Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Toward a Community Model of Art Education History

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

Toward a Community Model of Art Education History

Article excerpt

Community-level studies enjoy a long tradition of application to historical research in areas such as the physical sciences and politics; however, this approach has not been widely applied to art education history. This article outlines a community-level approach to art education history by first examining and outlining the art education community, its constituencies and structures. Concepts derived from complexity sciences and applied to organizational theorizing are explored for insight about openness or resistance to change in the art education community over time. Finally, an overview of the development and application of community-level studies to historical inquiry is presented.

In each period of 20th-century art education history, a single theme or organizing concept has served to unite curriculum, practice, and inquiry. In the early part of this century, the term of choice was creativity. After 1965 this was eclipsed, at least temporarily, by aesthetics. A new organizing theme, community, is emerging within recent educational discourse, perhaps reflecting a postmodern emphasis on the contextually embedded, socio-political nature of all human endeavors, including art education (Neperud, 1995). Several applications of community to art curriculum development are outlined elsewhere (Marche, 1998) in terms of differing sources utilized, questions asked, and roles advocated for arts students.

Much current discourse about praxis centers upon themes such as climates for learning, classroom communities, and culture of schools (Brandt, 1996; Bruner, 1996; Nathan, 1995), emphasizing the collaborative and communal nature of education. In this article I will outline a communitylevel approach to investigating the history of American art education. Community-level studies, or collective biographies, are frequently used in historical studies of scientific and political arenas, but are rarely applied to education (Marche, 1996). An important aspect of any historical study is perceived change or lack of change across time; this is also true of histories of art education. Recent developments in organizational theory, drawn from complexity science, are useful for understanding educational change or resistance to change (Fullan, 1993; Caine & Caine, 1997a; 19976). These approaches may likewise inform a community-level study of art education history.

I will first outline a framework for understanding the structure of the art education community and for reconstructing art education communities in the past. Next, I will review a series of concepts drawn from complexity science and recently adapted to organizational and educational change theory. These tools may be utilized for understanding complex interactions across the art education community. I will then discuss the application of community to historical inquiry in the form of communitylevel studies, examining development of the genre and its application to scholarship in the history of art education. I


It is 10:30 a.m. at Lincoln Elementary School, on the south side of Madison, Wisconsin, and 16 eager fifth graders are chatting happily as they arrive at Mrs. Goray's art room door.2 There is time for a few minutes of consultation with the classroom teacher as the students take their seats. They spend the next hour examining Guatemalan cloth dolls, selecting colors, counting warp threads, creating a symmetrical arrangement, and threading backstrap looms attached to upturned table legs. Through it all Mrs. Goray answers questions, monitors behaviors, and trouble-shoots with materials. In this interaction between students and art teacher, I find the core of an art education community. However, this introduction yields a picture that is far from complete.

Also present is the entire Lincoln Elementary School community, including the principal who found a few dollars in the school budget to support this special art project for a local children's museum, additional teachers whose classroom curricula on Central America are linked to the art project, and school librarians who helped with student research. Other community members including nurses, teacher aides, cafeteria workers, and custodians, as well as Madison Metropolitan School District personnel such as department chairs, curriculum coordinators, a superintendent, and other administrators are involved. Parents constitute a significant part of the Lincoln art education community by supporting their children's individual art endeavors and special donations of time for helping with projects such as mural painting, textile demonstrations, and construction work for the museum installation.

Mrs. Goray and her students are also supported and influenced by persons outside the Lincoln school community, including local, state, and federal governing bodies, University of Wisconsin-Madison departments of Art and Art Education, Latin American Studies, and Ollin, the Mexican students' organization. The Madison Children's Museum, venue for the installation, is providing grant money and volunteers for classroom presentations, while a local import business has provided examples of Guatemalan crafts. This art education community extends to the village of Nuevo San Jose in Guatemala, linked through e-mail, traveling couriers, and guest visitors. All of these constituencies must be considered in a study of this particular community.

An Art Education Community Model-Structures and Constituencies The first task in conducting a community-level study is identifying the parts of the community and organizing them in some fashion to facilitate understanding. While many community-level studies have examined scientific or political professions Jenkins & Jones, 1950; Lankford, 1997; Shapin & Thackray, 1974), key concepts from these studies can inform similar research in art education. In constructing a sociological model of the American astronomical community, Lankford (1997) divided its personnel into three levels, the generic, the specialist, and intergrades between the two. All are embedded within the broad universe of American culture. Similar structures may be encountered within the art education community (Figure 1).

The generic section3, composed of what Lankford calls primary social institutions, is engaged in classroom teaching, and is composed of anyone actually instructing students in art, along with the support structures and personnel necessary for their success. As seen in Figure 2, the components of the generic section divide logically into three sub-sections: (a) those involved in recruiting and preparing art teachers for service, (b) those engaged in classroom teaching along with those supporting, monitoring, and rewarding classroom performance, and (c) those who provide connections between the art classroom, other sections of the art education community, and broader American culture. While the generic section is often the most difficult part of the community to document (Stone, 1972), sources may include lists of college art education faculty and graduating students plus state-level records of school district personnel.

In the specialist section of the community (Figure 3), we find those whose primary purpose is to "add to the store of knowledge" (Lankford, 1997) about art education. This happens chiefly, but not exclusively, at the university level, particularly at research universities. There one finds those elements that define professional values and identities of art education theorists and researchers, as well as factors that delineate the boundaries within which specialists operate. Communication within this section is accomplished through publication in professional journals such as Studies in Art Education, Visual Arts Research, and Journal of Multicultural and Cross-cultural Research in Art Education. A constellation of support structures, including mentors, sponsors, and professional contacts promote these research programs and publications. Recurrent author collaborations supply hints of informal communities in the specialist section. Further information may be retrieved from records of finding and grant-awarding agencies along with lists of honors and fellowships granted.

Regional, state, and national art education conventions and publications provide the chief means for communication between the generic and specialist sections of the community (Figure 4). This information may be gleaned from membership rolls of professional associations including the National Art Education Association (NASA) and National Education Association (NEA), conference attendance lists, and articles in trade journals, such as Arts and Activities and School Arts. Textbooks are usually authored by members of the specialist section and used in the generic section. Other links may be found in the career paths of individual teachers and researchers. Many of those who ended their careers as researchers started out as classroom teachers at some level. On the other hand, many university-level researchers also engage in teaching both pre-service and in-service art teachers.

All of these community-level activities occur within the broad universe of American culture (Figure 5), which includes other national and international communities, as well as regional, state and local environments. From this extended universe, both the generic and specialist segments of the community derive roles and models of art, as well as particular values that influence how they position themselves and act within a professional community. These roles, models, and values are apparent in mass media. Arts educators act within this universe, reflecting current social needs, values, and popular trends; they also respond in particular ways to local, regional, national, and international art and educational communities. Art educators are in a unique position because their work straddles education and the arts, encompassing and deriving elements from each community while maintaining some measures of independence from each.

In his model of the American astronomical community, Lankford situates the reward system within the generic section, since it is through application of a researcher's theories that validation and remuneration occur. In the art education community this issue may not be as clear-cut. Each section appears to have its own reward structures. While it holds true that much of art education research is validated through classroom applications, this is not the only avenue available. Rewards may be monetary or more esoteric, as in professional reputation and peer respect. These often occur within the specialist section and can facilitate awards of research grants and funds. On the other hand, art teachers in public schools, colleges, and museums do indeed legitimate the work of the specialist section through classroom applications and textbook adoptions. They also compete for school budgets, program grants, and related professional awards. However, for both sections, the sources of funding and validation, through commercial and philanthropic foundation grants and tax-supported school budgets, must be found in the broader universe of American culture.

Much of the above concerns structure and placement, analogous to outlining a chessboard and placing the players in position. In creating a community model, as in playing chess, it is important to understand how the players move and interact. For this, one can draw upon recent developments linking organization theory and complexity science to understand openness toward or resistance to change within organizations.

Community and Change


Schools may be understood as both organizations and as communities, embedded within broader communities that encompass an array of other organizations. Research early in this century concentrated on the evolution and shape of organizational structures. Informal structures emerge without explicit organization as diverse individuals pursue their own ends, cooperating, competing for resources, exercising power, and making decisions (Sumner, 1907). Teachers may create informal supportive groups based on personal interest or physical proximity in the school and cooperate in short-term interdisciplinary learning projects. Formal structures are those deliberately established to facilitate the joint endeavors of individuals pursuing common ends (Summer, 1907). At every level, ranging from the district to the individual classroom, schools embody formally enacted social structures.

When formal organizations become large and take on complex administrative tasks, they become bureaucracies with division of labor, employing trained specialists who operate according to set rules and regulations geared toward ultimate efficiency (Weber, 1922). American public schools fit every criterion of this definition (Tyack, 1974). Much has been written about bureaucracies as self-perpetuating, equilibrium systems that grow increasingly conservative and resistant to change over time (Barnard, 1938; Michaels, 1911; Simon, 1947). Some theorists argue that substantive change within established organizations becomes impossible, once they have fully matured (Hannan & Freeman, 1989).

In addition, formal social systems, including bureaucracies, encompass constellations of informal social structures (Barnard, 1938; Roethlisberger & Dickenson, 1939). Parsons (1960) noted that social systems constitute "nested series," each existing within wider systems and maintaining subsystems within its own boundaries. Formal, bureaucratic organizations such as schools simultaneously encompass and are encompassed by other systems, including both formal and informal communities. Regardless of type, all social systems must solve four basic problems: 1) adaptation to the environment, 2) goal achievement, 3) integration of subunits into the larger system, and 4) latency, or maintaining value patterns over time (Parsons, 1960). Social systems may be either static or dynamic, resistant or open to change; recent organizational theorists have examined factors that facilitate change in organizations (Senge, 1990; Wheatley, 1992) including schools (Fullan, 1993; Caine & Caine, 1997a; 19976).4

Organizational Theory and the New Sciences

Research over the past century has identified the characteristics of both informal and formal organizations. Other studies have drawn upon the "new sciences" of quantum physics, chaos theory, and complexity science to focus on interactions within and across organizations, much of it directed toward understanding processes of change. Wheatley (1992) translated aspects of these scientific theories into social metaphors to explain, predict, and foster change within formal organizations, including bureaucracies. She advocated a move away from older reductionist sciences and toward a new science of holistic relationships that describe learning organizations as fluid, organic, boundary-less, and self-renewing systems. Three areas in particular form the core of her approach to organizational change:

1) Field theory refers to action at a distance as in the case of gravity. Ideas are like energy in a field; they influence behaviors and organize events, values, vision, and ethics. In Wheatley's opinion, ideas and not managers, control organizations. If a small group of teachers is motivated with the energy of an idea, it has the potential to suffuse the entire school. Because art as a human activity has potential to integrate all school subjects, art teachers are often at the core of interdisciplinary group endeavors.

2) Chaos theory has led to the concept of self-organizing systems. When natural systems are disrupted, they re-organize themselves, usually at a more dynamic level, as seen in forest ecosystems after a devastating fire. Equilibrium in an organization results in stagnation and death; this is especially true of closed systems. Systems, such as schools, that are open to the environment draw in energy, ideas, and information. Openness to the environment serves as both a creative and a disruptive force, but without it change becomes impossible. Disruption represents an opportunity, not a disaster. Community-based art education presents just such opportunities for educational change.

3) Chaos theory also provides the concept of a strange attractor, which is the organizing element in self-organizing systems. In complex social systems, the strange attractor encompasses the core skills and abilities located within the organization. Pre-service education is one source of art teachers' core skills and abilities that give meaning and form to the ideas/information/energy flowing throughout the local and national art education communities (Wheatley, 1992).

This model operates as a discursive, dynamic system, but is dependent upon retaining openings to the external environment. Schools and other formal bureaucratic systems tend to close themselves off and become rigid. The function of nested, informal communities within schools may be to create connections to the environment, and to become conduits for exchanging ideas/information/energy, thereby initiating dynamic change processes.

Senge (1990), working in a similar vein, identified five disciplines within learning organizations, arguing that organizations which truly excel in the future will be those that learn at all levels. To Senge, a discipline is a body of theory as well as a technique to be studied, mastered, and put into practice. Senge's five disciplines of learning organizations are:

1) Personal Mastery-the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening personal vision, focusing energies, developing patience, and seeing reality objectively. In-service education of art teachers provides multiple opportunities for raising levels of personal mastery.

2) Mental Models--the deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, even pictures or images that influence how people understand the world and take action. Mental models of art, the artist, art process and art product are manifest in school arts curricula and art teachers' stated philosophies.

3) Building Shared Vision-the capacity to hold a shared picture of the future one wishes to create, to bind people around a common sense of identity and purpose. Shared vision is a deliberate process exemplified by the Summer Institutes sponsored by the Getty Center for Education in the Arts during the past decade.

4) Team Learning-the capacity of team members to suspend assumptions and enter into a genuine "thinking together." It also requires learners to recognize the patterns that undermine team learning, such as defensiveness.

5) Systems Thinking--the key discipline that integrates the other four into a coherent body of theory and practice. We can only understand complex systems by contemplating the whole, not the individual parts. Art educators need to look beyond their immediate job situations to see themselves as part of, contributing to, and affected by, the broader fields of education and art education embedded within local and national contexts.

These five disciplines must develop as an ensemble; they are personal disciplines, more like artistic disciplines than traditional management disciplines. Finally, the learning discussed here is not "survival, or adaptive" learning; it is generative learning that enhances the capacity to create. Wheatley and Senge portray dynamic communities that are open to change.

The Art Education Community-Interactions

Wheatley (1992) and Senge (1990) provide frameworks and metaphors for investigating and understanding interactions across the art education community. If ideas are the energy that flows through an organization, then tracing that flow is a useful task. Textbooks, research journals, trade publications, and curriculum documents, as well as popular media, may be examined to trace movement of ideas through a system, or to discover where the flow may be blocked. This process can also shed light on the mental models and shared vision held within various sections of the art education community. The extent to which school art communities are receptive to their external environments is demonstrated through adaptations of popular culture into arts curricula.

If core skills and competencies embody the organizing principle or strange attractor (Wheatley, 1992), then an understanding of art teacher pre-service education offers additional insights. Teachers' commitment to personal mastery (Senge, 1990) is revealed by examining utilization of in-service educational opportunities, such as professional conferences, summer workshops, and graduate study.

Finally, it is important to examine any instances of disequilibrium in the art education community. If such disruptions open a system to change (Wheatley, 1992), they then become important subjects for study. On the other hand, existence of steady-state conditions would seem to mitigate any potential for change. In an equilibrium situation, neither team learning nor systems thinking would be likely to come into play (Senge, 1990). Either of these disciplines might be revealed through staff development records or newspaper accounts of parent/teacher organizations, school board decisions, and other activities.

In considering issues of change, differentiations between changes that affect the shape or structure of a system, and changes that occur within existing system structures need to be investigated. While informal systems almost certainly undergo change over time, substantive questions have been raised about the possibility of change within formal systems, especially bureaucracies.

Community and Change in Historical Inquiry

At some level, all history is about change, and historians focus their inquiry on those factors deemed most likely to yield insights. Recent histories of education have centered on factors such as philosophical genealogies of major figures (Cremin, 1961), evolution and establishment of school administrative structures (Tyack, 1974), judicial and legislative actions influenced by socio-political advocacy groups (Ravitch, 1983), and power struggles over the focus of curricula (Kliebard, 1991). Past histories of art education have likewise focused on personalities (Clarke, 1874), pedagogical themes (Logan, 1955), legislation (Bolin, 1990; 1995) and the influence of external contexts (Efland, 1989) as well as family histories (Korzenik, 1985) and organizational histories (Michael, 1997). In addition, much has been written about historiography in art education (Hamblen, 1985; Erickson, 1984; Soucy, 1990).

Community serves as a focus and framework for historical inquiry. While infrequently used in histories of education, its applications in histories of science and politics demonstrate that community-level studies embrace multiple methodologies, including statistical analysis, crosscorrelation, and content analysis.5 One may trace the flow of ideas across the community, or derive information concerning the relative sizes and composition of various sections over time. Historians may investigate slices of time to reconstruct and compare detailed pictures of a community, or they may trace career paths of community cohorts over a lifespan. In this section I will first review the evolution of community-level studies before outlining the advantages and difficulties of adopting this approach to art education history.

From Prosopography to Community-level Studies

The evolution of community-level studies begins with prosopography, defined and used by ancient historians and redefined in modern times as collective biography (Stone, 1972). With an emphasis on tracing social interactions across, through, and within various communities, collective biography has become one of the leading methodologies adapted within community-level studies.

Developed over several centuries of historiography, the classical form of prosopography involved searching relevant texts for biographical fragments and assembling biographies of "great men" into published collections.6 Numerical analysis often meant counting the number of lines or words allotted to individuals in biographical collections. In the years preceding World War I, this method was employed by social Darwinists, eugenicists, and empirical sociologists to trace genealogies and the inheritance of genius (Pyenson, 1977).

Between the wars, prosopography was re-defined as collective biography to document prominent social groups and their associated cultures in a systematic, "scientific" manner (Stone, 1972). French historian Louis Namier and others worked to create a system for exploring the lives of members of large elites in social or political institutions, such as British Parliament. They believed that the activities of such elites could be understood in terms of members' self-interest and that the general will could be discovered by calculating the "arithmetical sum of individual wills." Instead of examining the broad sweep of history, these researchers favored detailed investigation of a `slice of time' to discover "who the guys were" (Pyenson, 1977).

The post-war period saw increasing numbers of community-level studies produced in which data about large populations, gleaned from biographical dictionaries, telephone books, street registers, and voting records, were submitted to statistical analysis with newly available means of electronic processing. It was argued that one could test historical propositions quantitatively. While a numerical/statistical approach often has been touted for its "scientific" appeal, the modern prosopographer takes into account non-quantitative evidence as well (Pyenson, 1977).

Utilizing this approach, historians constructed theoretical structures of communities, disciplines, and institutions. Shapin and Thackray (1974), in treating science as a cultural artifact, visualized three concentric circles of scientific practitioners, comprising [from the innermost level outward]: a) those who published research; b) those who joined professional societies; and c) those who patronized and disseminated scientific knowledge. Jenkins and Jones (1950), working from alumni catalogues at Cambridge University, traced influences of family, school, and university record on subsequent careers. Lankford (1997) investigated the American astronomical community by tracing career trajectories of individuals at various levels within this community. Marche (1997) examined the community of a single school district's art program to discover instances of change or rejection of change and factors influencing these outcomes.

Advantages and Disadvantages

Community-level studies offer particular advantages and disadvantages for the historian of art education. One important advantage lies in its framework for reconstructing detailed, `slice of time,' pictures of the art education community which address the issue of complexity required to understand large-scale educational change movements (Pyenson, 1977). Community-level study bridges internalist and externalist historical approaches by providing frameworks for investigating the evolution of philosophical, theoretical, and intellectual foundations of art education, while situating those internalist concerns within the social, political, economic, and cultural contexts central to externalist histories.

Although prosopography was initially used to examine career paths, ideas, and influence of power elites, it proved particularly adept for studying the ordinary practitioner in terms of aspirations, careers, educational backgrounds, and attitudes toward change and continuity. These same strengths recommend community-level study for examination of the divergent viewpoints examined in past histories of art education. At the same time, detailed study of large populations is particularly suitable for illuminating popular opinions and ideas held in common (Pyenson, 1977).

Perhaps the major disadvantage of community-level study is that certain portions of the art education community are easier to reconstruct over time than are others. Information about practitioners in the generic section is less often preserved over long periods of time; it can be difficult to "see behind the classroom door" of the distant past (Cuban, 1984). One solution would be to concentrate efforts on more recent historical periods, for which information about the generic section may still exist. One possibility, outlined below, would examine the discipline movement's growth in art education during the past four decades.


From the 19th-century initiation of the common schools, Americans have never ceased to examine public education and push for changes, creating a history of successive educational reform movements. The 1965 Penn State Seminar generated a discipline-oriented art education reform movement (Efland, 1984) that was synthesized and implemented in the 1980s (McFee, 1984). With the inauguration of the Getty Center this movement culminated in the most concentrated, organized, and wellfunded change initiative in the entire history of American public school art education. In the 1990s, discipline-based art education (DBAE) became the accepted model for the field, although the degree of actual implementation remains uncertain.

At the beginning of the new millennium, one senses the art education community is pausing to catch its breath, look around, and consider its next move.

With reduction of support from the Getty Center, it is doubtful that advocacy for DBAE will be continued at previous levels of intensity. Thus, historians have a rare opportunity to examine a significant, comprehensive reform movement in art education history while the principal actors and records are still available. The successes and failures of the discipline movement in art education have potential to inform the art education community concerning future change efforts.

If it is true that these answers must be sifted from among numerous possibilities (Efland, 1989), then solutions will not be found by examining individual causes but by tracing complex interactions across the art education community as a whole. A community model provides the structural framework for assembling a vast array of data and examining relationships among many factors within selected `slices of time.' Operational constructs, such as shared vision and mental models, provide insights concerning interactions between theoretical developments and personal actions. In addition, a systems approach to understanding art education community history provides a useful tool for gauging the success or failure of contemporary, as well as historical, reform efforts in education.

1 Any study of community is a study of people. One may define a community geographically, as people living in proximity within a town or neighborhood. In this paper I am referring to people whose efforts are related either formally or informally by a common activity, interest, or goal.

2 Proper names are used with permission.

3I use the term section to avoid hierarchical connotations that adhere to the term levels used by Lankford. I do not wish to impose notions of directional flow within the community, and instead choose to see all sections operating on an equal basis until proven otherwise.

4 Views of the pace of change have moved from Darwinian notions of gradual evolution, through punctuated equilibrium, or long periods of stasis interrupted by bursts of catastrophic change (Eldredge & Gould, 1972) to the present expectation Of constant change ( Fullan, 1993; Gleick, 1999; Toffler, 1971)

5 While social scientists assemble quantitative structural models in order to predict cause/effect relationships (Casti, 1997), historians instead present interrelations that attempt to explain characteristics of the community at any given time.

6 Examples range from classic works such as Vasari's (1568) Lives of the Artists, to modern collections such as the Marquis' Who's Who and similar reference volumes.




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[Author Affiliation]

Theresa March

University of Wisconsin-Madison

[Author Affiliation]

This study was supported by a grant from the Graduate School of the University of Wisconsin-- Madison. Inquiries should be addressed to the author at: The Art Department, University of Wisconsin-Madison, 6241 Humanities Building, 455 Park Street, Madison, WI. 53706

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