SHORT WRITINGS
Equity and Design Curriculum in Foundations Higher Education, October 12, 2021
 
Critical thinking skills are the technical skills of today and the future. Critical thinking skills educate students to teach themselves, thereby cultivating an equitable form of education. This is one of our most fundamental goals as educators.
Critical thinking (CT) skills are transferable to any life path, career or community need. CT skills foundationally shape students’ lives in the present — and stabilize their ability to analyze and address the issues, situations and adversities of tomorrow.
Curriculum is the infrastructure of higher education and it must meet, reflect and respond to the contemporary moment.
“Technical skills” are often at the center of design education. “Technical skills” are often viewed as technology and technique; software and form-making. The time has come to redefine these skills. The technical skills of today and the future are:
Historical knowledge
Cultural awareness
Conceptual processes
Communication theory
Put into action, we call this critical thinking. CT becomes fertile ground for an equitable education, as students are not limited to one industry, medium, or goal. CT is an education of means, not an end. Students cultivate and learn what they need when they need, indefinitely into the future.
Design curriculum is inequitable, as is higher education in general. This is not a fault of educators, but rather institutional problems that need addressing. This is an incredible endeavor to experience in collaboration with interdisciplinary teams.  
I would like to compare inequity in education with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and design. 
Education is part of our foundationally biased and inequitable society. This is what many institutions equity prompts and initiatives are addressing. Like education and society, artificial intelligence has biases built into it, as it reflects our culture through the data it collects from users. 
AI expresses our biases and inequities because, like our education system historically, it does not know it is biased, therefore perpetuating and upholding the inequities. But these historical issues can be addressed and changed.
AI is the very near future of design. Adobe and developing Artificial Intelligence(s) are using collected data and designing forms; social media + graphics, data visualizations, fashion, music, web templates etc.. And on more complex levels, AI are producing images and animations of people that cannot be discerned as “fake” (deep fakes).
The Adobe Creative Cloud is recording users every click, drag, copy/ paste, save, undo, export etc. Adobe is hosting and storing users’ work, process and final forms and pieces. It is collecting users' data, which is designer's work and processes. 
From the data driven designs, designers then edit the machine's final forms, which are purely aesthetic upon delivery to the designer. The designer then makes sure that the work is contextually relevant; meaning that the work is communicating the concept properly, the piece is culturally pertinent and fits into a broader realm of the place and audience or culture. 
Currently Adobe CC is inaccessible to many people as it is very expensive and operates on only newer devices. Adobe holds a monopoly as an “industry standard” all the while there is a plethora of open source tools and products available for free that are the equivalent to Adobe, and often more advanced (Blender).

Within this comparison of AI and design education, all four CT skills and knowledge realms are needed to fulfill an equitable education: Historical knowledge, Cultural awareness, Conceptual processes, Communication theory. When an equitable design education is established, there will be a paradigm shift to an AI world. This shift produces an equitable design industry and praxis via the educated practitioners. These practitioners then build equitable societies.

Design students are visual, which is why they seek out design programs. As design educators we help them learn to be learners through the visual languages we introduce them to and we thus teach them how to live in the world. 
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Selected curriculum examples:* 
Starting with an historical example and context, it is easier to look back in history to see issues, wrong turns, and overall problems of said era. Then, these issues can be addressed critically and collaboratively, while thinking about solutions and alternatives. When we have this critique and critical base established it will follow learners to current work and world.

Critical Design Histories: Foundations design opener See work here
Image Based Narratives: Revisionist history and postcolonial theory See work here
Memes and Metaphors: cultural critique and the language of self expression See work here
Product Placement: Control and Creatives conceptual processes See work here
Visual And Critical Theory Seminar (tested as summer reading group with 7 students from graphic design and visual communication programs—prompts temporarily removed) See work here
*student examples by permission of the student
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GLITTER 911
September 11, 2021 (posted to instagram)
The [above clip] may seem insensitive and inappropriate to post on a day when many in the US are expected and taught to mourn innocent lives lost in NYC at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. I post this as a reminder of innocent lives lost around the world and lives STILL falling to a devastating system of power that is neoliberalism.
In the [above] short clip are icons and representations of ideology which we call symbols—as is the case with most images. The clip is from "9/11," a once living spectacle.
9/11, as it is known, was a visual metaphor made viral primarily on television screens through world media outlets, in real time, from physical dimensions. Now existing in archives and repertoires, many, especially in the US, are told to memorialize and remember this day through these images. Too often this memory is framed as an "attack on our freedom and values." It was an "attack on values" as it is often said, but those "values" need to be examined as they may not be our own as individuals. 
On September 11, 2001 an attack was carried out on neoliberalism, world trade, and the war machine with which the systems of capitalism have a symbiotic relationship. This happened at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, then dubbed “Ground Zero.” 
9/11 was an attack on a "value" system, a system that has caused the loss of millions of lives and will continue to destroy many more (now primarily through environmental disaster). The spectacle that was of course a tragedy on 9/11/2001 was 'glitter' in multiple meanings of the word. In one meaning, which this clip points at, 9/11 was a shiny spectacle, entertainment via screen that distracted many while the world transformed in an instant via policies and public opinions and invasions fueled by fear. [1] These weaponized, fear inducing images and "reminders" of 9/11 were ultimately used to benefit the war machine and its relationships of greed, power and colonization (see Halliburton and then Vice President Dick Cheney for one easy to digest instance). 
The symbolism that is these buildings, 9-1-1 emergency, and the buildings name are nothing in comparison to what they housed and stood for. This must be examined if the towers are in fact bearers of “our values.” Mariah Carey must also be examined as the above clip ask of us. Not Mariah as an individual but as an icon and symbol of US popular culture. One who later blamed 9/11 for the box office failure of her film Glitter released the week of 9/11 as seen above in her promotional poster for the film Glitter, juxtaposed to the now iconic images of the fiery towers. As an iconic cultural influencer, Mariah Carey is rarely brandished as a symbol of "our values" like the twin towers. One might argue that as an influential creator and media mogul, Mariah Carey is a symbol of our culture and thus explicitly reflects "our values" of neoliberalism.
However, it was the towers appropriated and imbued with “our values and freedom” in the instant they were struck intentionally by a plane. This prescribed symbolism was a strategic campaign of neoliberalism, using its most sophisticated tool; media. And now, post 9/11, we in the US are totems of neoliberalism under attack from a dangerous Other. We must see the “Other” labeled as people of the middle east (specifically Iraq and Afghanistan) and middle eastern descent, and we must see ourselves as patsies in a not so elaborate scheme—in hindsight. 
Because these symbols were not examined, two wars were directly waged in Iraq and Afghanistan almost immediately after 9/11/2001. It is safe to say we can in 2021 easily discover and observe the continued devastation inflicted on innocent lives, primarily not in the US. I acknowledge the first responders and their battles with health and healthcare and the many traumatized families in NY and the US. This is not to legitimize any lives lost, but again, to think of the many lives lost we in the US may forget because of the glitter, spectacle, distraction and propaganda (I cannot get the recent images from Kabul out of my head).
There was only one vote in Congress on 9/14/2001 against the invasion of Iraq. It was Rep. Barbara Lee of California. We must pay her our respect and thank her for understanding and thus teaching us the meanings of these symbols and images and the weapons they became.
And the time-traveling TikTok-er that shot the [above] clip is Luigi Cazzaniga. The clip is from a longer 23:00 video [2] shot as the amateur videographer moved through Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001. He too understood these symbols, and knew how to produce the images to support them. 

As many of us on social media become evermore visually literate and productive of images, we must remember their power, their influence and acknowledge the symbols and meaning they carry and create. We must empower ourselves to critique the ever growing flow of digital media and remember that there are many sides to history, stories and images, only one is in the spotlight while the others fall behind.


Other Sources:
1 What Do Pictures Want?
https://g.co/kgs/ecK4KM

Luigi Cazzaniga Tape, Enhanced Audio, seen at 6:46
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwEPNZ3ZV00
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