Arts-education champion Elliot Eisner dies at 80

The former Stanford professor was known as a fervent advocate for teaching children art and music

There's a scene in a 1998 Weekly profile of Stanford University art-education professor Elliot Eisner in which he's depicted crouching in his office, surrounded by nearly 20 students, all listening to Beethoven together.

"Think about what the music is doing to you and how it is doing it," Eisner told the students.

The scene is characteristic of the leading art academic, who died at his Stanford campus home on Jan. 10 from complications related to Parkinson's disease. He was 80.

Eisner, trained as a painter at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, joined the Stanford faculty in 1965. He taught in the Graduate School of Education as well as the art department and was known for championing ways that art could transform and challenge conventional learning methods.

He also wrote 17 books and dozens of papers on education. The National Art Education Association turned a list he penned, "10 Lessons the Arts Teach," into a now universal standard and a poster that hangs on many art classrooms' walls.

He was an outspoken advocate for the arts during a time when art programs faced budget cuts as test-driven teaching and learning became the norm.

"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 a Los Angeles Times opinion piece 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."

He was born in Chicago on March 10, 1933. In 1954, he graduated from Roosevelt University in Chicago with a bachelor's degree in art and education and the following year received a master's in art education from the Illinois Institute of Technology.

He began teaching, spending two years as a high school art teacher, before returning to graduate school in the late 1950s. He received a master's degree and doctorate in education from the University of Chicago and served as an assistant professor there before joining Stanford in 1965.

He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Ellie; a son, a daughter, a son-in-law and three grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the National Art Education Association's Elliot Eisner Lifetime Achievement Award, established by the Eisners to recognize individuals in art education whose career contributions have benefited the field. The address for the NAEA is 1806 Robert Fulton Dr., Suite 300, Reston, VA 20191.

Contributions can also be made to the Parkinson's Disease Caregiver Program, Department of Neurology, Stanford University Medical Center, 3172 Porter Dr., Suite 210, Palo Alto, CA 94304.

A memorial tribute will be planned by the Graduate School of Education in the near future. The American Educational Research Association is planning a memorial symposium at its annual meeting April 3-7 in Philadelphia. There will be no funeral.

Memories and condolences can be shared at stanford.edu/news/elliot-eisner-champion-arts-education-dead-90.

Elena Kadvany

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