Virtual School Meanderings

March 20, 2013

Message from AERA’s President: Education and Poverty: What (Do) We Stand For?

Not quite K-12 online learning related, but worth passing on…

Education and Poverty: What (Do) We Stand For?

March 2013
by Bill Tierney


The annoyingly catchy tune by Grammy winner Fun—“Some Nights” —is one you can’t get out of your head. It asks over and over, “What do I stand for?” As we approach a conference with the theme of education and poverty, it is useful to ask this question of ourselves, as individuals and as members of AERA. No one is “for” poverty. But how we understand poverty and the conditions that perpetuate it matter a great deal. Equally important, it matters how we position ourselves and the Association in relation to poverty.

Part of AERA’s mission is “to advance knowledge.” But knowledge is not an end in itself. Our mission is also “to promote the use of research to improve education and serve the public good.” I appreciate how inward-looking an association can be that consists largely of individuals who are on a tenure track or hoping to be. Acceptance of our work for publication or for presentation at the Annual Meeting brings rewards, including the sense that a primary peer group recognizes the quality of our work. But however comforting such recognition may be, it is not enough.

Children in poverty around the world are much likelier than other children to die before the age of five or to fall seriously ill from communicable or environmental diseases. They experience higher rates of asthma, heart disease, and mental illness. The number of homeless children enrolled in U.S. public schools now exceeds one million. More than 16 million children live in poverty in the United States.

What do we stand for? Our work needs to get beyond the conference. It needs to reach policy makers and communities. The Obama administration has called for open access to all federally funded research. AERA Council’s recent decision to establish an open-access journal underscores a more general move by the Association toward greater involvement in the public sphere.

Our members don’t always agree on how this involvement should proceed. Twenty-five thousand individuals are bound to disagree on one or another issue. But when the Association does not subscribe to every measure we favor, we must not, as Voltaire cautioned, let the perfect get in the way of the good.

One way to highlight what we stand for is to get directly involved with students and families in local communities. To that end, I have arranged an opportunity for this year’s Annual Meeting attendees to learn and work with Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco. Glide has been a force in San Francisco for 50 years; its members are dedicated to social justice, and they use education research in developing their programs. The church is immediately adjacent to the Annual Meeting hotels, soon to be the temporary neighborhood of thousands of AERA members.

Glide offers an array of educational services and activities aimed at improving the lives of poor families. What they are about and how you might get involved can be found here. (Several AERA divisions have also created division-specific activities in coordination with Glide.) On April 30, Glide founders Reverend Cecil Williams and Janice Mirikitani will lead a presidential session at the Annual Meeting: “Beyond the Possible: 50 Years of Creating Radical Change at a Community Called GLIDE.”

I am suggesting that, based on our mission, we must not simply produce high-quality research with various theoretical frames and methodologies. We must engage directly with policy makers and local communities, and we must take part in thoughtful dialogue with people who disagree with us. The conference gives us a chance not simply to talk our talk, but to walk it as well.

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