News from the AERA Conference

I have been privileged to be able to attend the annual conference of the American Educational Research Association, with the theme, “Inciting the Social Imagination:  Education Research for the Public Good” in New Orleans from 8 – 11 April 2011. It is a huge conference, with 13 900 registrations this year. Such a large conference can be totally overwhelming, and it is focused on general, rather more than higher, education. Still, it is an opportunity to hear in person so many key authors on critical pedagogy, socio-cultural approaches to learning, language and literacy, critical race theory, and many other interesting topics. I still get goose bumps when I hear some of my favourite gurus such as Shirley Bryce Heath or James Gee. One exciting panel was on space, a popular new topic. Professor Edward Soja, a famous geographer, spoke about the way cities such as Los Angeles are constructed spatially in ways that continue to discriminate against the poor. Therefore we need to think about issues of space and geography in conjunction with issues of class and ethnicity.  James Gee attempted to show how using social media can create forms of learning for youth irrespective of spatial inequities, and argued that formal schooling needs to take account of this form of learning. Another exciting panel was on Citizenship education for the public good. One of the conclusions from the contributions, which spanned various international settings, was that an adequate policy to facilitate citizenship does not yet exist, and it is certainly not adequately conceptualized in terms of implementation. To a question from a delegate, “how do we get students to be interested to learn about the “other”?”, noted writer on critical race theory (CRT), Gloria Ladson-Billings referred to the concept in CRT of “interest convergence theory”, that one has to show students that it is in their own interest to learn about the other. Writer on multicultural education, James A. Banks, offered that he teaches ethnic studies to mainly white rural women. He begins by asking them to write narratives of their own lives, and gets them to think race and gender and issues in their own lives. After that he gets them to go on to consider these issues in other contexts. He concluded that “Ethnic studies is not about the other. Ethnic studies is about us.” I thought that was a valuable point for work on educating for citizenship.

Dr Brenda Leibowitz


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