Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Examination of Factors Affecting Change in a Pennsylvania School District's Art Program from 1924 to 1992

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Examination of Factors Affecting Change in a Pennsylvania School District's Art Program from 1924 to 1992

Article excerpt

The early 1980s saw a resurgence of dissatisfaction with American public schools, expressed in calls for educational renewal, school restructuring, and systemic reform (Adler, 1982; Boyer, 1983; Goodlad, 1983; National Commission for Excellence in Education, 1983; Sizer, 1984). This echoed a long history of agitation for educational change at the theoretical level (Kliebard, 1991) that was paralleled in the history of art education (Belshe, 1972; Clarke, 1874; Efland, 1989; Logan, 1955; Soucy, 1990; Wygant, 1983). However, a relevant question is whether educational change efforts ever succeeded at the classroom level (Cuban, 1984), and if so, by what means.

To understand how educational change was actually accomplished, I examined the art program at Penn Manor, a suburban, middle-class school district in southeastern Pennsylvania in which I taught elementary art classes for 20 years. My objectives were to locate historical trends and influences that shaped the implementation of new approaches to art education. I attempted to trace these processes through various levels, from state educational guidelines, down to the district level, within the broader context of world events and general curriculum history (Marche, 1995). The work of Efland (1990), Rogers (1983), and Fullan (1993), provided bases for a model of change that emerged from this study and has been reported elsewhere (Marche, 1997).

Although numerous factors were examined in the original study, this paper will focus on three parameters that operated to promote or prevent lasting curricular change: state mandates or guidelines, teachers' preservice education, and district administration. These factors will be traced through three historical periods at Penn Manor between 1924 and 1992. The paper will conclude with an analysis of each parameter's effect in aiding or impeding change initiatives.

Historical Methods

My historical inquiry was based upon three types of data: (a) documents obtained from archival as well as public and private sources, (b) interviews with art department chairpersons, students, art teachers, and classroom teachers who are active or retired, and (c) my own personal memories and records. For most of the period examined, primary sources were available, and key individuals were accessible, willing to be interviewed, and ready to share documents and art work. However, because the earliest district art teacher was no longer alive, that period's history was reconstructed from interviews with his former students and colleagues, past newspaper accounts, and collections of student art work. Content analysis was the primary method for analyzing written district art curricula (Holsti, 1969; Merriam, 1990) using categories derived from research questions posed at the study's commencement. Interview transcripts were coded to construct content analysis categories that captured the effect and nature of participants' responses.

Due to the subjective nature of historical documents, human memory, and the interpretive nature of all historical writing (Carr, 1961; Hamblen, 1984; Hoffman 1984; Vansina, 1984; Warren, 1978), conclusions were confirmed through multiple sources wherever possible (Cutler, 1984; Merriam, 1990). The question of personal bias, due to my close association with this district, required additional measures including full disclosure of sources (Vansina, 1984), use of indirect questions and multiple, diversified inquiries into each subject (Cutler, 1984), ongoing consultation with respondents, and peer review (Merriam, 1990).

Art at Penn Manor, The Painting Master-1924-1960

Starting in 1924, art education in Manor Township was shaped by a single individual, Harry Martin Book. A gentleman-painter and locally popular landscape artist, Book sold his works and lectured about painting throughout the community. Book taught through the Great Depression, World War II, and the start of the Cold War, until the beginning of the Space Age. …

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