Monthly Mentor

Shelly Breaux (December)
Each month, a different member and NAEA awardee is the guest writer for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog. Shelly Breaux established the Art Program at David Thibodaux STEM Magnet Academy in Lafayette, LA. In her classroom, Breaux focuses on inquiry-based learning, problem solving, collaboration, conceptual thinking, and constructive criticism. She believes in using art as an educational tool, and that art provides her students with a voice and an outlet. Click "GO" to read her full bio.



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« Transitioning into Teaching Outside of the Traditional Classroom | Main | Disability Justice »

October 01, 2018

Including Difference

From Dr. Karen Keifer-Boyd

NAEA invited those who received NAEA awards in 2018 to be a guest author for the NAEA Monthly Mentor Blog with weekly posts related to the award. I am honor to have receive the 2018 NAEA, CEC, VSA Beverly Levett Gerber Special Needs Lifetime Achievement Award. My lifetime work is based on my deep belief that visual art is integral to forming subjectivity, community, agency, and enacting social change.

Visual art is also a powerful way to interpret histories, concepts, and experiences. Socially engaged participatory art can develop human potentials for dialogue, empathy, personal and collective healing, and can create solutions to nuanced and complex eco-social justice issues, documenting, and exploring beliefs, theories, and histories. Eco-social justice art builds democracy while visual art empowers human potential through teaching, leadership, and continuous learning. Transdisciplinary creativity as a social process in visual art can develop response-abilities, translate-abilities, and sense-abilities—and other competencies and capabilities necessary for democracy to thrive.

The following roles that I have served convey my life-long deep commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. I am a professor of art education and women's, gender, and sexuality studies at Penn State, and past president of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Women’s Caucus (2012-2014), NAEA Distinguished Fellow Class of 2013, the 2013 Ziegfeld Awardee, and 2012 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Gender Studies at Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt, Austria. I have served as coordinator of the Caucus of Social Theory in Art Education (CSTAE) and as CSTAE’s journal editor.

I serve on the Have Art: Will Travel! Inc. For Gender Justice (HAWT) Advisory Council. In this role, I serve as consultant working with museum directors and educators, organizations, and programs interested in gender justice curricula for school groups. Social Justice Art Education (SJAE) curricular encounters with Linda Stein’s art series promote the critical consciousness necessary to challenge injustice. The SJAE encounters offer teaching strategies for participants to engage with artworks in ways that call for reflection upon their upstander behaviors that dismantle power differentials. These strategies model processes of critical reading across differences and create opportunities to destabilize assumptions of the unfamiliar and locate possible common grounds that encourage empathetic understandings of other perspectives. The encounters, resources, and artworks are at

Alice Wexler and I serve as the only two visual art educators on a Research and Evaluation writing team of the Education Division at the Kennedy Center. The team developed a five-year research plan published in August 2017 as a brochure for educators that maps research milestones. The link to the plan is

In serving on the Steering Committee for the Art Education Research Institute (AERI), I developed one of the AERI 2017 featured panels “Disability Justice: Ethics, Access, and Equity Arts Education Research.” This panel resulted in a Studies commentary. See Keifer-Boyd, K., Bastos, F., Richardson, S., & Wexler, A. (2018). Disability justice: Rethinking “inclusion” in arts education research. Studies in Art Education, 59(3), 267-271. In this commentary, we draw attention to the problematic language of inclusionism, a term used to reveal institutional terminology that purposely obscures the fundamental notions of disability justice. Ism, added to inclusion, refers to systemic forms of exclusion that appear to be acts of inclusion, but instead isolate difference through established norms.

With Michelle Kraft, I have co-authored Including Difference: A Communitarian Approach to Art Education in the Least Restrictive Environment (NAEA, 2013). Including Difference is dedicated to art educators who endeavor to create participatory, inclusive classroom communities for learners of all abilities. The communitarian paradigm emphasizes respect, mutual responsibility, and interdependence that all stakeholders share within a community.

Within a communitarian, inclusive art class, we see that educational efficiency, or productivity, is not measured in terms of cost-benefit analysis; instead it is assessed in terms of one’s opportunity to contribute through active and full participation within the class community. In an interdependent community, everyone has contributions to make. Communitarianism emerges from the concept of empowerment by difference. Consequently, equality is not an absolute but is relative to one’s needs. Communitarian liberty empowers one to actively participate in the educative process through choice-making in a safe and enabling environment.

Including Difference is the responsibility of all members of a learning community to find strengths and build capacities in each other.

Including Difference is moving away from ableist assumptions of impairment to disability as an ecological/political/societal barrier.

As civil rights legislation, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is rooted in the precepts set forth in the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka (1954), a case dealing with race and equal protection. Similarly, the Least Restrictive Environment mandate in IDEA (2004) states that students experiencing disabilities are to be educated alongside their “non-disabled” peers to the maximum extent appropriate (U.S.C. 20 § 1412 (a)(5)(A)). In educating all students toward full participation in a democratic society, the concept of empowerment through difference sits at the core of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), as it does with all examples of civil rights legislation.

Consequently, an art education that fosters democratic values should empower students to act on their visual environments in ways that reflect their beliefs and values by examining critically the larger systems that encompass their lives—belief systems, patterns of thought, representations of self—that are directly related to the pervasive influx of visual imagery that tells them what to believe, how to think, how to be. [This idea is developed further in the book, Engaging Visual Culture, that I wrote with Jane Maitland-Gholson, published by Davis in 2007.]

Such empowerment and critical reflection, then, occurs through interaction and dialogue with others within the community, especially with those who are different from oneself. In this way, the inclusive art class community becomes more dynamic, more democratic, and its participants are more mutually invested as they are able to value the diversity of all of its members, regardless of (dis)ability.

Including Difference:

  • Challenges and reclaims what disability means
  • De-centers notions of normal
  • Employs art to explore difference, identity, experience, and capacities
  • Fosters diversity awareness of stereotypes and clichés of disability





Karen, your strength as a mentor is in the genuine compassion and inspiring care that you have for those around you! Thank you for the many ways you reach out and collaborate with so many. Thank you for your kind guidance, your mentorship, and for your friendship!

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