April 22, 2014

At the Crossroads – AERA 2014 Postscript

Coming back from a self-imposed blog break for AERA and vacation, I’m back as energized as ever.  For the past few months I have been in a now admitted post dissertation haze and exhaustion.  Going to the granddaddy of them all of educational conferences, the American Educational Research Association (AERA), seeing colleagues, attending amazing presentations by esteemed academics, and seeing even a few friendly faces in Philadelphia, has recharged this battery. 

I have also come back with a renewed sense of antagonism and anger aimed towards the current state of not only public discourse, but academic discourse as well.

As a newly minted, fresh out of the box PhD, my experience at my second AERA was somewhat at a
crossroads.  I am no longer a student, yet I am not a fully hired Professor either.  I sit at the intersection of teacher/student as I have done most of my life, but this time, my student self (at least in the formal sense) is the one that is slowly becoming a memory.  This presented me with an interesting perspective on viewing the sessions I attended. In fact, it also perhaps influenced the sessions I choose to attend in the first place.

In an unnamed session I attended, after several interesting presentations on teacher diversity and teacher identity, I raised a question concerning the teacher pipeline and perhaps ways in which we could increase the number of college students of color who become teachers of color.  Rather than acknowledge that this is a challenging area in teacher education programs, one of the presenters dismissed my inquiry as a “problem for policy makers” and then proceeded to pontificate about the education policy ills we have all heard an nauseam.  I am not exactly sure that her rant answered my question, but I am sure that it is an explicit example of what is problematic about the current discourse surrounding educational inequities, public education and education politics/policies. My take away from this encounter is that there appears to be an academic (and public) hierarchy based on several factors.  Let me lift the veil and say, perhaps I should not, in my gender, race or age positionality, have been asking a question in a public forum that would seem to be “challenging” the authority of the presenter.  

Interesting considering this is an educational conference...

Regardless of my experience in that one session, I of course, persisted in continuing to be curious and in asking questions, and even making a few comments which garnered nods from some in the audience. Overall, my biggest gripes with the conference was that most of the sessions did not allow for time for insightful, meaningful and divergent perspectives from the audience.  Most sessions went right up to the time it was allotted, and if there were a few minutes for questions, they were usually few and did not provide time for follow up.  I believe growth takes place in that messy middle where disagreement lies.

Another gripe, was that there were too many sessions that had a singular aim rather than a more multidimensional approach.  What I mean is, for example, I attended a colleague’s presentation on rites of passage programs of young black women and upon leaving that session a group of noted scholars on black males were outside waiting to enter the room.  Why were there two separate, but equal sessions surrounding the same issue/area. I am eager to both see more sessions in which the confusing, muddled interesctionality of topics is met head on, as well am eager to emerge as one scholar willing to assist in creating such sessions and participating in such sessions.  

I also found it problematic that there were so many sessions related to social justice that were of critical importance, perhaps only to me and the few other people who were in attendance, on the last day.  For example, the last session I went to was a sparsely attended session on the “cradle to prison pipeline.”  This was one of the best sessions I have attended in my young academic career.  This was a session in which there were multiple perspectives, although not one in which there was anyone in favor of the prison industrial complex, present and a lively discussion ensued.

Lastly, my own presentation, yes held on the last day, went well.  It was interesting to be at the table with several colleagues who were further along in their careers, as well as a few who were still finishing their dissertation work.  That made for an interesting mix of opinions, collegiality and perspectives.
So what does AERA have to do with the public discourse of education policy and politics?  My twitter
friend and Philadelphia education activist, Helen Gym, in a standing room only presentation with Dr. Diane Ravitch, implored us as researchers to be more activists.  In another session I attended which honored the late Dr. Jean Anyon, Pedro Noguera noted the link between activism and the academy, articulating how the research/perspectives both he and Dr. Anyon have created have been strongly influenced by their activism prior to entering higher education. 

It seems that between now and 2015 AERA, which is home in Chicago, we as researchers and higher education folk need to be more connected with what is going on in the trenches, and, where appropriate and necessary, become activists in our own right.  However, the caveat I have been imploring for months for all of us, is that we need to do this work with a humility that affords us to listen to various perspectives…not just the perspectives we believe, or the perspective of someone with “years of experience,” a few letters at the end of their name, or who look like us, but rather all perspectives. 

It is the only way we can successfully bind the intersection of research, policy and practice. 

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