Reclaim AERA: Protest Arne Duncan Speech

Thanks for the support @rethinkschools #reclaimAERA #edjustice

Rethinking Schools

By Ann Berlak

For the first time since I can remember some members of the American Educational Research Association (AERA)—the largest association of educators and educational researchers in the world—are taking a public stand at AERA’s annual meeting in San Francisco against the corporatization, standardization and privatization of education.

reclaimaera-thumbnailSadly, the leadership of AERA has invited Arne Duncan, who represents and supports the technocratic, dehumanizing forces of privatization to speak on Tuesday, April 30, 3:45 p.m. at the Hilton Hotel. This and other actions by the AERA serve to support the dismantling of education as a public good, narrow the possibilities of what it means to research, know, learn and share our understandings, and marginalize and silence voices of dissent.

We are inviting teachers, administrators, students, parents and concerned community members to join those of us at AERA as we make visible our support for public education and democratic empowerment


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Info for Session with Arne Duncan 4.30.13 at the Hitlon Union Sq. 3:45-4:45p

Special Invited Address: U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan (#AERASec)

Title: Choosing the Right Battles: Remarks and a Conversation

Scheduled Time: Tue Apr 30 2013, 3:45 to 4:45pmBuilding/Room: Hilton Union Square / Continental 4-6

Session Participants:

Chair: William G. Tierney (University of Southern California)

Arne Duncan (U.S. Department of Education)

On thoughtful disagreements and righteous anger- a reply to Pres. Tierney’s recent email

I have been writing this post in my head since at least Occupy the DOE, so it is not simply a direct reply to president of the American Educational Research Association Bill Tierney’s recent email in which he, I expect in anticipation of the protests planned for Arne Duncan’s invited talk at the AERA conference, wrote:

“I am weary of the abuse of social media by writers hurling anonymous, venomous insults—a practice that encourages the general retreat to intellectual neighborhoods. Our work and our interactions with one another should model productive conversation about the nature of education, schooling, and reform. The conference gives us an opportunity to demonstrate very publicly how thoughtful disagreements can take place. I hope that in the invited addresses, the presidential sessions, the myriad papers, roundtables, and posters, and in my own presidential address, we will challenge our own assumptions rather than simply reconfirm what we think we know.”

I will get back to this email in a moment, but first I want to tell what I was writing when this email arrived. Because I was thinking about the multiple ways we are silenced and silence ourselves. I was thinking of righteous anger and the ethical imperative to defend our humanity, our potential for democracy; to do justice as love in public.[i]

This week I received yet another email from a colleague, a person who I have never met or known, telling me that s/he could no longer withstand the toxicity of his/her academic workplace; that the imposition of the edTPA was driving her/him from teacher education. I get these emails regularly from people who have committed their life’s work to teacher education, but are being threatened, intimidated and surveilled into silence, resignation, despair.

And on facebook I follow the lengthy discussions as teachers, often using pseudonyms for fear of retribution, wonder if they can speak to parents about their concerns with standardized testing. I read as teachers post their letters of resignation, their weariness with being called lazy and selfish by corporate deformers while their work is increasingly micro-managed into emptiness.

I hear from a colleague who worries about posting a paper on the AERA portal, fearing that higher ups will read it and thus complicate a tenure review.

Another colleague emails to remind me to not use her edu account when communicating about activism.

Last week, a colleague presented a research quandary: she wants to research the sites from which neo-liberal corporate education ‘reform’ emerges, but everyone she interviews from these sites has signed a non-disclosure agreement.

Just as faculty and students being made to use the edTPA must sign a non-disclosure agreement.

Secrecy and silencing.

And then, just as a reminder, there is me- who lost her job for speaking my concerns about the TPA and supporting students who refused to participate in the field-test being run by Pearson.

We live at a moment when demands for silence are profound; when voicing disagreement and making arguments for academic freedom elicit implicit and explicit threats; when ‘toxic’ work environments are more and more the norm, and teachers, students and higher education faculty are subject to the imposition of ‘standards,’ rubrics, scores, outcome measures, data points and other aspects of the accountability regime that discount whole swaths of what it means to know, research, communicate, be human.

For those of us who ever find ourselves in some space on the margins, being discounted is not new. Some people have never had the privilege of being treated as if their voices matter to those in positions of power.  As a woman, I am well acquainted with being told to lower my voice, to speak more carefully, to not be so negative, to engage in thoughtful disagreement more politely, to smile more. As a woman who came of age during the woman’s movement of the 1970s, I know a head pat and attempt at dismissal when I see one. As an ambivalent academic, I am well aware of the ways that claims of professionalism, objectivity and politeness have been used to secure the status quo and protect it from challenges by those left out by history and oppression.

“I am searching for a methodology of the heart.” (Diversi and Moreira).  What does a methodology of the heart look like? what does it sound like? is it angry and sometimes ‘rude’? does it ever ache in a space beyond words? does it make us uncomfortable, a discomfort we learn to translate into boredom or weariness? how do we listen to this methodology? when do we act from and within it?

I find myself boxed in by Pres. Tierney’s email, a box that will be familiar to those who wish to be heard from the margins. If I am angry, am I a ‘venomous’ blogger? If I note that the Secretary of Education has promulgated practices that lead to school closures, attacks on teachers unions and collective bargaining, the opening of public resources to profiteers, and the abuse of children and of education through the imposition of high stakes testing, the common core and technocratic accountability regimes am I being un-thoughtful?

I think of Freire’s pedagogy of the heart. It is teaching, at every level; it is research, wherever it happens; it is political work. It emerges from our lives, our bodies, our experiences. It is messy and discomforting and activist. It takes many shapes, uses the range of words, speaks from our bodies.  As an activist and a scholar, I will speak and act from these places. I will name injustice. I will not allow illusions of propriety to allow violence to go unnamed and its perpetrators unchallenged.

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never bring about genuine change.” (Lorde, 1983, p 112)

[i] “Justice is what love looks like in public.”- Cornel West

Diversi, M. and Moreira, C. (2009). Betweener talk: decolonizing knowledge production, pedagogy, and praxis. Walnit Creek, CA: Left Coast Press.

Lorde, A. (1983).  The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. In. C. Morega and G.E. Anzaldúa (Eds.). This bridge called my back: writings by radical women of color. New York: Kitchen Table, Women of Color Press.

Solid piece on Pearson and AERA. by Morna McDermott McNulty, who blogs at:


Guest Blogger Morna McDermott McNulty is an Associate Professor in the College of Education at Towson University. She blogs at Educationalchemy where this post also appears.

I guess I had Tim Slekar’s clarion call to challenge EdWeek in mind when I was looking through my recent issue of Educational Researcher (ER) today. In his blog, Slekar illustrated quite accurately, honestly and pointedly how, “EdWeek’s ‘news’ stories are typically reprinted press releases from the ‘faith-based reformers’ or purely propaganda for the purveyors of the Common Core.” In other words, he asks his readers to consider whether or not EdWeek has sold out to corporate interests.

Educational Researcher (ER) is AERA’s main journal, and AERA is education’s largest research organization, so the numbers of readers are enormous. The new editors themselves note that given the large readership and frequent publications (9 times a year) the…

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image from the Chicago Teachers strike of 2012

image from the Chicago Teachers strike of 2012

It is time for researchers and university educators to join in solidarity with teachers, students, parents and community members across the country to refuse the technocratic, dehumanizing forces of privatization and claim education for democracy.

Narratives of the market; discourses of accountability, outcomes and standards; demands for quantitative data; funding tied to student test data; suggestions to cooperate and ‘get a place at the table;’ and good old fashioned threats and job losses are the strings of the life/death we weave in the academy these days. Whether presented as great gains for a transformative higher education, or reasonable compromises under the shock doctrine of austerity budgets, we, like our K12 comrades, are experiencing increasing incursions of corporate interests into our day to day work.

The AERA has invited Arne Duncan, one of the chief purveyors of the standardization and privatization of education, to speak at its annual conference. The AERA accepts money from Pearson, Inc. and other corporations exploiting education as a market. The corporate influence within AERA includes increasing numbers of articles and paper presentations by individuals with corporate and think tank connections as well as elaborate propaganda tables at its exhibition hall. The AERA is organizing its journals in line with the corporate focus on quantifiable data.
These actions serve to support the dismantling of education as a public good, narrow the possibilities of what it means to research, know, learn and share our understandings, and marginalize and silence voices of dissent.

As members of the nation’s premier educational research association, we call on and will participate with AERA leaders to reclaim its mission by:

• Rejecting policies that support privatization and standardization;
• Naming the effects of these policies on educators and students at all levels;
• Refusing to exchange a “place at the table” for genuine participation in policy development and implementation.

As members of AERA, we reclaim this space, materially and discursively. In pursuit of this reclamation, we begin by taking up the following actions:
• Oppose the invited talk of Secretary Arne Duncan at the AERA 2013 Annual Meeting.
• Resist actions and public narratives that signify complicity in privatization and corporatization of education and educational research.
• Name the corporate incursion for what it is and refusing to participate in the discourses and practices of standardization and corporatization.
• Foster and encourage educational research that represents diversity of thought, methodology, and cultural/social/political privilege. Consciously seek to create space and allocate resources for historically underrepresented voices.

These initiatives are a starting point; this collaborative endeavor will certainly shift and flex as its members struggle to define, discuss, create, and share meanings together in this political project.