Description of the Collection
Call Number: SC0878
Eisner, Elliot W.
Title: Elliot W. Eisner papers
16 Linear feet
Summary: Collection pertains to his research and teaching and includes class files, articles, papers, speeches, correspondence, and
Language(s): The materials are in English.
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Elliot W. Eisner Papers (SC0878). Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford,
Elliot W. Eisner earned several degrees in art education, culminating in a Ph.D. in Education at the University of Chicago
in 1962. He taught at the University of Chicago prior to joining the Stanford University faculty in 1965, becoming professor
of education and art in 1970.
Over the course of his academic career, Eisner, the Lee Jacks Professor of Education, Emeritus, at the Stanford Graduate School
of Education and professor emeritus of art, championed ways that the arts could benefit student learning, as well as educational
He maintained that the arts are critically important to the development of thinking skills in children and that the arts might
offer teachers both a powerful guide and critical tool in their practice. He wrote 17 books and dozens of papers addressing
curriculum, aesthetic intelligence, teaching, learning and qualitative measurement, in addition to his frequent and entertaining
lectures throughout the nation and abroad.
Eisner's ideas reached beyond academia into the classroom: The National Art Education Association, of which he served as president,
turned his list – "10 Lessons the Arts Teach" – into a poster, which can still be found today hanging on school walls nationwide.
Among the lessons: The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects; the arts celebrate multiple perspectives;
and the arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving, purposes are seldom fixed but change with circumstance
"To neglect the contribution of the arts in education, either through inadequate time, resources or poorly trained teachers,
is to deny children access to one of the most stunning aspects of their culture and one of the most potent means for developing
their minds," Eisner wrote.
Eisner eschewed the more popular argument for the arts – that some research showed that instruction in music, dance and painting
actually boosted test scores in math and science.
Eisner, rather, talked about art for art's sake.
"He figured out that there was something missing from mainstream educational theory and method," said his friend and Stanford
colleague Professor Raymond McDermott. "He wanted to address matters of the heart, whereas most of the discipline was pushing
a more mechanical view of the child and the act of teaching or researching."
Eisner reached into areas that sat on the margins of educational discourse: arts education, most literally; the art of education,
by extension; and the art of researching education, most controversially, McDermott said.
"He moved these concerns to the front and center," McDermott said.
Eisner's unrelenting advocacy of the arts continued during periods in which arts programs were cut in schools, and a chorus
of administrators and policymakers, faced with budget constraints, focused on test scores and worried that spending time painting
or drawing was not academic enough.
"One of the casualties of our preoccupation with test scores is the presence – or should I say the absence – of arts in our
schools," he wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2005. "When they do appear they are usually treated as ornamental rather than
substantive aspects of our children's school experience. The arts are considered nice but not necessary."
Eisner advocated a strict, more sophisticated and rigorous arts curriculum that would put arts instruction on par with lessons
in reading, science and math.
Eisner was born in Chicago on March 10, 1933. From an early age, he was set on pursuing a career as an artist. He graduated
in 1954 from Roosevelt University in Chicago with a BA in art and education and the following year received an MS in art education
from the Illinois Institute of Technology. He then spent two years as a high school art teacher and discovered that he was
more interested in the students than the actual art they were making.
Returning to graduate school in the late 1950s, he received a master's degree and doctorate in education from the University
of Chicago. Eisner served as an assistant professor there before joining the Stanford faculty in 1965.
Along with his lectures, writings and teaching, his involvement in such curriculum initiatives as the Kettering Project at
Stanford in the late 1960s and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts in the 1980s brought him wide recognition, helping
him become an influential voice for teachers, scholars and other educators.
Eisner proposed that the forms of thinking needed to create artistic work were relevant to all aspects of education. Incorporating
methods from the arts into teaching of all subjects would cultivate a richer educational experience, he said.
"The arts are fundamental resources through which the world is viewed, meaning is created and the mind developed," he wrote.
His work with the Getty Center advanced what is called Discipline-Based Art Education (DBAE). The curriculum structure advocated
in DBAE stresses four aspects of the arts: making it, appreciating it, understanding it and making judgments about it.
This type of arts education, Eisner argued, would result in children better understanding the relationships between culture
and art and becoming more artistically literate. He also believed children's conceptions of what knowledge is would be more
sophisticated after this type of inquiry.
"His voice for evaluating teaching and student learning through many means, not just standardized testing, continued to be
heard during the past three decades of standards-based school reform, testing and accountability," said Larry Cuban, professor
emeritus of education at Stanford. "Eisner's eloquence in writing and speech gave heart to and bolstered many educators who
felt that the humanities, qualitative approaches to evaluation and artistic criticism had been hijacked by those who wanted
only numbers as a sign of effectiveness."
For his achievements, Eisner was honored with the Palmer O. Johnson Memorial Award from the American Educational Research
Association, a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship, a Fulbright Fellowship, the Jose Vasconcelos Award from the World Cultural
Council, the Harold W. McGraw Jr. Prize in Education from the McGraw-Hill Research Foundation, the Brock International Prize
in Education, the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award for Education and five honorary degrees. He served as president
of the International Society for Education Through Art, the American Educational Research Association and the John Dewey Society.
He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts in the United Kingdom, the Royal Norwegian Society of Sciences and Letters and,
in the United States, the National Academy of Education.
In addition to his son and daughter, Eisner is survived by his wife of 57 years, Ellie; son-in-law, Eric Eislund; and grandsons
Seth and Drew Eislund and Ari Eisner.
Description of the Collection
Collection pertains to his research and teaching and includes class files, articles, papers, speeches, correspondence, and
Eisner, Elliot W.
Stanford University. Graduate School of Education. Faculty.
Art--Study and teaching.