Education Research as Clown College
Silly conferences while the schools languish

A classroom in Shanghai


Frederick M. Hess

A little over a year ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to the explosive news that even Shanghai was outpacing the U.S. in international education assessments by declaring it a “wake-up call” and a “Sputnik moment.” Sixteen months after that impassioned charge, the nation’s education researchers will trek to their annual confab to share the analyses and findings that can help address the 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.

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?”

We quickly found the kind of papers that promise to fulfill that bold charge and make a real difference, papers such as “Can the Very Thought of Education Break Bricks?” . . . hmm, on second thought, it’s not clear that everyone is on board with this year’s theme. One paper daringly suggests that knowing just might be enough: “To Know I Can Might Be Enough: Women’s Self-Efficacy and Their Identified Leadership Values.” 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 sounds 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 such papers as “(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 such as “Longitudinal Studies,” “Test Validity Research and Evaluation,” and research featuring the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Some of the most interesting 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.


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