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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

I’m Off to AERA...

By Rick Hess — April 07, 2011 4 min read
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Or, as my uber-competent research assistant Whitney Downs likes to explain, I’m going “to visit with folks in the bars and cafes in the vicinity of AERA.” If you want to say “hidy”, the odds are pretty fair you can find my floating cocktail table in the courtyard of Pat O’Briens (on Bourbon) in the afternoon or early evening. If you’re inclined, you can also find me tomorrow doing an Ed Writers Association session on NCLB reauthorization or doing an AERA panel or two over the weekend.

Hell, this is important work. As Laura LoGerfo and I noted several years ago, former AERA president David C. Berliner has catalogued the challenges that make education research “the hardest science of all.” Berliner has observed that ed research is trickier than “splitting either atoms or genes” because those who study schooling find their research confounded by “the ordinary events of life” such as “a messy divorce, a passionate love affair, hot flashes, a birthday party, alcohol abuse...[or] rain that keeps the children from a recess outside the school building.”

Happily, the AERA program gives me confidence that our community of researchers is up to the daunting challenge. For those seeking some of this year’s highlights, here are a couple papers and symposia that belong on anyone’s conference agenda.

In the emerging subfield of “Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll,” there’s some intriguing work guaranteed to put an attendee in a suitably New Orleansian mood, such as the paper, “A Cajun Musical Commentary on Educational Research.” I’m keen to learn how a Cajun musical commentary on ed research is different from a blues commentary, or a country commentary. (I’m assuming it’s different from a rap commentary because it’s got a lot fewer f-bombs, but that’s just supposition). A good complement is, "'... People Gonna LOVE Me': A Case Study of Urban Preschool Students’ Musical Experiences.” Me, I’m eager to learn how urban preschool musical experiences may differ from those of rural students--much less from those of kindergarteners or first-graders! The substantive and policy-relevant questions are rich indeed.

Another strand of the SDR&R subfield focuses on more risque topics. Consider, for instance, the riveting take on spatial practices, “A Storyville Education: Spatial Practices and the Learned Sex Trade in the City That Care Forgot.”

One of my favorite annual AERA awards is that recognizing the paper that makes the best use of “discursive” (it’s a heated competition this year, with 16 papers using “discursive” in their title). While the number of entrants this year makes it impossible to catch all of the competitors, there are a couple that demand our attention. I love the emphatic tee-up of, “‘Just Like I Told You, You Must Learn!’ Pedagogy, Discursive Interactions, and Limited Learning Engagement.” (Wondering whether the researcher thinks this kind of pedagogical mindset is a good thing...nah, just kidding). I’m stoked for “Considering Possible Futures of Postcolonial Counterdiscursive Life Writing in Education.” My mind reels. What are the possible futures of postcolonial counterdiscursive life writing? How do they differ from old-fashioned postcolonial discursive writing, much less from colonial discursive life writing--or even neo-discursive life writing?

There are also a couple of intriguing symposia. I’m particularly high on, “From the Living Room to the Kitchen Table to the Corner: Creating Critical Counter Spaces in and out of School.” Featuring papers like, “‘You Ain’t Gon Find no Black Person out Here Sellin Oranges': Racism, Gentrification, and Problematic Safe Spaces in Majority-Minority Schools and Communities” and “‘Betwixt and Between': Literacy, Liminality, and the Celling of Black Girls,” the session will provide “significant, concrete examples” of how panelists “facilitated ‘kitchen talk’ in a critical counter-space outside of school where socio-cultural, economic and political discussions are explored.”

For those seeking something with a bit more bite, check out, “American Narratives, Hyperpatriotism, Militarism, and the Curriculum: Examining the Political and Pedagogical Implications of White Supremacy in the Lives of Students of Color.” The session features papers like “Settler Meaning-Making: Mapping Epistemologies of Ignorance in Social Studies Curriculum” and “Quelling Dissent: Disciplining Liberalism Upon Muslim College Student’s Speech and Action.” The abstract explains, “White supremacy is the social system in the U.S. that provides significant material and ideological advantages to whites” and promises participants will “critique neoliberal and multicultural approaches to research focused on the educational disparities experienced by Students of Color.”

Those AERA members consumed by conspiracy theories involving the Gates Foundation will be stoked to see the slyly hostile quote marks in the symposium title, " The Gates Foundation and the Future of U.S. ‘Public’ Schools.” The abstract promises that participants “will critique the foundation from a variety of theoretical backgrounds: Historical, Marxist, Post-Structuralist, and Critical Race Theory.” Papers include, “Governing Identity Through Neoliberal Education Initiatives: “Get[ting] Schooled” in the Marketplace,” “Dear Bill: ‘Grokking Education,’” and “Corporatism, Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), and Cultural Eugenics.”

And, just when I thought my dance card was full, Florida State’s Lora Cohen-Vogel shared with me a session I wouldn’t dare to miss: “Contradictions of Identity Politics and Whiteness Theory Versus Marxist Theoretical Emphasis on the Dialectics of Class and Race in the Current Epoch of U.S. History.” Admittedly, I mostly can’t miss it because I have no idea what it’s about, but it sure sounds like it’s got to be the handiwork of some seriously big brains--or else a random word generator with a jammed “on” switch...

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.