, Broadwater's students gave the children bags of newspaper, tape, markers and other art supplies so they could make their own costumes. On another visit, the children made watercolors, prints and paintings that complemented essays they had written at school.

"It was strange working with them at first because it's this cultural clash," said Kerstin Karlsson, a Towson State junior. "We're all white females, and they're all African-American boys and girls. But everyone got used to it, and it was great to see what their young minds could do."

Their work is so creative and attractive that Broadwater is trying to organize a display on the Towson State campus.

"I think if we value and respect children," she said, "we can make a real difference in this world."

Pub Date: 12/01/96

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