Critical Lessons & Educational Change



“The engaged voice must never be fixed and absolute but always changing, always evolving in a dialogue with a world beyond itself.” (hooks, 1994, p. 11)

Hello World – the ubiquitous wordpress blog first entry – seems to especially fit the purpose of this website.

For two years, I have taught EDU 781 – Institutions & Processes in Education – at Syracuse University. This course – a requirement for graduate students in Ph.D. programs from across departments in the School of Education – covers:

  • institutions of education including the public’s interest in education from the perspectives of political economy, sociology, psychology, history, and philosophy
  • social contexts and processes of learning
  • uses of data in judgment

That’s the official course description from the graduate course catalog, as it’s stood for some time.

As I began teaching this course, I decided early on to focus on the theme of engaged scholarship and more specifically:

  • Critical Lessons and Educational Change

Critical lessons … in regard to critical analyses that address serious issues of persisting inequalities in educational systems, bridging K-12 and higher education processes and experiences.

Critical lessons … in regard to content and current debates, cross-disciplinary research findings and collaborative approaches that doctoral students in education should know about and be prepared to engage.

Syracuse University is a great place to explore practices of public scholarship. Scholarship in Action, Imagining America, SAY YES and a number of other prominent educational change efforts reside here. These efforts are both nationally and locally visible. Yet, there is so much work to be done still and for many, even within this institution, the names of these initiatives are heard often but only infrequently learned about in deep and meaningful ways. This is unfortunate, as the truth is that initiatives of this scale require deep learning and serious engagement across people, across institutions, and across years.

These existing projects provide examples, but far more importantly this course is about further imagining possibilities. It’s also about taking the risk of practicing this even when it feels uncomfortable, too time consuming, too “out of the [academic or disciplinary] box,” or not “relevant for me” or “my” students. The School of Education identifies itself as a national leader in urban inclusive education; this requires at its core connecting graduate studies, theory and research, with practice and experiences in diverse public settings.

I’m in good company emphasizing these issues. Both this year’s (2011) and next year’s (2012) AERA – American Educational Research Association – conferences focus on this theme. Specifically, the 2012 call for proposals spells out why all educators must engage questions of how best to link, intersect, move between, merge, and make messy the boundaries of research and practice. As the call specifies, this is a part of our professional and ethical responsibility. In addition, this summer (2011) SPSSI – the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues – celebrates its 75th anniversary in Washington, DC. It is this SPSSI tradition of directly addressing current social issues that was one of the best parts of my graduate education in social psychology at the University of Michigan, and earlier at Cornell, and I seek to build on this rich multidisciplinary history while supporting future educators in considering how they will greet the world.

What’s Here

This website currently shares some of the student work from EDU 781 offered during Fall 2010 and Fall 2009.

I’ve featured two aspects of course requirements here:

Collaborative action proposals – Students worked in groups of 3 to 4 students across education fields, and academic and professional experiences, to propose an engaged scholarship project addressing local and/or broader issues and drawing from the course reading and discussions.

Public scholarship letters – Students ended the course by writing a letter to a public official, another educator or researcher or teacher, a student or child, or other family members. These letters were composed after students immersed themselves in letters published by prominent educators and researchers including letters addressed to these different individuals (some known closely, others only from afar).

I like that sharing these letters online draws from a more traditional and personal form of communication and distributes it publicly and more widely via the web. Both students and I found the letters moving, personal, and strong, they exercised a different kind of voice, and one that I felt should be heard by others too. They gladly and generously gave permission for the sharing through this site.

What’s to Come …

I hope conversations with others outside the class and the opportunity to build still more collaborative community towards educational change.

Thanks for visiting, we look forward to reading what you write.

Author: Gretchen Lopez

Gretchen Lopez, Ph.D. is Director of the Intergroup Dialogue Program and Assistant Professor of Cultural Foundations of Education in the School of Education at Syracuse University. She received her Ph.D. in social psychology from the University of Michigan, and B.A. from Cornell University.

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