Ed Harris, Ph.D., the current Brock International Prize in Education Administrator and Professor and Williams Chair of Educational Leadership at Oklahoma State University, fondly remembers two important men in the field of education.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on two of my heroes who passed away in 2014, John Goodlad and Elliot Eisner. These two great men left indelible imprints, not only on the landscape of 20th and 21st century education but also on the hearts of many. Both lived full, productive lives; both influenced the world in their own unique ways; and both were Brock Prize Laureates. I recently corresponded with the first administrator of the prize, Trent Gabert, and several former Brock Prize jurors. These individuals are all influencers in their own right, and they share in the following tribute to John and Elliot.
John Goodlad died this past November at the age of 94. During his 70-year career in education, he witnessed a myriad of fleeting reform movements as well as continually shifting public policy and attitudes toward education. Through it all, he firmly held onto his own well-defined, positive vision of education and its role in a just society. In living out that vision, Goodlad inspired the work and lives of countless generations of teachers, administrators, academics and policymakers.
Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University department chair Autumn Tooms Cyprès, commented, “More than any other thinker, John Goodlad influenced the modern work of educators because he was an unrepentant voice in the field – framing school as a total entity – a cultural system beyond a series of classrooms. I am one of countless educators who have focused on the political and social dynamics within and around school because of his profound notions of the unspoken nuances of school culture.”
University Council for Educational Administration Executive Director Michelle Young added that his “insightful assertion that university-district partnerships be mutually renewing guides all of my partnership work. To be true partners, our organizations must both contribute and benefit in substantive ways.”
One reason he was selected as the first Brock Prize Laureate is because of the impact of his life work. Former CLS Associate Dean Trent Gabert remembered those first deliberations. “I was too concerned about everything to even breathe,” he said. “I recall everyone talking a lot about Goodlad being the ideal first laureate because he was such a prominent name in education circles.”
Like many others who knew Goodlad, Gabert also remembered what a gracious, unpretentious human being he was. This theme seemed to permeate the sentiments of each person who commented about him. For instance, Bruce Barnett, UTSA’s Department Chair of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies related this special moment: “I had the good fortune to meet John at a conference years ago where we were both presenting. After our presentations, a forum was held for audience members to ask questions of presenters. I’ll never forget how gracious he was to me. Despite my relative lack of experience at that stage in my career, he constantly deferred questions to me before providing his response. On several occasions, he began his comments by saying, ‘I completely agree with Bruce.’ You have no idea how comforting this was to me. Clearly, participants had come to hear his insights, not mine. In fact, I wanted to be an audience member and hear what he had to say. His ‘ethic of care’ taught me the importance of acknowledging others’ contributions, rather than having to be the one in the spotlight. I only wish I had the chance to tell him how much this experience increased my respect for him as a person.”
Northern Kentucky University Dean of Education and Human Services Cindy Reed had similar sentiments. “John’s wisdom and insights always resonated with me, especially in terms of how I think about the impact we can and should have with our partner school systems and the greater community. He will be greatly missed, but fortunately, his words will live on for decades to come.”
Elliot Eisner passed away in January at the age of 80. Eisner’s focus was to promote ways that the arts could benefit student learning and educational practice. Eisner avoided the more popular argument for the arts, such as its utility in boosting standardized test scores in STEM subject areas. Rather, he proclaimed the absolute necessity of arts for human growth and community.
“One of the casualties of our preoccupation with test scores is the presence – or should I say the absence – of arts in our schools. 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 said in a 2005 article for the Los Angeles Times.
Gabert remembers that Eisner carried this indomitable fervor and contagious enthusiasm in his speech at the Brock Prize Symposium, which was held in Stillwater that year. “I never realized the strong connection of art to professional education, but Eisner made it sound so wonderful that I, myself, came to have a better understanding of art in education because of his visit to Oklahoma.”
Autumn Tooms Cyprès reflected on the meaningful application of Eisner’s vision. “I have learned from my 25 years in education that the work of painting, creating and escaping into the process of making art settles my mind and girds my spirit. It helps me to focus intellectually on a path of action as a leader and as a teacher. It is the greatest single tool in my arsenal of leadership skills and the lessons I explore again and again with my students. I owe this insight to Elliot Eisner. His profound understanding of the power in connecting the mental skills of making art to empathizing with differing points of view has touched my work on a daily basis as a scholar and leader.”
Cindy Reed sums Eisner’s impact on her life and work. “As a doctoral student, I was introduced to Elliott Eisner’s work on program evaluation as connoisseurship. This notion of knowing ‘it’ when you experienced excellence always stuck with me and empowered me to embrace what I felt and sensed in various situations. It is a technique that I use to this day. He challenged us to embrace the artistry in our work as educators rather than relying only on streamlined, quantitative approaches. Today’s educational policy makers could learn a thing or two if they were to read his writings.”
Both great men, Goodlad and Eisner, reminded us that, as educators, we have both the privilege and responsibility of making significant change for humankind. Regarding this daunting responsibility, Goodlad posited in his book, A Place Called School, that the quality of our engagement is more important than the quantity of our efforts.
“We must not stop with providing only time,” he said. “I would always choose fewer hours well-used over more hours of engagement with sterile activities. Increasing [time] will, in fact, be counterproductive unless there is, simultaneously, marked improvement in how time is used.”
Eisner (1998) repeatedly reminded us of our noble, complex profession.
“Education will not have permanent solutions to its problems; we will have no ’breakthroughs,’ no enduring discoveries that will work forever,” he said. “What works here may not work there. What works now many not work then. We are not trying to invent radar or measure the rate of free fall in a vacuum. Our tasks are impacted by context, riddled with unpredictable contingencies, responsive to local conditions and shaped by those we teach…. Those who want something easier to do for a career should go into medicine.” (The Kind of Schools We Need, p. 5).
Each in their own right, John Goodlad and Elliot Eisner both had a profound impact on education and in the lives of those who knew them. They left their mark on the world as educators, and reminded us that our roles hold significance for individuals, schools and communities as a whole. Of all things that could be said about these inspiring men, one holds most true: John Goodland and Elliot Eisner, you will be greatly missed.
The Brock International Prize in Education recognizes an individual who has made a specific innovation or contribution to the science and art of education, resulting in a significant impact on the practice or understanding of the field of education. Join the Brock Prize email list at www.brockprize.org, or follow them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.