GSC Annual Meeting
 
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President: Amy Stuart Wells
Program Co-Chairs: Jennifer Jellison Holme and Janelle T. Scott
 
Leveraging Education Research in a “Post-Truth” Era:
Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence

“Before mass leaders seize the power to fit reality to their lies, their propaganda is marked by its extreme contempt for facts as such, for in their opinion fact depends entirely on the power of the man who can fabricate it.”
                                Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951, p. 350)

“. . . A persistent propaganda campaign had been spread as slave labor began to increase in value, to prove by science and religion that black men were not real men; that they were a sub-species fit only for slavery.”
                                W. E. B. Du Bois, In Battle for Peace (1952, p. 128)

 

In 2016, the Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year was post-truth, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Indeed, we see daily examples of policy issues—from climate change to immigration—in which appeals by powerful leaders to personal beliefs and emotions hold more sway than objective facts and evidence. And while Du Bois reminds us that “evidence” has also served racist agendas under the guise of objectivity, in the current political context, lies and misinformation coupled with what Arendt calls “contempt for facts” by powerful leaders regularly incite fear, hatred, and White supremacist protests, such as the one in Charlottesville, VA, in August 2017.

Juxtaposed, Arendt and Du Bois teach us that research evidence can be either used or rejected by those who seek to maintain a racial hierarchy in their quest for power. The question for education researchers is how, in a so-called “post-truth” political era when evidence is shunted and emotion is exploited, can we make our research matter to lessen inequality and increase educational opportunities? How do we have an impact when our most conscientious methodology—measuring, understanding, and communicating material and experiential “realities”—is increasingly discredited by those who construct alternate truths to serve their agendas? Furthermore, how can our findings speak to and of emotions such as fear and anxiety, which are regularly scapegoated onto the most marginalized individuals rather than attributed to their economic and social causes?

To make matters worse, at the same time that research is growing ever more marginalized, the interdisciplinary knowledge base of the field of education has been undermined by special interests bent on teacher-proofing pedagogy, fast-tracking professional preparation, and disregarding powerful evidence on child development in the quest for “data driven” results. In fact, some argue that we are transitioning from a society of facts and evidence to a society of unsystematically collected data, as smartphones, social media, and e-commerce make us all producers of “big data” that is mined to chart behavior patterns, especially those related to consumption and political leanings. In this context, systematic research that asks hard questions about how things came to be the way they are and why inequality persists can be dismissed as a remnant of Modernity. Education researchers are, therefore, experiencing the double bind of a disrespected craft in a disrespected field.

What we must do: Push back against the post-truth paradigm by demonstrating, with all the skill and energy we can muster, the value of our inquiry and the knowledge we generate—be it in the form of linear equations; deep, rich ethnographies; or Youth Participatory Action Research. We must mobilize interdisciplinary and mixed-method bodies of evidence that coalesce to tell powerful, empirically driven, and multimodal narratives connecting the findings of advanced statistics to the lived experiences of educators, students, and parents across multiple contexts.

 

 

GSC FIRESIDE CHATS 2019

For information regarding our programming for GRADUATE STUDENTS, contact our PROGRAM CHAIR, Lamar Foster for more details.

 

 
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