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School & District Management Opinion

AERA Knows It Doesn’t Know Enough...But It Knows It Loves Its Post-Foucauldian Nonlinearity

By Rick Hess & Francesca Pickett — March 28, 2012 5 min read
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[Note: I coauthored this post with Francesca Pickett. Pickett is the nom de plume of a U.S. Department of Education employee who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous.]

A little over a year ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to the explosive news that even first-timer Shanghai outpaced the U.S. on international assessments by terming the news a “wake-up call” and a “Sputnik moment.” Sixteen short months after that impassioned charge, the nation’s education researchers will soon trek to their annual confab to share the analyses and findings that can help address this daunting challenge.

Under the banner of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), roughly 20,000 researchers will convene in Vancouver to report on research that can help fuel student learning and improve schools. Eager to discover what advances this year’s edupalooza has in store, we waded through the thousands of papers and panels touted in the electronic conference program. We can’t claim to have flagged them all, but we did highlight a number of must-read papers and must-attend sessions.

This year’s conference, guided by the theme “To Know Is Not Enough,” invited the nation’s educational researchers to ask, “What actions should be taken...to ensure that research knowledge is used to improve education and actually serve the public good?” (The “actually” suggests that AERA is surprised that ed researchers might be able to serve the public good.)

We quickly found the kind of papers that promise to fulfill that bold charge and make a real difference...papers like Can the Very Thought of Education Break Bricks? O-kay.

Hmm, on second thought, it’s not even clear everyone is on board with this year’s theme. One paper daringly suggests that knowing just might be enough, in To Know I Can Might Be Enough: Women’s Self-Efficacy and Their Identified Leadership Values. (Though, some might worry that the treatise suffers from the soft bigotry of low expectations.) Another pair of authors is more on board with AERA’s theme, in Seeds of Genius in the Early Lives of Two Eminent Creative Brothers: To Know Is Not Enough. To sort it all out, attendees can head to the featured Presidential session “To Know That We Know What We Know, and To Know That We Do Not Know What We Do Not Know, That Is True Knowledge.”

For those thinking that this may sound tedious, relief awaits at what promises to be a titillating session on “Boredom in Academic Settings.” We can see the typology now: regular boredom, severe boredom, super-duper boredom, “I’m playing Angry Birds under the table” boredom, and “my freaking iPhone is out of juice and I can’t believe I can’t play Angry Birds to get me through this” boredom. We don’t like to prejudge, but we think you may want to be sure your iPhone is fully charged before the session on “Foucault and Contemporary Theory in Education,” featuring papers like (Re)imagining Foucault: New Directions in Foucauldian Scholarship, Educational Reform and the Problem of Subjectification: Deglobalizing the Global and Technologies of Subjectification: Foucault and the Production of Self.

For those seeking something less boring, we recommend hitting sessions tackling those four subjects so crucial to improving education: Paulo Freire, games, nonhumans, and cartoons.

No AERA experience is complete without a visit to sessions based on the musings of the late communist revolutionary Paulo Freire. In fact, with nine presentations, the special sessions on “Freire, Critical Pedagogy, and Emancipation” outnumber those on more mundane research topics like “Longitudinal Studies,” “Test Validity Research and Evaluation,” and research featuring the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Some of the most intriguing Freire-themed papers include, Codifications of Reality as Educational Tools for Critical Consciousness: Retheorizing Freire Through Praxis; Teaching for Outrage and Empathy: Challenging Preservice Teachers’ Hegemonic Perspectives and Practices; and Student Empowerment, Eco-Pedagogy, Popular Culture, and Love. Imagine that, everything from “codifications of reality” to “preservice teachers’ hegemonic perspectives"--and you still get a little bit of love. This is why we so love AERA.

But let’s not be humancentric. Other realms also have much to offer. In the cyber realm, one don’t-miss presentation is Anne Frank Confronts Queen Isabella: Learning Phenomena in Historical, Cultural, and Social Online Simulation Games. This piece poses so many pressing questions, among them: Why is Anne Frank talking with Queen Isabella? And why is it so darn confrontational? Indeed, both Anne Frank and Queen Isabella just might learn something about getting along in cyberspace from “We Put Our Swag All Over It": Negotiating Local and Global Identity Online and Offline. Another effort to address the thoughtless pro-human bias in education research is Thinking Across/Through the Species Divide: Nonhuman Animals in Educational Theory and Research.

And don’t forget the papers rich with allusions to our animated friends. The Flintstones-themed Getting to Bedrock: Diverse Perspectives on Emergence, Nonlinearity, and Relationality in Education promises a jolly good time. Meanwhile, friendly Casper is brought to mind by Crazy, Depressive White Ghosts in the Closet: Someone Help Me Say the “N” Word. The thing is, Casper is such a friendly ghost that we’re a little unclear why he’d feel a need to say the “N” word. But, if he’s set on it, he should check out the punny “Something Doesn’t Feel White": Racial Affect, White Dissonance, and the Possibility for Challenging Whiteness in Education.

There are other papers that intrigue us, well, just ‘cuz. One such is A Theoretical Toolbox: Using Theories of Gender and Sexuality to Uncover New Histories of Education. We frequently think of history as old, but “new histories” sound much cooler and shinier. There’s the astonishingly opaque (Re)producing and Dismantling Heteronormative Spaces in Schools--we’re tempted to check this out, if only because one of us will be renovating a basement soon and learning how to dismantle around heteronormative spaces just may save a trip to Home Depot.

Then there’s Reorienting Deconstruction: Researching the Iterability of the Pedagogical Mark and T’aała’i Diidleeł (We Become One): Toward a Collective and Ceremonial Praxis of Indigenous Decolonizing Scholarship. Honestly, with five graduate degrees between us, we’re curious to learn whether phrases like “the iterability of the pedagogical mark” or “ceremonial praxis of indigenous decolonizing scholarship” mean something... or whether it’s all just bored professors having a laugh after they forgot to charge their iPhones.

Shanghai may have had a good run. But with us getting our Sputnik on and all, we’re sure our kids will be blowing doors in no time at all.

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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.