Friday, April 20, 2007

RED Campaign for Social Justice and Queer Lives at AERA 2007

People in red, and seeing red, made up the majority of attendees at AERA’s Social Justice Awards, Presidential Address and Open Business Meetings this year. People got creative and insistent with the color—crimson handbags, scarlet scarves, flame red wigs and lips, lots of red t’s and coats, ruby patent leather shoes, a red umbrella, a red paper-clip as lapel pin, even this red “rooster” mask.

Then there were all the seemingly-likely folks who chose not to wear red. What was that about?

AERA hired extra security and dimmed the lights for the Presidential event. Executive Director Felice Levine actually patrolled the aisles. Looking for trouble? The room was a sea of red; the whole conference was a red zone. I guess that was just too alarming. Still, it was a paranoid response to what was essentially a position backed up by a fashion event and a letter campaign.

The “Open” meeting was called by AERA leadership (at our suggestion, after they first suggested a private sit-down). There were three presentations listed on the agenda. After interminable committee reports, Bill Ayers was to go first, then Adrienne Dixson, the chair of AERA's Scholars and Advocates for Gender and Equity (SAGE), then an NCATE rep named Donna Gollnick. Bill gave a good speech exhorting us to not get distracted by procedural details, or what is "impossible," or litanies of mistakes made, but rather, to keep our attention on the moment we are living in and how the move by NCATE to exclude social justice and sexual orientation from the Professional Standards that shape teacher education is not accidental or isolated. The right is fighting for education, because education is powerful.

Mistakes were made, he said. It was a mistake for AERA's leadership to condone NCATE's excisions. But, he pointed out, we could all still do the right thing; AERA’s leadership could, too. He reminded the room that NCATE's deletions aren't just language games--they affect lives. Then five people stood, one at a time, and read youth testimony from the report, Hatred in the Hallways. Bill closed his speech by asking AERA to call on NCATE to return social justice and sexual orientation, and add gender identity, to the standards, and invited everyone in the room in support of that position to stand. There was a roar of applause and a wave of movement as people jumped to their feet (all except for a tiny number of AERA bureaucrats, who fidgeted, but stayed glued into their front-row seats).

Then it was Dixson's turn. There was a buzz at the front of the room; AERA officials conferred. President Eva Baker took the mic and said that she and Felice Levine were supposed to have prepared a statement for Dixson to read, but they hadn't, so Dixson wasn't going to speak. Wise choice—standing in support of AERA’s unanimous vote against asking NCATE to include social justice, sexual orientation and gender identity in the standards (especially after Bill’s powerful speech) would have looked like (and been) a defense of injustice.

Then Donna Gollnick talked. Yes, she said, NCATE had taken out social justice: It had become "a lightening rod" and a trigger for lawsuits. She suggested that the new “fairness” disposition was a good replacement. NCATE wouldn’t reinstate social justice, she said, though she invited us to offer recommendations about what should be part of the standards. Donna denied that they'd removed sexual orientation, but when we asked her about this after the meeting she agreed that an addition about using census categories could make it seem that way. Indeed.

Bill pointed out that NCATE's deletions and evasions are also a lightening rod, and reveal who calls the shots for NCATE—it cares more about some kinds of pressure that other kinds.

During Q&A, one after another, people stood and asked AERA to make a public statement in support of NCATE including social justice, sexual orientation and gender identity. Chair of Division B: Curriculum, David Flinders stood, on crutches, and said he had made a mistake when he voted with the rest of the Executive Board to refrain from making a statement to NCATE. He would now, he said, do "everything in my power" to remedy this bad decision.

Next, Eva Baker, the out-going president, took the mic and rambled for a while. She said she couldn't make a public statement on behalf of AERA, but really, she is so in support personally. She looked like she was close to tears.

Then Bill Tate, in-coming president, spoke. He seemed to be playing the role of tough daddy. We had to understand that we hadn't followed the right procedures, he said. He was now clear that the real problem is lack of procedures and transparency. He would make it his mission to work on those things. But “some people" act like organizations should change, instead of doing their homework and finding out what those organizations' missions are. He always considered AERA a "research organization." The implication being that “this”--the RED Campaign, lobbying AERA to lobby NCATE, protesting insults to humanity--isn't research. Then he said he was supposed to talk about next year in NY but he wouldn't now, and the meeting was officially over.

But before the room cleared we were shown a handwritten statement calling on NCATE to put back social justice and sexual orientation. It was signed by a majority of the Executive Council. So what now, AERA and NCATE?

The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the Campaign and events at AERA. Read the story, by David Glenn, "Academics Protest Education-Research Group's Silence on 'Social Justice'" online at this address:

Offer some suggestions about what should be included in the Standards; write to Donna Gollnick at

No comments: