The Council for Policy Studies in Art Education: A Brief History
Elliot W. Eisner
written in 2007
The historical development of the Council for Policy Studies is an interesting one. Starting points are often difficult to define. For some, the fundamental starting point for discussion of the human condition starts with Adam and Eve. For others, it’s the intersect of the egg and a sperm. For me, the beginnings are not so grand.
In 1963 I was elected to membership in the Professors of Curriculum, a group made up of professors who taught in the areas of curriculum, teaching, and educational evaluation. This group met once a year for a day and a half at one of the hotels close to where the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development would be meeting. It occurred to me in 1965, immediately after the Seminar for Research in Art Education concluded, and during a meeting of an informal nature with Kenneth Beittel, that art educators could use a similar venue. It was clear to me that conference venues were often so crowded and the time allocated so brief that little serious work could be presented or discussed. It occurred to me that what the field of srt education needed was a place where serious scholars could present original, if half baked, work in order to get feedback and to foster a sense of intellectual vitality in the field. Kenneth Beittel, a professor of art education at Pennsylvania State University, and I took the lead in starting the Seminar for Research in Art Education, the title given to it by its members.
From the beginning it was conceived of that the Seminar for Research in Art Education would be a small but selective group of people who had strong intellects and an appetite for discussion and analysis. The group was formed and, in fact, met for several years on its own, independent of the national meetings of the NAEA. Initially, the group met for two days at some location that was as convenient as it could be for an unfunded group. Papers were presented, critiques were provided, and discussion ensued. From an intellectual perspective, it was a rousing success.
But not everything was smooth sailing. To be a member of Seminar for Research in Art Education, one had to be elected. In addition, there was a cap on the membership to 50 persons (as I recall). Some members of the NAEA Board thought that the group was elitist and since it was now meeting under the umbrella of the NAEA, it was thought that any NAEA member who wished to belong to this group and to present papers and participate in discussion ought to have the opportunity to do so. The seminar got democratized!
I had reservations about the democratization of the Seminar. As a result of this democratization, membership began to expand while the quality of the discourse became more like what was going on at the national convention’s meetings than it was an example of intellectual activity engaged in by a relatively small group of scholars. In other words, the Seminar for Research in Art Education began to lose its focus. The mandate to admit all who wanted to become a member, though well-intentioned, eventually undermined the distinctive character of the group. Anticipating that this would happen, I suggested to the group as a whole that the field needed something to replace the original purposes and functions of the Seminar for Research in Art Education. That “something” became the Council for Policy Studies in Art Education.
The Council came into existence in the late 1980s and was conceived of as a forum for the examination of ideas impacting the character and function of Art Education. It was decided to meet one day prior to the national meeting as an independent group not formally under the aegis to the NAEA.
This purpose, the purposes of a deliberative body, interested in large issues and deep questions for purposes of discussion and analysis, did not suit all eligible members of the Council. Some, like Vincent Lanier, wanted the Council to be proactive and to try to shape in an active way the activities of the Council. Others saw the Council as essentially deliberative rather than active. It was an opportunity to secure clarity and to have good deep professionally oriented scholarly conversation with one’s peers. In addition, the Council members decided that meetings should be held for one day prior to the NAEA conference, not two, since support through funding was difficult for most of the members to secure. Two days of meetings for some was too large a financial burden to bear. The tension between action and policy deliberation as the dominant function of the members of the Council remains today a productive tension in the group.
Currently the Council consists of 50 members who meet one day prior to the NAEA meeting. The paucity of funding for travel and accommodations and other expenses has resulted in the Council meeting one half day, plus voluntary dinner the day before the national meeting begins. It has now been in existence for over twenty years and, in recent years, its vitality has grown even stronger. It is the only venue that meets regularly for scholarly deliberation. It is an effort of a group of people in the field of art education to clarify their thinking, to reflect on their purposes, and to strengthen the bonds that tie a group of peers together. It is a group that each year elects a factotum who becomes responsible for organizing a program and for arranging with the assistance of a member of the Council who lives in the area in which the annual meeting is to occur, assistance in locating an appropriate venue.
Meetings generally start at about 1pm, and conclude at about 5 to 6:00 pm. It is normally followed by an opportunity to have dinner together at some appropriate restaurant, preferably one in which conversation can be continued.
Given the durability of the Council over time, it seems clear that it is serving an important unmet need. I expect it will continue to do so in the future.