Fighting for and Reimagining Public Education: Rounding Up This Year’s AERA Conference

As conference season continues, we’re building on last week’s post about the CIES conference in Mexico City. This week, we’re reflecting on some of the many compelling work from this year’s AERA conference held last week in New York City. The conference’s theme was “the dreams, possibilities, and necessity of public education.” As many of the presenters and panels offered, fighting for public education is possible in looking to change and improve schools and systems. At the same time, presenters pushed at the very meaning of the conference themes, showing the possibility of thinking about public education in new ways; challenging and showing the potential for systems to change; and asking who is part of public education, in what ways.



Opening the conference on Friday afternoon, a range of scholars gathered on a panel about Maxine Greene:

Dreaming in Greene: Reframing Contemporary Educational Policy, Practice, and Research Through Maxine Greene’s Critical Lens

The 2018 Call bears Maxine Greene’s imprint: to tackle threats to public education, to equitable opportunity, and to respect for diversity, justice, and human dignity in all educative endeavors. 
Described in The New York Times obituary as “one of the most important education philosophers of the past 50 years,” Greene enacted a social vision and agency that fuels current fights for social justice. Symposium participants honor what would have been Maxine’s 100th year of life in 2018; further, they detail how Maxine’s work compels us still to “speak out . . . about the lacks that must be repaired, the possibilities to be acted upon in the name of what [we] deem decent, humane, and just” (Greene, 1978, p. 71).

Presenters such as Bill Ayers and Janet Miller engaged in conversation with Gloria Ladson-Billings (who also won AERA’s Division B Lifetime Achievement Award this year) and Michelle Fine to explore the lessons of Maxine Greene and, to use Ayers’ terms, articulate “a fresh and improved three “r’s”—reimagine, resist, rebuild—a project to reimagine schooling from top to bottom, challenging the politics and policies that dominate so much of the educational debates, and leaning toward a possible world, a world that could be but is not yet.”


From the Educational Change SIG, from whom we post Lead the Change interviews, several panels and symposia took up the conference theme to show genuine possibilities for systemic change.

The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Educators’ Professional Learning in North America

Connecting to AERA 2018’s theme of “The Dreams, Possibilities, and Necessity of Public Education”, this symposium positions equitable access to high-quality professional learning for teachers and school leaders as an integral component of public education in North America. Drawing on findings from a major study of educators’ professional learning in Canada, reviews of the international literature and commentary from experts in the US and abroad, this symposia will present and discuss opportunities and challenges for teachers to experience meaningful and impactful professional learning, with an emphasis on two enabling conditions– resourcing (both human and financial) and teacher federations with strong professional agendas.


Andy Hargreaves, colleagues from University of Toronto’s OISE, and other scholars working in Ontario explored the state of and necessary resources for professional learning in North America. The papers all addressed a critical gap in the potential in studying professional learning across Canada and in other countries.

Others gathered for a symposium on “The State and Future of the Out-of-School Time Field”

This symposium serves to highlight five core themes emerging in the out-of-school time (OST) field: positive youth development as a key frame for child and youth engagement and learning both in school and beyond; the role of mentors and authentic contexts in supporting diverse populations, in particular, traditionally underserved and underrepresented children and youth; the need for meaningful professional development of youth-serving professionals; and the rise of social-emotional skills as a vehicle for 21st century learning. Through thought provoking qualitative analysis, the presenters examine how the field has evolved over the past twenty years and where the research agenda might be headed. Together, the papers take a comprehensive stock as to where the OST field is and its future directions.


Friend of the blog and SIG chair Helen Janc Malone chaired this panel and co-edited a recently released book on the subject. Presenters here argued for the same dreams and possibilities for public education, but focused on different spaces and partnerships to work toward that goal.

In a thematically related roundtable, researchers gathered to explore the possibilities of “Transforming Schools Through Community-Driven Organizational Thinking”

In one session in particular, Lea Hubbard and Amanda Datnow took up:

the essential question of how school leaders work to introduce teachers to innovations in education. The purpose of this paper is to present findings from a qualitative comparative case study of two U.S. schools that place Design Thinking (DT) an innovative instructional approach to education at the core of their theory of action. This study examines the actions and dispositions of school leaders in supporting DT and discusses implications for educational change. Both principals recognized and communicated the values of DT, established structural supports, and addressed cultural aspects of change. However, their approaches varied in key ways that led to school wide support for DT in one setting, and waning support in another.



Other scholars challenged the very ideas and functions of schooling, but with a critical eye equally focused on equity.

The Idea(l) of Deschooling: International and Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on a Continuing Debate

This panel, which brings together scholars from Europe and Latin America, will present historical and philosophical perspectives on the notion of deschooling, considered both as idea and ideal. As an idea, it epithomizes the critique of schooling as part of the institutionalization and bureaucratization of education, a critique famously represented by Ivan Illich’s work but that has a longer history in educational thought. As an ideal, it proposes the end of the mediation of teachers and curriculum, which will be replaced by learning networks or systems –usually machinic. The panel wants to explicitly engage with AERA 2018’s main theme, focusing on past and present challenges to schooling and how they have expanded or curtailed the dreams of public education.

In this symposium, historian Daniel Tröhler, philosophers Jan Masschelein and Maarten Simons, and others gathered to debate the notion of deschooling in light of this year’s theme.


Words We Never Said

In this interactive symposium, four prominent education studies scholars will present their perspectives and takes on the question, “What are the words that we dare not speak in education?” With an intention to respectfully but intentionally disrupt long-standing assumptions of goals and approaches, this session purposefully prioritizes the perspectives of established scholars from nondominant populations. From our varied positions, we agitate and unsettle taken-for-granteds of the goals of education and the practices of education research.

In this panel, Leigh Patel, Eve Tuck, Michael Dumas, and R. L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy gathered to challenge traditional understandings of education, schooling, and the possibility of both to achieve the aims the conference presents.


Through the range of ideas and work presented at this year’s conference, themes emerged of both the possibilities and problems for public education. A consistent theme, however, could be found in the possibility of using different ways of thinking to engage these issues.

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