What does the acquittal of Zimmerman have to do with educational research?

trayvon martin

I write this still reeling from the Zimmerman verdict that verified, again, that the infrastructure of this nation is one built to support and maintain white supremacy. My social media feeds are flooded by the posts of pain, anger, and resentment that people of color are feeling as they are reminded of the core truths about this nation. Many of my educational researcher colleagues are also likely preparing their proposals this week to present at the American Educational Research Association that takes place every spring.

What does one have to do with the other? Everything. Schooling is one of the key locations of social reproduction in society. That means, put less academically, that schools are one of the core spaces where some are privileged and others are marginalized. It is where standards of competency and images of intellect are conveyed, all culturally based and typically, biased. Schools, as a part of a nation built on white supremacy, reflect this culture. From pedagogy and curriculum to policy and private interests, schools do the bidding of a nation constructed to eradicate indigenous populations, ensure that populations of color are trained to populate low-income home, work, and incarceration spaces, and maintain property right for European Americans.

Educational research undoubtedly figures into this equation and therefore we must ask what our research does to advance, topple, or create alternatives outside of this deliberate design of domination. As we prepare our proposals and proofread the required sections of theoretical framework, research methodology, and significance, let us do so with some modicum of answerability to the ways in which schooling has acted, for centuries, to name indigenous peoples as savage to treat them savagely, African American people as thugs to treat them thuggishly, and immigrant populations as peripheral to place them on the side. Higher education and the research industrial complex is a fundamental part of this landscape and calculus of schooling as social reproduction. We might have statements about social justice, but I would argue the proliferation of for-profit colleges and soaring student debt speaks much more loudly than those mission statements. We, like every other sector of society, are part of this mix.

Therefore, the proposals that we prepare should minimally, explicitly address how the research we present addresses a system the requires individualistic ideas of meritocracy to maintain a white heteropatriarchal supremacy. Meritocracy tells us that if we work hard, play by the rules, and are good people, this system will reward us. Put in terms of higher education, this is the logic used to position publications in high status journals as the sure route to promotion and tenure. In terms of K-12 schooling, it comes down to the grades and, increasingly, test scores.

So, for AERA, if the research is about increasing those beloved test scores, let us at least be explicit about what Eve Tuck implores social science to do and address the working theory of change: how exactly will the better scores alter the “open season on black boys” as Gary Younge put it so eloquently? A bit more broadly construed, how might this research help different populations locate their social advantage and act responsibly from those places, as this tumblr seeks to do?

Educators and educational researchers often work from the theory that with a good education, social mobility and achievement and safety is likely in the United States. Trayvon Martin was an honor student with a 3.7 GPA and had a full-ride scholarship to a college. He played by those rules of meritocracy, but Zimmerman played by the much more fundamental rules of white supremacy and violence and was duly rewarded by the state of Florida. I don’t imagine educational research to be able to speak to the triage needs that many of us are feeling right now, but neither should it require six steps of imaginative extrapolation to address explicitly systems of codified colonialism, racism, and patriarchy. The stakes are too high.

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