Navigating the “Delicate Relationship Between Empathy And Critical Distance”: Youth Literacies, Social Justice, and Arts-Based Inquiry
English Teaching: Practice & Critique
Purpose: This paper features artwork and artists’ statements by middle school students who participated in a research collaboration that involved co-authoring critical literacy curriculum for Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel Maus: A Survivors Tale (1986) with teacher candidates from the University of Toronto.
Design/methodology/approach: Youth explored personal and social justice issues through writing and artwork produced in response to Maus. In the process, they navigated what historian Dominick LaCapra (1998) has referred to as the “delicate relationship between empathy and critical distance” (pp. 4-5), between closely identifying with the agonizing experiences Spiegelman documents and using their inquiries to cultivate more critical positionalities and assume activist stances on historical and contemporary social justice issues.
Findings: As they describe in their brief statements included alongside their artwork, creating these projects allowed youth to bear witness to a terrible moment in human history and to envision how they can make a difference in their own communities.
Originality/value: This work suggests how the arts can be mobilized in critical literacy as a vehicle to interrogate difficult historical moments and multifaceted identity issues.
Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing
Critical literacy, Arts-based research, Collaborative inquiry, Curriculum studies, Social justice education, Youth literacies
Simon, Rob; Evis, Sarah; Walkland, Ty; Kalan, Amir; and Baer, Pamela, "Navigating the “Delicate Relationship Between Empathy And Critical Distance”: Youth Literacies, Social Justice, and Arts-Based Inquiry" (2015). English Faculty Publications. 107.