Influencing K-12 Art Programs: A Biographical Look at ArtTalk Author, Rosalind Ragans

By Harper, Nicole Raymer | Art Education, July 2008 | Go to article overview

Influencing K-12 Art Programs: A Biographical Look at ArtTalk Author, Rosalind Ragans


Harper, Nicole Raymer, Art Education


Who influences K-12 art programs? Who influences how and what students learn about art through the textbooks and ancillary materials that are found in art classrooms all across America? Why are these questions important? Art educators at all levels should be intently interested in the answers to these questions for a number of reasons. The authors of educational resources exert a considerable influence in determining the experience that many students are exposed to in K-12 schools (Apple, 2000). These issues are made even more vital in times when curricular decisions regarding what and how to teach are often imposed upon professional educators from outside of specific classroom contexts. Art educators should become more aware of the influences behind textbooks and other published media in order to use these materials most effectively as resources. Knowledge of the development of curricular materials intended for use by art educators is crucial to an educator's personal accountability.

This article intends only to scratch the surface of inquiry into the concerns stated above through a biographical look at the who, what, why, and how behind one prominent American textbook series. It also hopes to serve as a reminder, and perhaps an empowering inspiration, of curricular materials in the field of art education that are the direct result of classroom research and the experiential-based contributions of K-12 art teachers themselves. The particular biography chosen for this article is a significant example of how the personal ambitions of a teacher can impact the dynamics of public education. It depicts the process of knowledge production and its interdependence upon the educators development and theoretical trends in the field.

Teachers do not work in isolation, but as part of a great community of educators. Thus, auricular materials evolve from collective, collaborative, and comparative influences. There are arguably many notable author/educators worthy of biographical recognition for their contributions to the field. In fact, further research acknowledging teachers' roles as knowledge producers is encouraged (Goodson, 1992; Huberman, Gronauer, & Marti, 1993; Kincheloe, 2003).

This article will contribute to broader dialogue by focusing on an in-depth biography of one author/educator: Dr. Rosalind Ragans. It will recount her life and career as an art educator, exposing aspects of lived experience, which are often disregarded as the foundation of knowledge and curricula. A synthesis of interviews and research, this article is not intended to promote Ragans' textbooks or philosophy over any others, but to offer a more personalized understanding between the reader and the philosophical perspectives of one author. Discussion will center on how and why a particular theoretical framework for the teaching of art developed into the influential K-12 art education program: ArtTalk.

In 1988, Ragans introduced the first edition of the ArtTalk textbook for high school art classrooms. The textbook continues to gain popularity, running four editions and selling well over 600,000 copies (J. Falstrom, personal communication, May 11, 2006) in the United States and abroad. Keep in mind that K-12 level art textbooks are generally purchased as a single set that is shared by numerous students, thus these books influence far more students than the exact number of copies implies.

Through use in classrooms by thousands of art teachers and hundreds of thousands of art students, ArtTalk circulates a particular philosophy on art education that has a determinant factor on how the subject of art is approached in general, and with which artists and artworks students become familiarized. ArtTalk is just one of the textbooks authored by Ragans that are currently in use in American K-12 art programs. She also co-authored a middle school series (Introducing Art, Exploring Art, and Understanding Art) and is senior author of an elementary series called Art Connections. …

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