Is Your Clipart Culturally Responsive?

Posted: June 10, 2017 by Lindsey Nagorski

While it should not be news to any educator, students thrive best in a positive learning environment that is inviting and welcoming both physically and psychologically.  The issue goes back to our own cultural experiences and how we (most of the time) unknowingly project them into our classroom setting.

What the teacher may view as welcoming, positive and inviting may indeed appear to be uncomfortable and exclusive to some of the students.  Moos (1979) states that “ for students of color and families of immigrants , their initial assessment of their acceptance into the school environment depends on whether or not they perceive pictures, symbols and other visual representations that remind them of their homes, communities, and values.”

Simply put, do all of your students see themselves represented within the walls of your school and/or classroom?  In the majority of public schools across our nation the answer is no.

Most teachers (myself included) like to adorn our work with clip art.  Whether it be a powerpoint slide or a worksheet or even classroom posters, teachers everywhere are utilizing clip art and other various images on a regular basis.  Unfortunately many of these images do not accurately reflect the students within our classrooms and it all boils down to awareness.

I’ve learned over the years, after doing many searches for clip art of culturally diverse students that many of the individuals who create the clip art are simply unaware of what truly diverse images look like.  Often times attempts have images with the same facial features and body/ hair but slightly different skin tones.  This is called the “colored in effect”.  While it is a step in the right direction towards diversity it still portrays some of the “ideals”  that our students are flooded with on a daily basis.  Very rarely are drawn images of students depicted as being in wheelchairs, wearing glasses, having a broad nose and full lips, having freckles, wearing a hijab, and the list goes on (for a great example of Culturally Responsive clip art look here!).

On the flip side, many educators aren’t aware of how their own implicit bias affects the images of students that they use in their room.  Not to say that this is intentionally done in any way… but many times, especially considering that the majority of the teaching profession in this country is made up of white females, it just isn’t something that is considered all that often.  Inherently, teachers will select images based upon their cultural lens and must build their awareness of the other lenses in the room.

Even if they do not teach in a diverse setting it is important for educators to consider who they are representing through images in their rooms.  We don’t need to worry about representing our white students anywhere near as much as our nations underserved students, who have historically and systemically been under- represented or mis-represented in games, toys, books, curriculum, movies, tv shows, dolls, products etc for centuries.  Our white students see themselves represented just about everywhere everyday.  It is important that even in an all white classroom to expose students to people and cultures who are different from them.  I would argue that it may be even more important for teachers in this setting to take just as many steps to represent diversity as teachers who work with diverse students.

Overall, we need to do a better job of being cognizant of the images that we are choosing.  A cute little clip art kid may seem harmless at the time, but consider the images that are flooding our students on a regular basis from all angles.  The ultimate goal is to be highly critical of these elements and the message that they are sending to you students, because your students are staring at them every day.