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

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Georgia State University

Primary Discipline

Teacher Education/Teaching and Learning
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.
About Natalie Davis
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.

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