Chicanas From Outer Space: Educational research is an education!

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Tue May 9 13:07:48 UTC 2006

May 08, 2006, 6:02 a.m.

Chicanas From Outer Space: Educational research is an education!

By Frederick M. Hess & Laura LoGerfo

Amidst relentless warnings that America's schools are graduating only
two-thirds of 18-year-olds, are failing to produce the scientists and
engineers we need, and need to address stubborn racial achievement gaps,
more than 14,000 of the nation's education researchers gathered recently
in San Francisco for the annual meeting of the American Educational
Research Association (AERA). Their task is not easy. Former AERA president
David C. Berliner has explained in Educational Researcher, a prestigious
education journal, that education research is "the hardest science of
all." Berliner argued that educational science is much harder than
"splitting either atoms or genes"  because those who study schooling find
their research confounded by "the ordinary events of life" such as "a
messy divorce, a passionate love affair, hot flashes, a birthday party,
alcohol abuse...[or] rain that keeps the children from a recess outside
the school building." Clearly, these scholars in San Francisco would have
no time for the frivolity one might find at a gathering of biochemists or

It was quickly made evident that the scholars had buckled down to the
crucial, serious work at hand. Professors had unflinchingly tackled each
of the five major fields of educational inquiry: imperialism; ghetto
culture; hegemonic oppression and right-thinking multiculturalism:
cyber-jargon; and the utterly incomprehensible. There was also some boring
work on questions like student achievement and policy evaluation, but you
only had to follow the crowds to see where the action was. Flipping open
the two-inch-thick program of research presentations, no responsible
educator concerned about imperialism could bear to miss the session that
featured "Na Wahine Mana: A Postcolonial Reading of Classroom Discourse on
the Imperial Rescue of Oppressed Hawaiian Women," "Every Shut Eye Ain't
Sleep and Every Goodbye Ain't Gone: Paradoxes of Race in the Production of
Political Knowledge of Decolonizing Nationhood," and "Written On, Written
Over, but Refusing to be Written Off: Indigenous Educators Teaching in the

Possibilities for future research abound. If shut eyes are not sleeping,
are they absorbing algebra? Where do goodbyes go when they are not gone?
And, of course, is the empire likely to strike back? If it does, how many
oppressed Hawaiian women will be further victimized by the postcolonial
discourse? Researchers seeking to celebrate ghetto culture were riveted by
the scholarship of "Ho No Mo': A Qualitative Investigation of Adolescent
Female Language Reclamation and Rejection." A subsequent piece of
research, "'He's Driving a BMW and I'm Riding the Bus': Examining
Spirituality in Urban Youths' Lives," no doubt delved into the question of
what happens after the ho's are no mo'. Meanwhile, the burning issue of
hip hop pedagogies was explored by the research session on "Black
Language, Literacy, and Liberation: The Promises and Challenges of
Critical Hip Hop Language Pedagogies."

Those more interested in hegemonic oppression could not afford to miss
"The Formation of the Subjectivity of Mail-Order Brides in Taiwan and
Their Educational Strategies Toward Their Children." The import of an
oppressive "majority culture" was tackled in a provocative piece that
unfortunately suffered from a limited sample size: "Translating,
Paraphrasing, Helping: Coming of Age for One Child of Immigrants." One
scholar of multiculturalism showed how to do away with injustice and
racism, while promoting compassion and wisdom, in "Resisting Resistance:
Using Eco-Justice and Eco-Racism to Awaken Mindfulness, Compassion, and
Wisdom in Preservice Teachers."

Other work promised to promote proper multicultural teacher attitudes, as
with "Teaching White Preservice Teachers: Pedagogical Responses to
Color-Blind Ideology" and "Overcoming Odds: Preparing Bilingual
Paraeducators to Teach for Social Justice." Breakthrough research on this
front included "Discovering Collage as a Method in Researching
Multicultural Lives" and "Artistic Code-Switching in a Collaged Book on
Border Identity and Spanglish." Among the panels tackling the pressing
questions of "queer studies"  (formerly "gay and lesbian studies") were
"Queering Schooling and (Un)Doing the Public Good: Rubbing Against the
Grain for Schooling Sexualities," "The Silence at School: An Ethnodrama
for Educators About the School Experiences of Gay Boys," and "Working
Against Heterosexism and Homophobia Through Teacher Inquiry."
Unfortunately, this work may have seemed a bit conventional to those
researchers fortunate enough to catch the 2004 analysis of ableist
oppression in homoerotic magazines:  "Unzipping the Monster Dick:
Deconstructing Ableist Representations in Two Homoerotic Magazines."

Cyber-jargon is a rapidly growing field, with scholars tackling such
pressing questions as what happens when dyads co-quest in Quest Atlantis.
One intriguing session included scholarly analyses that tackled "The
'Unofficial' Literacy Curriculum: Popular Websites in Adolescents'
Out-of-School Lives," "Not Just the OMG Standard: Reader Feedback in
Online Fan Fiction," and "English-Language Learning in a 3-D Virtual
Environment: Native/Non-Native Speaker Dyads Co-Questing in Quest
Atlantis." Perhaps the most stimulating work was that penned by authors
who dabble in utter incomprehensibility. The allure of this work resides
partly in trying to discern what the authors are actually talking about.
Scholarship like "Semiotics and Classroom Interaction: Mediated Discourse,
Distributed Cognition, and the Multimodal Semiotics of Maguru Panggul
Pedagogy in Two Balinese Gamelan Classrooms in the United States" and
"Education a la Silhouette and the Necessary Semiotically Informed
Alternative" leaves one a bit breathless.

Other work that may not be quite as dazzling, but nevertheless boasted its
own pleasing bouquet of complexity, included "Fostering a Distributed
Community of Practice Among Tribal Environmental Professionals During
Professional Development Courses" and "Vygotskian Semiotic Conception and
Representational Dialogue in Mathematics Education." Of course, beckoning
any researcher truly concerned about teaching and learning was the
Presidential Session that featured a compelling new paper: "'Mami, What
Did Nana Say?' Public School and the Politics of Linguistic Genocide."
This special session called to mind one of the more compelling papers
presented at a past AERA: "Chicanas From Outer SpaceChupacabras, Selena as
Marian Image, and Other Tales from the Border."

Perhaps none of this should surprise. After all, Nel Noddings, the
president of the National Academy of Education, spoke for many education
researchers when she complained, "Why the emphasis on experimental and
quasi-experimental research, when there's so much other good stuff out
there, I don't know." Given the challenges facing our schools, and the
fact that most of these researchers are supported and employed by public
institutions, it might make sense for educational researchers to devote
attention to analyzing public policy, improving teaching and learning, and
addressing the practical concerns of parents and teachers. Such topics
were pursued in San Francisco, of course, but if those engaged in serious
work want their work to be accorded the respect they seek, they need to
emerge from their hushed sessions and do something about the prominent
place their profession grants to scholarship that promotes narrow values,
spouts incomprehensible nonsense, and studies the semiotic
conceptualization of hegemonic linguistic genocide (or dyadic co-questing
in Quest Atlantis).

Frederick M. Hess is director of education policy studies at the American
Enterprise Institute. Laura LoGerfo is a researcher with a Ph.D. in
educational psychology from the University of Michigan.


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