AERA Convenes Global Community for Reflection, Presidential Presentation, and Rededication
AERA Convenes Global Community for Reflection, Presidential Presentation, and Rededication

April  2020

AERA held a virtual “Worldwide Gathering for Reflection, Presentation, and Rededication” on Sunday, April 19, which convened 2,450 researchers, education leaders, educators, and other viewers from 76 countries. Held during the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic and a month after the cancellation of the 2020 AERA Annual Meeting, this historic Zoom-based event featured AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine, President Vanessa Siddle Walker (Emory University), and President-Elect Shaun Harper (University of Southern California).

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine

The centerpiece of the event was the presidential talk by Walker, titled “Once Upon a Time in a World Left Behind: A Historical Script of Power and Possibilities.” The event also featured Walker passing the virtual gavel—with chimes instead of a gavel—to Harper, to mark the start of his one-year term as AERA president.  

Levine kicked off the live online gathering by welcoming the global audience that spanned fields of scholarship and professions, and speaking to the pernicious circumstances facing individuals and society and the personal and professional challenges facing researchers.

“It is almost unimaginable, but together we can begin shaping and thinking about what the future must be,” Levine said. “We are today one big family.” 

She reaffirmed AERA’s commitment to advancing the scholarly enterprise around the world, noting, “We are indeed trying to provide the resources that support not only our communities but also those who use the knowledge that we provide and produce. We are making resources available to connect knowledge-based research and the work that others do.”

Levine remarked on the impact of the pandemic, particularly on early career scholars and graduates who are “experiencing stress or pain and sometimes illness” and whose “career lines are being disrupted in untold ways.”

She said that AERA and the Spencer Foundation had just announced the launch of a study on the impact of Covid-19 on this professionally vulnerable group of scholars. The project will assess the pressing needs facing these individuals and what might be important in a “recovery plan” for addressing them. 

2019 - 2020 AERA President Vanessa Siddle
Walker (Emory University)

Levine then introduced Walker, noting the AERA president had been scheduled to give her Presidential Address that day at the Annual Meeting in San Francisco. She welcomed her to this gathering as the right president as a scholar and a leader for this time.

Walker began her talk by reflecting on the genesis of the 2020 AERA Annual Meeting theme, “The Power and Possibilities for the Public Good When Researchers and Organizational Stakeholders Collaborate,” and what it would look like to engage educational stakeholders in the meeting. 

Walker shared a personal narrative of how struck she was when she learned about AERA's departure from the National Education Association (NEA) in 1968, during a time when big national challenges of school desegregation were underway. She said that when AERA disconnected from NEA it inadvertently lost an opportunity to engage directly with top education stakeholders. 

Walker, an acclaimed education historian, detailed the history of black intellectuals and teachers as they built and led their own education organizations—in particular, the American Teachers Association (ATA)—during the years of de jure Southern segregation. After the failure of Reconstruction, groups of black educators organized themselves to solve problems collectively, because southern affiliates of NEA excluded them, explained Walker. 

“Organization was a way to put minds together to solve the problems, if you will, by any means necessary,” said Walker. “In addition to using their organization to figure out how to solve the problems, they were also trying to figure out how to use their Black organizations to get local Black communities on board with their plans for change.” 

This intersection of scholarship and practice was a hallmark of Black education organizations, said Walker, and what was lost when AERA and NEA split in 1968, just two years after NEA merged with ATA. 

Walker noted that it was not until 2006 that AERA included “serve the public good” in its mission statement. “Now we are making great progress on it,” said Walker. “Our programming over the years has definitely taken on ‘How can we serve the public good?’ in a variety of ways.”

Walker added that there are further opportunities for public engagement for the organization and the field. "We need to reconnect more intentionally with stakeholders who share concern for the same problems,” Walker said. "We could accomplish what did not happen in 1966. With the talent, data, space, and equipment, we could expertly blend the two traditions of scholarship: doing good research and serving the public good."

2020-2021 AERA President Shaun Harper (University of Southern California)

After her talk, Walker noted the importance of continuity and change and transferred the AERA presidency to Shaun Harper, who officially began his one-year term on April 21, 2020, at 3:45 pm EDT. In his comments, Harper announced the 2021 AERA Annual Meeting theme: "Accepting Educational Responsibility.” 

"The theme is as much about schooling as it is about the social context in which schooling occurs,” said Harper. 

He explained the theme invites AERA members and other annual meeting attendees to embrace their identities as citizens and as scholars; acknowledge the role that educational structures, policies, and practices play in sustaining inequities in societies around the world; do more with what they know and make research more actionable; and, as individuals, commit to address social problems with research-informed, unapologetic action. 

Harper welcomed Walker and Levine back on the screen to conclude the virtual event with a rededication, with each of the three holding up a glass in a toast. 

Group rededication and toast

“During this time of global disaster and unimaginable human suffering, we first and foremost rededicate ourselves to personal wellness and compassionate demonstrations of care for others,” said Harper. “We also rededicate ourselves to using what we know as educational researchers to heal people and communities, to improve and equalize learning in every space it is supposed to occur, to correct educational and social injustices, and to reject apolitical stances on problems that are in need of evidence-based action from courageous citizen-scholars.”

“And finally we rededicate ourselves to the love of learning, to the intellectual curiosities, and to the personal missions that first compelled each of us to become researchers,” Harper concluded.

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