"We live most of our lives in a world constructed according to the rules and devices of narrative. "(Bruner 1996, p. 149)
For countless centuries humanity gained, preserved, and communicated knowledge in the form of stories, both oral and written. With the ascendancy of science and mathematics in the 18th and 19th centuries, narrative as a way of knowing and transmitting information was largely discredited. However, in recent years, the power and validity of narrative are again being re-affirmed as ways to construct and communicate knowledge (Bruner 1996). Nowhere has this been more evident than in the field of historiography. Since at least the mid-20th century, historians such as Carr (1961) have been asking, "What is history?" and finding the answers in constructed narratives.
A pre-eminent voice expressing this view, White (1973) claimed that history is "a verbal structure in the form of a narrative prose discourse," (p. 2) the content of which is as much imagined and invented as found. He plotted the evolution of an historical account from the "primitive elements" or traces of past events, through the construction of a chronicle, or chronology, to its final form as a story. Writing on the history of art education, Hamblen (1985) traced a similar pattern of phases from original events to written histories and beyond, noting that history both shapes and signifies future understandings. Erickson (1984) identified four styles of historical writing: Realistic, Formal, Expressive, and Pragmatic. White (1973) further argued that historians build their explanations by Argument as seen through the lens of an Ideology, and by Emplotment in the mode of Romance, Comedy, Tragedy, or Satire. Hexter (1998) goes to the heart of the issue by claiming, "the writing of history, of its rhetoric...is ordinarily deemed the icing on the cake of history; but our recent investigation indicates that it is mixed right into the batter" (p. 67).
To illustrate the effect of narrative construction upon historical understanding, I will examine a particular period of United States art education history, encompassing numerous reform efforts undertaken from 1965 to 1980, especially the Aesthetic Education Program (AEP) of the Central Midwestern Regional Educational Laboratory (CEMREL). The AEP was of fundamental importance for the following reasons: 1) it represented the first, and to this date the largest, influx of federal dollars awarded to American art education; 2) it underlay and gave impetus to the most recent art education reform movement, Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE); and 3) its impact was recent enough that historians are only now developing its narratives.
Redefining the Narrative
While several recent histories of art education (Stankiewicz, 2001; Wygant, 1993) survey the events of this period, only Efland (1990) provides a moderately in-depth account. In a section titled, "Rival Trends in Art Education, 1965-1975" (p. 240), Efland constructs a narrative of contention between two opposing factions. Beyer (1980) likewise describes a conflict between competing educational goals. This is the metaphor of "Trial by Combat," a medieval joust in which the good is always expected to win out, or in a more Darwinian sense, the most fit is expected to survive. The division of all viewpoints into two opposing camps becomes a familiar trope for simplification, for creating conflict, and raising interest in a story. By focusing only on differences, however, this narrative framework strips away the more complex webs of similarities and connections.
What I propose is a fundamentally different narrative describing this period of art education history, a story about threads woven into a fabric of collaboration. CEMREL launched its program of Aesthetic Education reform into an environment that was already undergoing change. The fabric of post-Sputnik scientific-rationalism in general education, that should have supported CEMREL's disciplinary approach, was beginning to unravel. …