Karlyn Adams-Wiggins, Portland State University

Karlyn Adams-Wiggins is an Assistant Professor of Applied Developmental Psychology at Portland State University. Karlyn’s research focuses on the intersection of academic achievement motivation and identity, with a specific focus on how marginal identities are constructed in social interactions in science learning environments. This involves two major strands: 1) achievement motivation from a situative perspective in science learning environments and 2) Black/African diaspora youths’ construction of identities in context. Research in the first strand has addressed group-level regulatory processes and identity processes in middle school inquiry-based science and identity processes among students from underrepresented groups in undergraduate research training programs. Research in the second strand has addressed identity in sociohistorical context for Black/African diaspora adolescent girls. Across projects, Karlyn employs a critical and sociohistorical psychology lens in service of addressing social justice aims. This work has primarily involved microgenetic analysis of video-recorded observations, ethnographic fieldwork, and qualitative interviewing.

Marginality Trajectories in Middle School Inquiry Science

When teachers transfer power to learners in collaboration intensive reform-oriented science classrooms, are the benefits equitably distributed among peers? Recent reforms emphasize learners’ engagement in scientific practices as a way to help learners think like scientists do about natural phenomena; focusing on scientific practices also is intended to leverage knowledge and abilities that learners from diverse backgrounds bring to the science classroom. Yet, despite the benefits of authentic inquiry for learning to think scientifically, peer interactions can skew opportunities to learn such that equity is undermined. Grounded in Wenger’s concept of marginal non-participation, this project uses microgenetic methods to examine how trajectories of marginality are constructed over the course of a semester for middle schoolers when inquiry science units are implemented. The proposed research produces a qualitative classification scheme for describing severity of marginality as it develops in real time and uses a multiple case study to describe marginality’s development over a semester for members of 4 collaborative groups. The proposed research extends situative perspectives on motivation and research on status problems by describing how moment-to-moment social interactions inform marginal non-participation and construct marginal identities for students in inquiry classrooms.

Elena Aydarova, Auburn University

Elena Aydarova is an Assistant Professor of Social Foundations at Auburn University. Her research focuses on transformations in teacher education policies, teacher preparation for culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse students, as well as educators’ advocacy for just and equitable education. Dr. Aydarova’s book Teacher Education Reform as Political Theater: Russian Policy Dramas (2019, with SUNY Press) attends to the theatricality of teacher education reforms and calls on educators to engage in policy dialogues. The book has been recognized with a Critics’ Choice Award from the American Educational Studies Association, an Outstanding Book Award from the Council on Anthropology and Education, and an Outstanding Book Award from the Society of Professors of Education. Her work has appeared in Educational Policy, Anthropology and Education Quarterly, Teaching and Teacher Education, and other journals. She is a recipient of an American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women, the Concha Delgado Gaitan Presidential Fellowship from the Council on Anthropology and Education, as well as a Global Teacher Education Fellowship from the Longview Foundation. Her research has also won awards from Division K of the American Educational Research Association, the Comparative and International Education Society, and TESOL International.


“Science of Reading” Reforms and Teacher Education Policies: Interactions Among Advocacy Coalitions and Policymakers

Many states have adopted “science of reading” (SOR) bills. In most cases, these bills emphasize phonics instruction as the main strategy for improving reading achievement among minoritized students. In some contexts, bills introducing SOR approaches are passed with ease, whereas in others they face opposition from teachers, parents, and educational researchers. Even though these reforms are based on contested approaches, non-profit and for-profit organizations, think-tanks, and research institutes have advocated for their introduction into teacher preparation coursework and licensing requirements. Utilizing an Advocacy Coalition Framework (Sabatier & Jenkins-Smith, 1999) and Goffman’s (1983) theory of interaction, this project will explore how different advocacy coalitions interact with SOR reforms in teacher education and how these interactions lead to divergent policy outcomes in different states. As a comparative case study (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2017), this project examines how various coalitions navigate politically charged debates over meeting the literacy needs of racially diverse students. This analysis will shed light on conflicting visions of educational justice and their implications for the future of university-based teacher education.

Tolani Britton, University of California, Berkeley

Tolani A. Britton is an Assistant Professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education. She uses quasi-experimental methods to explore the impact of policies on access and persistence in higher education, as well as students’ transition from secondary school to higher education. Her research has been supported by the National Academy of Education/Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Her work has appeared in peer-reviewed journals such as Journal of Economics, Race, and Policy, Journal of Higher Education, and Teachers College Record. Dr. Britton is a member of the editorial board for Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. She earned her doctorate in Quantitative Policy Analysis at Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Britton has also worked as a high school math teacher and college counselor in New York City public schools and as a policy analyst for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris, France. Her scholastic credentials include a Master of Arts in Economics from Tufts University, a Master of Arts in French Cultural Studies from Columbia University, and a Bachelor of Arts in both Economics and French Literature from Tufts University.

Postsecondary Educational Trajectories of Formerly Incarcerated Persons

Given the limited work opportunities available to persons who have been incarcerated, a college degree could serve as one means to improve both educational and job market outcomes. A number of states have expanded access to college classes for incarcerated persons. In 2014, California passed SB 1391, a law that allowed for equal per-student funding of college courses in prison and on campus. However, there is limited research on whether this access to college while in prison is associated with postsecondary persistence and completion of a certificate or degree. Using administrative data from the California community colleges during the 2012–2021 period, I carry out an event study and use linear probability models to measure the likelihood of re-enrollment in a community college, persistence, and completion of either a degree or certificate for formerly incarcerated persons in California who took community college courses while incarcerated when compared to community college students who were formerly incarcerated and did not have access to these courses. I also explore whether re-enrollment and persistence differs by race or ethnicity given the disproportionate incarceration of Black and Latinx men. Findings have implications for policy on access to educational opportunities for formerly incarcerated persons.

Joe Curnow, University of Manitoba

Joe Curnow is an Assistant Professor at the University of Manitoba. Joe’s scholarship sits at the nexus of the learning sciences, social movement studies, and equity studies. Her research examines how people come to understand social problems systemically so that they can organize collective action for transformation, and she works with community activists to study how they learn about issues of race and colonialism, gender and heteropatriarchy, and class and capitalism through their activism. Her recent work has been published in the American Educational Research Journal, the Journal of the Learning Sciences, Gender and Education, and as a comic in Sequentials. She completed her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, where she was awarded the Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship. Joe has worked as a social movement, labour, and community organizer.

Learning from, with, and towards Abolitionist Imaginaries

Over the last year, a groundswell of activism has called for police and prison abolition in response to failed reforms and decades of anti-racist organizing. Abolitionism is a social movement and political ideal that not only calls for the abolition of prisons, police, child welfare, and other racialized and colonial systems of punishment, but, more affirmatively, for building a world in which community-led, life-sustaining services create alternative relations of care. Abolition is often critiqued as an unrealistic, utopian dream. Imagining a world without police and prisons requires a radical shift; such imagination is a collaborative learning accomplishment. How, then, do we shift what is considered possible? This research asks (1) how organizers learn to facilitate for expanding abolitionist imaginaries and (2) how community members become politicized around abolitionist imaginaries. Using Winnipeg, Manitoba’s abolitionist organizing community as a case study, this research builds capacity for popular education facilitation which expands abolitionist imaginaries, and asks how people learn about and create abolitionist futures. Using multi-camera video data from community-led trainings, I bring together abolitionist activism and scholarship alongside learning sciences research to understand how counter-hegemonic learning is cultivated to enable social dreaming and organize new possible futures.

Charles H. F. Davis, III, University of Michigan

Charles H.F. Davis III is third-generation educator committed to the lives, love, laughter, and liberation of everyday Black people. Dr. Davis is an Assistant Professor in the University of Michigan’s Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education where his research and teaching broadly focus on issues of race, racism, and resistance in education and its social contexts. He is especially interested in how Black campus-community organizers use alternative and activist new media to cultivate movement legitimacy, grow solidarity, build political power, and achieve socio-institutional change. His book Student Activism, Politics, and Campus Climate in Higher Education was published by Routledge in 2019. Dr. Davis’ scholarship has been offered as expert testimony before the California State Assembly, presented before federal legislators and policymakers, and cited in amicus curiae briefs to the Supreme Court of the United States. He received his Ph.D. in Higher Education from the University of Arizona and holds a master’s degree from the Penn Graduate School of Education as well as an M.A. in Communications and B.A. in English from Florida State University. Prior to joining the Michigan faculty, Dr. Davis served as a research administrator and non-tenure-track professor at the University of Southern California and University of Pennsylvania. He is founder and director of the Scholars for Black Lives Collective and considers Black Lives Matter–Los Angeles and the Dream Defenders his political homes.

#PoliceFreeCampus: A Digital Ethnography of Black Campus-community Resistance, New Media Organizing, and Abolitionist Praxis for a Police-free Future

The killing of Black people and the occupation of Black neighborhoods by police in the United States is not a phenomenon unique to municipal police departments. In fact, 771 colleges and universities spend an average of $2.7 million annually to employ and arm sworn officers in campus police departments, at least two of which have been responsible for the killing of unarmed Black people during off-campus patrols in recent years. More routinely, however, campus policing employs mechanisms of surveillance, criminalization, and carceral punishment to enforce various social, symbolic, and spatial boundaries between White-serving postsecondary institutions and the Black communities within which they are located.
Within the framing context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, our digital ethnography broadly explores the ways such postsecondary boundary enforcement renders Black people, on-campus and beyond, vulnerable to police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. More specifically, our study seeks to understand and document the digitally-mediated processes by which Black campus actors and community stakeholders are collectively resisting the racial project of policing and challenging postsecondary institutions to adopt abolitionist visions of public safety and community care. Altogether our study will offer new insights regarding the contemporary relationship between campus and community-based movement work as well as the tactical repertoires employed to effectively organize across policing boundaries. Furthermore, our study will provide a compelling case for effectively reimagining possibilities for institutional and community safety devoid of police.

Natalie Davis, Georgia State University

Natalie R. Davis is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Early Childhood and Elementary Education and the M.A. program in Creative and Innovative Education (MACIE) at Georgia State University. Davis is a former postdoctoral fellow in Learning Sciences at Northwestern University, where she employed micro-ethnographic and interactional methods to study children’s thinking and self-determination in a tinkering after-school program focused on STEAM. Broadly, her research explores the relationship between teaching and learning, cultural ecologies and the sociopolitical development of children from non-dominant communities, with emphasis on the educational experiences and “freedom dreams” of urban-based Black children. Her work also considers the challenges and possibilities of political education in elementary classrooms and the extent to which learning environments nourish children’s imaginative spirits. Davis has collaborated with museums, nonprofit youth-serving organizations and schools to design curriculum and conduct professional development workshops on topics related to creativity, science learning and the enactment of critical pedagogies. She is a recipient of the AERA-Division G Distinguished Dissertation and Dimond Dissertation awards. Her work has been disseminated in academic journals such as Cognition & Instruction and Learning, Culture & Social Interaction and via public outlets such as Michigan Talk Radio. Davis received her Ph.D. in educational foundations from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. Prior to graduate school, she taught third-grade in an African-centered school.

Leveraging Black Children’s Sociopolitical Understandings in Justice-Oriented Elementary Teaching

Despite growing attention to critical civic pedagogies and adolescents’ sociopolitical development, children’s (and in particular Black children’s) meaning making is seldom the empirical focus. This relative inattentiveness to Black children as social and political actors, while problematic in its own right, has also limited opportunities to identify the types of pedagogical and relational practices that support their agency and critical analyses. Conceptions of what it looks like for teachers to navigate the complexities of critical civic pedagogies in elementary classrooms are largely based on theories developed with adult or adolescents’ positioning and meaning making in mind. The dearth of research in this area contributes to a status quo of reluctance to engage younger children in explicit conversations about race/racism, structural inequities, and human rights issues, even when it is evident that they are already actively thinking (and living) with these concepts. This qualitative project therefore leverages Black children’s sociopolitical sensemaking as ideational and pedagogical resources in teacher learning through the design and study of an educational intervention. The intervention will be a workshop series with justice-oriented elementary teachers, and draws substantively from interview data collected from my past ethnographic research with Black children. Pre-post interviews, classroom observations, and analyses of dialogic exchanges from workshops will be used to trace potential shifts in teachers’ understandings and practice. In addition to providing timely support for participating teachers, the proposed study will facilitate the development of critical educational design frameworks that recognize the brilliance and needs of Black children in context. Through its unique focus on childhood, findings from this project will also be used to inform and deepen theories of sociopolitical/civic learning, thus intervening on the adult and adolescent-centered discourses that have long characterized the field. 

Susannah Davis, University of New Mexico

Susannah C. Davis is a Research Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico. Her research explores organizational change and equity in educational institutions, including how educational leaders and other stakeholders navigate organizational change and reform efforts and learn in the process. Her current research focuses on how postsecondary institutions create more equitable and just policies, practices, and climates, as well as how systems of power shape reform efforts. Her work on two National Science Foundation Revolutionizing Engineering Departments (RED) projects employs design-based implementation research (DBIR) methods to design, implement, and evaluate curricular, pedagogical, and structural changes aimed at creating a more inclusive culture and improving students’ opportunities for ambitious and equitable learning. Dr. Davis is also a principal investigator on a study funded by the National Science Foundation examining how power, privilege, and perspective shape the development of equity-oriented educational change projects. Another line of research investigates organizational policies and leadership practices that motivate and support collaborative data use and decision making for continuous improvement in teacher preparation programs. Dr. Davis holds a Ph.D. and M.Ed. from the University of Washington and a B.A. from Smith College. She builds on prior work experience in a public elementary school in Washington, D.C. and providing professional development and support for teachers and other educators through a community-based nonprofit organization and a national literacy organization.

Resistance as Engagement in Self, Institutional, and Social Transformation (RESIST): Understanding Agency in Individual and Collective Learning and Change

Institutions of higher education face myriad internal and external challenges and pressures for change, but change initiatives often fail. Within literature on organizational change in higher education, faculty resistance is often cited as a major challenge and reason for failure. This study broadens and reframes our understanding of faculty resistance, considering it a form of engagement and agency within organizational learning and change. It explores not only ways in which resistance may hinder change, but also whether and how resistance can be a contribution and resource for organizational change. Drawing on theoretical and empirical scholarship on workplace learning, agency, resistance, and intersectional power relations, this study examines the function and experience of both resistance as change and resistance to change through a multi-phase, qualitative multiple case study in two universities in the United States. By considering resistance as an exercise of agency and a potentially productive aspect of change and learning processes, rather than solely a hindrance to be avoided or suppressed, this study can inform the design of organizational change initiatives that affirm faculty’s agency, consider the role of power relations, and leverage resistance as a resource in participatory transformation.

Justin Grinage, University of Minnesota

Justin Grinage is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Minnesota. With a particular focus on Black education, critical whiteness studies, and critical literacy, his research examines processes of racialization in school and classroom spaces alongside explorations of how curriculum and pedagogy can engender anti-racism. His recent publications have appeared in Harvard Educational Review, English Education, Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, and Curriculum Inquiry. He is a National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color fellow (2018-2020) and is the recipient of the 2020 NCTE English Language Arts Teacher Educators Janet Emig Award. He received his B.A. in English, his M.Ed. in English Education and his Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction all from the University of Minnesota. A former English teacher, Justin has taught in multiracial high school classrooms in the Twin Cities area for more than a decade.

Racial Melancholia and Education: A Critical Ethnographic Study of Racism, Trauma, and Resistance in the Aftermath of Tragedy in Minneapolis

On May 25, 2020, George Floyd was murdered by four police officers on a public street in Minneapolis. This tragedy has since sent shockwaves throughout the United States, thrusting the realities of anti-Black racism into the national consciousness. Most recently, in April 2021, Daunte Wright was killed by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb. With the police killings of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark occurring in Minneapolis only a few years prior, those in close proximity to these murders have been intensely affected due to the accumulation of racial violence in their communities. This critical ethnographic study explores the impacts of this racial trauma on education. The project investigates how youth in a multiracial secondary school classroom, located in the Minneapolis area, understand, experience, and resist racial trauma as well as the limits and possibilities for teachers to engender anti-racism and racial healing. Using the concept of racial melancholia as a critical framework for theorizing trauma, I will study the processes of healing and resistance that emerge in the midst of ongoing community suffering and loss. Research has relied too heavily on illustrating the harmful aspects of trauma while the methods youth use to contest this trauma remains underdeveloped. The project seeks to illuminate the role teaching and learning might play in fostering resiliency and agency to counteract racism.

Maria Magdalena Isac, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven

Maria Magdalena (Magda) Isac is a Researcher at the Centre for Political Science Research of the KU Leuven, Belgium. Prior to this assignment, she was a researcher on citizenship education and educational effectiveness at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and she held research positions on the same topics at the European Commission and the University of Bologna.
Her work focuses on the comparative evaluation of school systems, with an emphasis on understanding how different formal and informal educational approaches and teaching practices contribute to young people’s citizenship learning and citizenship competences. She has developed consultancy projects for the International Large-Scale Assessments Unit of the Italian Institute for the Evaluation of the Education System (INVALSI), UNESCO, the Council of Europe, the ministry of education from Mexico and UNICEF. She is frequently participating in international forums of discussion to reflect on results from research on citizenship education and their implications for educational policy and practice.

Magda received her Ph.D. in Behavioural and Social Sciences from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. She holds a M.Sc. in Research and Evaluation of Educational Effectiveness from the University of Groningen as well as a Master in Policy and Management in Education and a Bachelor in Educational Sciences, both from the Alexandru Ioan Cuza University of Iasi in Romania.

Fostering Intercultural Competence among Youth. A Focus on Measurement.

The increasing worldwide migration is driving the growing cultural diversity of student populations. The development of intercultural competence is valued as a crucial tool for countering extreme worldviews, intolerance and discrimination and contribute to sustainable democratic societies. Schools are important arenas for training intercultural competence particularly during adolescence when such competences are malleable; international organizations such as the European Union, the United Nations and the OECD emphasize the importance of culturally inclusive educational approaches. However, little research has empirically examined intercultural competence and culturally inclusive educational approaches in young people (i.e., adolescents) and within school settings. In particular, research in European contexts involving valid and reliable measurement instruments and large nationally representative samples of adolescents is lacking.

This project builds on knowledge from several fields and aims to develop, adapt and validate two multifaceted measurement instruments of intercultural competence and classroom cultural diversity climate. I draw on newly available data on a large sample of young people (14- year- old) in a European country (i.e., Italy). This research will generate new and reliable measurement instruments and solid empirical evidence, adding significantly to current research on intercultural competence, culturally inclusive educational approaches and interculturality in culturally diverse school settings.

Kelsey John, University of Arizona

Kelsey Dayle John (Diné) is an Assistant Professor with a joint appointment in American Indian Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Arizona. Her work is centered on animal relationalities, particularly horse/human relationships as ways of knowing, healing, and decolonizing education. Alongside her work in Indigenous animal studies, Kelsey’s research interests also include Indigenous feminisms and decolonizing methodologies. She is a member of the Navajo Nation and finds her theoretical locations within transnational feminism, Indigenous studies, settler colonial studies, Diné Studies, and foundations of education. She has a Ph.D. from Syracuse University in Cultural Foundations of Education.

Ask the Horses: Considerations for Indigenous Animal Methodologies

This project intends to address a gap in Indigenous methodological literature, that is, the significance of nonhuman animal agents, knowers, and participants in research. The book project confronts anthropocentric and settler colonial foundations and instead centers Indigenous human/nonhuman relations within education and research paradigms. Using Indigenous story work, the text considers concepts of relationality, anthropocentrism, and ethics in research. The author uses her own stories with her horse relations to narrate encounters and tensions with more than human knowers. The text will highlight theoretical considerations relevant for Indigenous research from the fields of equine facilitated learning, multispecies ethnography, and critical animal studies describing some possible futures of Indigenous research that consider human/nonhuman members of Native Nations.

Matthew Gardner Kelly, Pennsylvania State University

Matthew Gardner Kelly is an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at the Pennsylvania State University. He received his M.A. (history) and Ph.D. (history of education and educational policy) from Stanford University, where he was also the Yu-Ly Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellow from 2015 to 2018. Kelly’s scholarship examines the history and politics of education funding in the United States, with a special focus on the intersections between school funding policies and inequities of race, ethnicity, income, and residence. His research has received awards from Division F of the American Educational Research Association, the History of Education Society, and the National Education Finance Academy. His work has been published in various academic journals, including AERA Open, Educational Researcher, History of Education Quarterly, and Teachers College Record. His writing has also appeared in popular media outlets, including Slate, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and the San Francisco Chronicle. Before entering graduate school, Kelly was a middle school teacher in New York City. At Penn State, he teaches courses in educational leadership and school finance.

Taxing Inequality: The Rise of District Property Taxation and the Making of Educational Inequality

When state governments use district-level taxes to finance their public education systems, they connect the unequal distribution of wealth with the distribution of education funding. Taxing Inequality provides a history of this practice, its early alternatives, and the contestation that has surrounded it since the creation of public school systems in the United States. Although the disparities created by local financing are well known, its history is poorly understood. Americans experimented with a number of different mechanisms for financing the creation and expansion of public education systems in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Taxing Inequality: The Rise of District Property Taxation and the Making of Educational Inequality provides a history of district property taxation and its alternatives. With California as its focal point, the project shows how district property taxation won against alternative approaches to education funding during the early years of American public schooling. In the process, the project offers a new history of the development of public education in the United States.

Seanna Leath, University of Virginia

Seanna C. Leath is an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of Virginia; she runs the F.H.I.RE (Fostering Healthy Identities and REsilience) lab. Dr. Leath’s research is situated at the intersection of education, psychology, and Black feminist studies. She uses quantitative and qualitative methods to understand issues related to the holistic development of Black girls and women in the context of families, schools, and communities. Her current projects involve two main lines of work: (1) exploring how identity beliefs support resilience and resistance among Black women and girls, and (2) studying how Black families transmit information to their children about how to process, cope, and heal from racial discrimination and violence. In all, she is committed to pursuing equitable and transformative change within systemic structures (e.g., education and healthcare) to support Black women and girls’ wellbeing. She was recently awarded a Russell Sage Presidential Grant to investigate the unique messaging that Black parents offer to their daughters about misogynoir. She has published in peer-reviewed journals such as American Education Research Journal, Psychology of Women Quarterly, Journal of Black Psychology, and Journal of School Psychology. Dr. Leath received her B.A. in Africana Studies and Psychology from Pomona College and her Ph.D. in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan. She has four beautiful children who keep her grounded and joyful during this academic journey.

Bridging Academic, Social, and Psychological Wellbeing to Increase STEM Retention among Black Undergraduate Women

The current investigation builds on secondary data (Healthy Minds Study, 2019), and will involve mixed methodological data collection (annual surveys and in-depth interviews) to understand how individual and institutional factors influence Black undergraduate women’s persistence in STEM at PWIs and HBCUs. The project integrates academic development, social wellbeing, and psychological health to examine Black women’s vulnerability to, or resilience against, institutional marginalization. Studying psychosocial processes, particularly those tied to institutional marginalization, will provide a more comprehensive understanding of how students navigate university contexts. This project will forge new ground in developmental literature by validating a conceptual model of student thriving that reveals how institutional practices support or ostracize Black women, a historically marginalized group in STEM, higher education, and society. The work will reconceptualize how scholars frame the effects of racism, sexism, and classism by demonstrating how those who wield institutional power systematically harm Black women’s STEM persistence. The findings will support a continuum of research to enhance prevention and intervention efforts aimed at building protective institutional structures to foster Black women’s holistic wellbeing.

Nicholas Limerick, Teachers College, Columbia University

Nicholas Limerick is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University. His research, which is committedly ethnographic, examines the politics of intercultural bilingual education in Ecuador. His book, Recognizing Indigenous Languages: Kichwa and the Double Binds of Intercultural Bilingual Education in Ecuador, is forthcoming from Oxford University Press. The book considers how directors of Ecuador’s national Indigenous school system attempt to promote and teach Kichwa—called Quechua outside of Ecuador—from within state institutions that have historically marginalized the language family and its speakers. Over the past few years, he has also been co-writing, with a school director in Quito, a textbook to teach Kichwa for students who no longer speak the language dominantly. He holds a PhD in anthropology and in Educational Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania.

Contesting Expertise and the Struggle over Institutionalized Indigenous Education in Ecuador

Currently in the U.S. and around the world, movements for social justice mobilize against the state or other repressive forces as they aim to overturn inequities. This research considers how actors offer or work against expertise and authority as they pursue social change. This investigation will examine one school’s Kichwa-speaking teachers’ activism that seeks a contrastive curriculum and organization, even as the school constitutes a part of Ecuador’s intercultural bilingual school system that is directed by Indigenous planners for Indigenous students. During 12 months of ethnographic research, I will consider 1) how teachers work for and against the school system to which they belong as they seek a different form of schooling, and 2) how teachers’ expertise may respond to the philosophies, actions, and life circumstances of parents and students. These teachers provide insight into the daily negotiations and contestations that accompany critiques of predominant discourses as colonial forms of knowledge, in this case based on insider cultural perspectives and years of professional experience.

Roseann Liu, Wesleyan University

Roseann Liu is Assistant Professor of Education Studies at Wesleyan University. Drawing from critical race and abolitionist frameworks, she teaches and researches about structural inequalities in education, including its effects on communities of color and the organizing strategies used to enact change. She writes about the pitfalls and possibilities of progressive pedagogy, multiracial coalitions, and liberal teleologies. These interests are informed by her experiences as a student and teacher in New York City public schools. Her research has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the American Educational Research Association. Her scholarship has appeared in Radical History Review, Anthropology & Education Quarterly, and Ethnography, among other journals. She engages broad audiences through producing short films and writing op-eds that have been featured in Colorlines, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Hechinger Report. Dr. Liu received her Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania, earning a joint degree in education and anthropology.

Designed to Fail: Why Racial Equity in School Funding is So Hard to Achieve

In 2016, a study revealed racial bias in Pennsylvania’s school funding system. Studies like this have brought renewed attention and urgency to the issue of how to create equitable school finance systems. Some scholars have focused on finding the best models for school funding (e.g., using performance-based systems). Others have examined the best legal arguments for winning school finance lawsuits. However, few studies have focused on the actions of school funding influencers — i.e., lawmakers, advocates, and lawyers — including the strategies they deploy to change school funding systems and the impact of their work. As a result, the existing literature overemphasizes the technical and procedural aspects of achieving school funding equity, and underestimates the political and ideological challenges that school funding influencers face. Without an assessment of the actions of school funding influencers, the literature fails to explain why even the “best” approaches often fall short. This ethnographic book project remedies this gap by focusing on the political, ideological and structural aspects of school funding, including the affective strategies of school funding influencers (i.e., the way notions of equity are emotionally deployed) and the effect of their work on achieving racial equity in school funding. Designed to Fail gives an inside look at the Pennsylvania state legislature, campaigns for fair funding, and school finance lawsuits to answer the question, Why is racial equity in school funding so hard to achieve?

Michela Musto, University of British Columbia

Michela Musto is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of British Columbia. Her research examines the contexts in which education reproduces inequality – including academically tracked classrooms, youth sports and other extracurricular activities, and collegiate athletics. Musto’s research has appeared in American Sociological Review, Gender & Society, and other academic journals. Musto’s in-progress book manuscript, tentatively titled Boys Will Be Boys, examines the social construction of exceptionalism in early adolescence. Prior to joining UBC, Musto was a Postdoctoral Fellow at Sanford University’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research and received a Ph.D. in Sociology and a graduate certificate in Gender Studies from the University of Southern California.

Constructing Exceptionalism: How Schools Shape Middle Schoolers’ Beliefs About Intelligence

Kindergarten through college students perceive boys as more intelligent than girls. However, few studies have identified how boys rise to the top of the academic hierarchy or how race intersects with gender to shape students’ beliefs. Drawing on 2.5 years of longitudinal ethnography and 196 interviews at a racially diverse, public middle school in Los Angeles, this project demonstrates how academic tracking, school disciplinary processes, and educators’ pedagogical practices contribute to the social construction of exceptionalism in early adolescence. In the school’s higher-level classrooms, educators tolerated – and sometimes encouraged – White boys’ rule-breaking, despite discouraging similar forms of misbehavior from girls and Asian American boys. By comparison, in the school’s lower-level courses, educators penalized students – especially Latinx boys – for engaging in perceived misbehavior that went undisciplined elsewhere and among other groups at the school. Over the course of middle school, educators’ leniency served as a protective force that enabled White boys to become confident public speakers who dominated school activities where “natural” intelligence and leadership skills were considered integral to success. By 8th grade, students had learned to perceive White boys as the most exceptionally “well-rounded” students in school, thus offering new insight into how gender and racial inequalities operate in education.

T. Philip Nichols, Baylor University

T. Philip Nichols is an Assistant Professor of Literacy Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Baylor University. Phil uses historical and ethnographic methods to study how science and technology condition the ways we practice, teach, and talk about literacy – and the implications for just and equitable public education. His research also engages wider questions about the politics of data, technology, and algorithmic rationality and their inflections in teaching and learning. Phil’s work appears in Educational Researcher, Teachers College Record, Research in the Teaching of English, Reading Research Quarterly, Learning, Media and Technology, and Curriculum Inquiry, as well as practitioner- and public-oriented venues, like Phi Delta Kappan and The Atlantic. His first book, Innovation from Below: Building Infrastructures for Equity in 21st Century Schools, is forthcoming from Teachers College Press, and he is currently co-editing (with Antero Garcia) Literacies in the Platform Society: Histories, Pedagogies, Possibilities. Phil is also the editor of Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (English), and a past recipient of a National Academy of Education /Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship (2017). A former middle and high school English teacher, he holds a Ph.D. in Literacy, Culture and International Education and an M.A. in History and Sociology of Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

The Mediated Mind: Cold War Politics, Human Ecology, and the Making of “Media Literacy”

Since 2016, “media literacy” has received revived attention among educators and the general public. It has emerged as a recurrent theme in op-eds, whitepapers, and edited volumes – each weighing how the concept might be mobilized to address misinformation, “fake news,” and the reactionary political movements bolstered by them. Some, however, have questioned media literacy’s fitness for this task. They suggest that, in promoting a posture of generalized skepticism – which can be used to dismiss credible information as easily as it can nativist conspiracies – media literacy may contribute to, rather than address, the “post-truth” information landscape. In other words, at the same moment media literacy is emerging as a pressing public concern for education, uncertainties abound as to how (or if) it can be meaningfully translated into pedagogy or practice. This project attends to these present gridlocks in media education by turning to its past. It examines “media literacy” not as a set of critical skills or practices, but as a contingent historical formation – one that inherits, from the political and scientific contexts that shaped it, assumptions which condition its possibilities and limitations today. The study draws on archival and published primary sources to map the emergence of U.S. media education – not just, as the established historiography goes, as an outgrowth of propaganda analysis or critical awareness training, but as an upshot of Cold War investments in scientific research on human ecology, cognitive psychology, and cybernetics. These “ecological” orientations to media were less concerned with representational practices (e.g. the consumption/production of media messages) than with the relationships among media, minds, and political formation. The project traces the popularization of this orientation in curriculum and teaching in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as its decline in the 1980s – when the agenda for media education consolidated around “media literacy” and the representational practices most commonly associated with the term today. In doing so, the study not only charts an alternate history of media education, but also makes visible dormant assumptions that clarify its present frustrations, and abandoned pasts that may yet be of use for tuning media pedagogy to the challenges before us.

Diana Rodriguez-Gomez, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Diana Rodríguez-Gómez is an Assistant Professor in the Educational Policy Studies Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr. Rodríguez-Gómez scholarship examines trans-local processes of state-building and education policy-making in contexts shaped by high levels of violence, armed conflict, forced migration and/or states of emergency. Through ethnographic, visual, and collaborative research approaches, she attends to the everyday processes of statecraft. Through this approach she examines how the social relations between policy makers, street-level bureaucrats, educators and students shape educational policies. Her most recent work has appeared in the Journal of Education and Emergencies, where she co-edited a Special Issue on Education and the War on Drugs. She received the Concha Delgado Gaitán Early Career Presidential Fellowship granted by the Council on Anthropology and Education from the American Anthropological Association in 2019, and the Junior Faculty Teaching Award granted by the Center for Latin American Studies from Ohio State University in 2020. Dr. Rodríguez-Gómez holds a BA from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia; an M.A. from University of Sussex in the United Kingdom, and an Ed.D. from Teachers College, Columbia University.

Schooling in (Il)legal Economies: A Comparative Study of Educational Experiences in the Midst of the Drug Wars

Pointing to decades of drug-related violence against the most vulnerable, experts have declared the War on Drugs a failure. This has opened space for a drug policy reform that promotes decriminalization of illicit crops. In Colombia, these two global responses to coca cropping have resulted in the coexistence of an illegal coca economy and an incipient legal coca market. Yet, little is known about the interfaces between legal and illegal markets, and the lived schooling experiences of educators and students. Drawing from contemporary theories of the state, political economy, and emergency education, the proposed study will examine how two global responses to coca production—the War on Drugs and the Drug Policy Reform movement—shape school life. It will analyze the effects of illicit and licit coca markets on school management procedures, curricular decisions, and educators and students. Designed as a comparative case study, this research combines archival work with interviews and in-depth participant observation. It focuses on (1) how educators and students make sense of the political influence state and non-state actors exert over schools; and (2) how they perceive coca-related activities intersect (or not) with key aspects of school life. By highlighting the intersection between state-market configurations and schooling, this research has implications for education policy and the education of children and youth distributed across the drug supply chain.

Carrie Sampson, Arizona State University

Dr. Carrie Sampson is an assistant professor in the Division of Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State University. She examines educational equity related to leadership and policymaking via school boards, district structures, and community advocacy. Dr. Sampson earned her Ph.D. in Public Affairs and a graduate certificate in Women’s Studies from University of Nevada, Las Vegas, a M.S. in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University, and a B.S. in Economics from University of Nevada, Reno. As a Black and Chicana motherscholar of two school-age children, Dr. Sampson has drawn from her interdisciplinary training, along with her personal and professional experiences, to develop a rigorous and critically conscious research agenda that aims to expand educational and liberatory opportunities for minoritized students and their families. Dr. Sampson is the recipient of the 2020 AERA Division A Early Career Award. Her research has been published in several journals, including Race Ethnicity and Education, Journal of Educational Policy, American Journal of Education, Critical Studies in Education, and Urban Education. She also received the 2020 UCEA Williams J. Davis Award for her article entitled “(Im)Possibilities of Latinx School Board Members’ Educational Leadership Toward Equity,” which was published in Education Administration Quarterly.

The Politics of District Governance and Equity among BIPOC School Board Members

School boards make many critical decisions connected to policies and practices that influence educational equity. Although studies suggest that Black and Latinx school board members’ representation is associated with positive academic outcomes for Black and Latinx students, research examining how and why such representation matters is scarce. Guided by the Community Equity Literacy theoretical framework, this qualitative case study will analyze multiple data sources (i.e., interviews, school board meetings) to examine the complexities of school board governance among Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) school board members. Specifically, this study will analyze the experiences, perspectives, and strategies of BIPOC school board members who represent the Black, Hispanic, American Indian/Alaska Native, and Urban councils within the National School Boards Association, in their efforts to advance contemporary policies and practices pertaining to educational equity, including those related to COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. The findings from this study will offer a deeper understanding of school board governance and contribute to the expansion of pathways and a stronger pipeline of BIPOC school board members committed to advancing educational equity.

Adela Soliz, Vanderbilt University

Adela Soliz is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education and Public Policy, in the department of Leadership, Policy & Organizations at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College.  Dr. Soliz’s research focuses on improving student success at community colleges. Most of her research uses large state administrative or national datasets and econometric methods to estimate causal effects of policies and program participation on community college students’ outcomes.  She is interested in issues related to college affordability, the development of vocational education at community colleges, and transfer and articulation between two and four-year institutions.  Her research has been published in journals such as Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis and Education Finance and Policy and has been funded by organizations including the Institute of Education Sciences and the American Educational Research Association.  She is WT Grant Foundation Scholar, class of 2024.  Before coming to Vanderbilt, Professor Soliz was a Fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Brown Center on Education Policy.   Soliz holds a doctorate in Quantitative Policy Analysis in Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  Before getting her doctorate, Soliz taught developmental English at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, as well as ESL, GED and citizenship classes in non-profits supporting immigrant populations around New York City.  She received her B.A. in Anthropology from Reed College.

Understanding the Effect of State Investments in Postsecondary Vocational Education

Community and technical colleges play an important role in providing access to postsecondary education, including the type of vocational training that could increase opportunities for disenfranchised workers.  Recognizing the potential for community colleges to improve labor market access for those who enroll, as well as to fuel local economies, both the federal and state governments have recently made large investments in improving the quality and capacity of postsecondary vocational education.  One such program in Tennessee, the Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), sought to improve vocational training by incentivizing public two-year colleges to build collaborations with local employers and other stakeholders.  I will conduct a mixed methods study that will combine a rigorous exploration of classroom-level changes resulting from LEAP with a quantitative examination of the effect of this policy change on student outcomes.  This study has two goals: first, to systematically document how this funding changed programs at two-year colleges across Tennessee, and, second, to estimate the effect of program enhancements on students’ academic and labor market outcomes.  My study will inform future state and federal stimulus plans by demonstrating how funding can best be used to enhance postsecondary vocational training programs in order to improve outcomes for workers and bolster local economies.

April Sutton, University of California, San Diego

April Sutton is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology and a faculty affiliate of the Critical Gender Studies Program at the University of California, San Diego. Her primary areas of research are education, stratification, gender, and geographic inequalities. Using quantitative research methods, Dr. Sutton’s research investigates how communities, schools, and other institutional contexts maintain or mitigate inequalities in education and work. ​Her research highlights the spatial dimensions of enduring gender and ethnoracial educational disparities and the academic and policy debates surrounding them. Dr. Sutton’s studies have been published in the American Sociological Review, Sociology of Education, Social Problems, and the American Journal of Public Health, among other journals. Her scholarship has also been covered by a number of news outlets, including The Atlantic, Forbes, and U.S. News and World Report. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a predoctoral trainee at the Population Research Center, and she earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology and American and Southern Studies at Vanderbilt University. Prior to joining UCSD, Dr. Sutton was a Frank H.T. Rhodes postdoctoral fellow at the Cornell Population Center at Cornell University.

Who is Left Behind and Why? Rural-Urban Inequalities in Postsecondary Enrollment by Gender and Race/Ethnicity

Deepening rural-urban divides and recent scholarship on the geography of opportunity have renewed attention on rural youth’s educational attainment. Despite evidence that local contexts interact with gender and race to shape inequality, national analyses on rural-urban disparities in students’ postsecondary outcomes neglect this intersectional perspective while studies on gender and racial stratification tend to center urban education or overlook the role of place altogether. Using the Civil Rights Data Collection (CRDC) and a nationally representative sample of high school students (HSLS:09), this project examines rural-urban differences in two- and four-year postsecondary enrollment across gender and ethnoracial groups, focusing on how disparate educational opportunities across place—reflected in access to and participation in advanced academic courses—contribute to stratified opportunities in higher education. Using regression, spatial, and decomposition analyses, I will assess whether disparities in school resources, coursework, and other factors help explain observed rural-urban inequalities in postsecondary enrollment for students across gender and ethnoracial groups. In addition, I will investigate whether these rural-urban gaps are strongest among high-achieving students, who may be best positioned to enter and succeed in college. This study’s intersectional lens will highlight the educational opportunities and outcomes of rural students of color and offer new insights on ethnoracial, gender, and geographic stratification.

Margaret Vigil-Fowler, Independent Scholar

Meg Vigil-Fowler is an historian of medicine who studies how constructions of race and gender influence who can participate in science and medicine and how persistent lack of diversity in the medical profession contributes to the perpetuation of racial health disparities in the United States. Her current research focuses on the history of Black women physicians who trained between the Civil War and the start of the Second World War. She is currently writing a collective biography of four of the first African American women who earned medical degrees. Meg received her doctorate from the Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and was awarded the Shryock Medal by the American Association for the History of Medicine. She was a 2020 NAEd/Spencer Research Development Awardee. Her most recent article appears in History of Science.

A Mission to the Race: The History of Black Women Physicians and Education, 1900-1941

Lack of diversity in medicine continues to cost people of color their longevity and well-being. As early as the nineteenth century, Black women understood that if they became physicians, they could provide care to members of their communities who otherwise did not receive it—especially Black women and children—and address some of the racial health disparities they observed. To do so, they first needed medical educations, and they primarily relied on two HBCUs, Howard and Meharry, to obtain training. My study investigates the histories of these two schools and the experiences of their Black women students. It will also provide insight as to why these women chose these particular medical schools for their training and why these two schools were more receptive to Black women students than even other historically black schools or women’s schools. Using Critical Race Theory and intersectionality, my archival research will provide an historical understanding of educational opportunities available to African American women and how they used them to become physicians in underserved communities. It will also investigate how educational reforms intended to raise professional standards limited who could practice medicine and which communities received medical care.  My historical analysis holds profound implications for diversifying the medical profession and addressing inequities in Black women’s health today.

Dara Walker, Pennsylvania State University

Dara Walker is an Assistant Professor of African American Studies, Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and History at the Pennsylvania State University. She received her B.S. in African American Studies from Eastern Michigan University in 2009 as Ronald E. McNair Scholar and a M.A. in Pan-African Studies from Syracuse University in 2011. She earned a PhD in History from Rutgers University in 2018. Her research and teaching interests include African American history, urban history, 20th century U.S. history, History of Education, and the history of childhood and youth. Dr. Walker is currently writing her book manuscript, High School Rebels: Black Power, Education, and Youth Politics in the Motor City, 1966-1973, which examines the role of Detroit’s high school organizing tradition in the development of Black Power politics. Her research has been funded by the Ford Foundation’s Dissertation Fellowship, the Walter P. Reuther Library’s Albert Shanker Fellowship for Research in Education, and the Richards Civil War Era Center at the Pennsylvania State University. Dr. Walker has presented her research at several national and international conferences, including the Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the American Historical Association (AHA), and the Society for the History of Children and Youth. In addition to her research, teaching, and mentoring, Dr. Walker was a regular contributor to Black Perspectives, the blog site for the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS) and is a founding member of the Penn State Consortium of Social Movements and Education Research and Practice.

High School Rebels: Black Power, Education, and Youth Politics in the Motor City, 1966-1973

The Black Power era saw thousands of Black adolescent activists across the country respond to racist curricula and white vigilante violence by leading walkouts and building takeovers. While these explosive moments have yielded dozens of social movement studies, the political study, intellectual labor, and mundane experiences of adolescent development that shaped this youth-led political organizing has received little scholarly attention. Using archival research and oral history interviews, High School Rebels: Black Power, Education, and Youth Politics in the Motor City, 1966-1973 bridges Black Power studies and the History of Education to reveal the central role of formal and informal education in the development of Black youth politics, Black youth’s political maturity, and the Black Power movement. My local study of Detroit’s tradition of Black high school organizing marshals the analytical tools of social history, Black Feminist Thought, and the history of youth to explore the personal histories and political ideas of Black teenagers who crafted liberatory theories of education in an urban context. The book shifts the focus from fists in Black leather gloves and guns to the quotidian moments of adolescent life and the intergenerational study spaces formed by Black adolescents, autoworkers, and welfare rights activists. This approach encourages historians to examine how age, along with gender, race, and class, shaped the limits and possibilities of high school students’ politics and activism. Methodologically, this social and intellectual history argues for rigorous engagement with age as a category of historical analysis in histories of education and postwar U.S. social movements.

Ericka Weathers, Pennsylvania State University

Ericka Weathers is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Education Policy Studies and a co-funded faculty/affiliate of the Social Science Research Institute at Pennsylvania State University. Using quantitative methods, her research explores racial and socioeconomic disparities in education, with an emphasis on two overarching questions. First, what are the processes and contexts that lead to and/or are associated with racial and socioeconomic disparities in education? Second, how might K-12 education policies and programs reduce or exacerbate racial and socioeconomic disparities? Dr. Weathers believes that studying mechanisms and education policies can inform implementation and/or efforts to improve K-12 educational programs and policies in ways that promote educational equity and justice. Her recent and current scholarship focuses on the relationship between school segregation and school funding disparities; the effects of school resource/police officers on student outcomes; and the effects of truancy laws on educational outcomes. She is a recent recipient of a Russell Sage/Gates Foundation Pipeline Grant to study habitual truancy. Her recent Publications have appeared in AERA Open, Race and Social Problems, and Urban Education. Dr. Weathers holds a Ph.D. in education policy from Stanford University, a M.A. in Policy Studies from the University of Washington Bothell, and a B.A. in Psychology from Hampton University.

Under or Over Representation of Black Students in Special Education? An Exploration of Special Education Decision Points

Racial disproportionality in special education has been a recent focus of scholarly debate, with specific emphasis on the enrollment of Black students. While documenting patterns and trends of racial disproportionality in special education is important, the enrollment of Black students in special education is more than just a two-sided coin of under-or-over representation. The special education representation story is nuanced by contextual characteristics of schools, communities, and districts. Furthermore, there are various decision points leading to enrollment in special education (i.e., referral, assessment, eligibility, and placement) that inevitably complicate the representation binary. Using student-level panel data, this project asks: Are there differential patterns in special education decision points by student race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status? Do structural school and district factors predict disparities in special education classification at different decision points? Studying disproportionalities at the decision points can provide novel insight on what part of the special education classification process education policy and practice might intervene to ensure that students are justly identified for special education.

Yidi Wu, Elon University

Yidi Wu is an Assistant Professor of History in the Department of History and Geography at Elon University, where she uses historical role-playing games and contract grading in her teaching. Her research focuses on Chinese student activism and history of higher education in the twentieth century. Using declassified documents, student journals and memoirs, digital database, and oral history interviews, her book examines university students’ participation in the Hundred Flowers and the Anti-Rightist Campaigns of 1957, and its comparisons with other episodes of student activism from 1919 to 1989. She has published in Twentieth-Century China and Index on Censorship, and she serves as the book review editor for PRC History Review. Her research has been supported by the American Council of Learned Societies, Association for Asian Studies, and National Academy of Education / Spencer Foundation Dissertation Fellowship. Originally from Beijing, she received her B.A. in History from Oberlin College, and her Ph.D. in History from University of California, Irvine.

Activism in Bloom: Campus Dissent in 1957 and China’s Century of Student Protests

My book Activism in Bloom reveals an understudied episode of student activism during the political campaigns of 1950s’ China, a decade which was presumably dominated by Communist political campaigns, thus leaving little space for social dissent. The book demonstrates that student activism in 1950s’ China is crucial to understanding past and future generations of activists from the 1919 May Fourth Movement to the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution of 1966, the 1989 Tiananmen Protests, as well as more recent social unrest in Hong Kong. Chinese students in 1957 carried out and passed on similar repertoires and framing techniques as during other episodes of student activism. What made this period distinctive was the ambiguous political opportunity and divisions among students that consumed the brief yet intense activism.

Pengfei Zhao, University of Florida

Pengfei Zhao is an Assistant Professor of Qualitative Methodology at the University of Florida’s College of Education. She has an interdisciplinary background in inquiry methodology, sociology, and cultural studies. In her theoretical and methodological work, she draws from a wide spectrum of theories—from critical theories to contemporary pragmatism, feminism, and post-colonial studies—to formulate a praxis- and social justice-oriented qualitative research methodology. In her empirical work, she primarily uses ethnographic, narrative, and action research approaches to address educational issues such as disadvantaged youth’s coming of age experience, school-community-family relationships, and student-centered teaching and learning. Dr. Zhao received her Ph.D. in Inquiry Methodology with a minor in Social Theory Studies from Indiana University Bloomington

Changing Fate: The Cultural Revolution’s Rural Youth in Transition to Post-Mao China

During China’s structural transformation from the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) to the late socialist era, the educational reform in 1977 for the first time introduced competition into the life of ordinary Chinese youth. This pivotal event happened at the historical juncture when different parts of the world geared up to embrace a neoliberal world order. If, as Foucault and Wendy Brown suggest, the meaning-loaded term “neoliberalism” is defined as a new form of rationality that employs economic terms, especially the mechanism of competition, to configure and normalize all aspects of social life, then it was through the 1977 educational reform, rather than historical events in other domains, that we have seen the origin and rise of neoliberalism in modern China. The proposed critical ethnographic study, the Changing Fate Project, aims at exploring the interlocking themes of the origin of neoliberalism in China, the local implementation of educational reforms, and their long-term impact on educational inequality through foregrounding the voices and lived experience of a social group that were most significantly impacted by the aforementioned historical events, the students. Specifically, it focuses on the disadvantaged social group of then rural youth, who received school education in the Cultural Revolution and came of age during the post-Mao transition. By highlighting a grassroots-level narrative of educational reforms, disadvantage youth’s coming of age experience, and the reforms’ influence on Chinese youth’s life course, the project entails an alternative understanding of China’s radical social changes from socialism to late/post socialism, and facilitates the development of a refined and nuanced understanding of the rise and manifestation of neoliberalism in modern China.

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