AERA 2020 President Shaun Harper Calls on Researchers to Accept Responsibility for Educational and Social Problems
AERA 2020 President Shaun Harper Calls on Researchers to Accept Responsibility for Educational and Social Problems

April 2021

In this year’s Presidential Address, “We Share Responsibility,” 2020 AERA President Shaun R. Harper inspired researchers to accept individual and collective responsibility for complex educational and social problems.

Harper’s address started with a video highlighting the past year’s major news stories, from the murder of George Floyd and violent attacks on Asian Americans to children of migrants in cages and the Capitol insurrection. Harper then asked audience members to reflect on education researchers’ responsibility to improve conditions for schoolchildren and to fight the “evils in education.” 

“An evil education lies to children and defaults to deficit mindsets for children of color,” said Harper. “It traumatizes students of color with White supremacist tests that tell them they are not smart or good or qualified. It is ‘separate but equal’ and normalizes school segregation.”

After showing a photo of four elementary school teachers in Palmdale, California, smiling while posing with a noose, one of the most hateful symbols of racial terrorism, Harper reflected on how these teachers had not learned about lynching in their own K–12 education.

“Racial inequities in education persist, in part, because people who are meant to address the inequities are never taught what to do,” Harper said. “We, those who prepare educators, never taught them what to do and are partly responsible for educators’ racist actions.”

Harper provided other examples of how people who have taken horrible actions graduated from the U.S. educational system. “The legislators who are pushing anti-trans laws in many states, the White nationalists who stormed the Capitol, and Derek Chauvin, who murdered George Floyd, all went to our schools,” said Harper.

In describing how individual and collective action can defeat evil, Harper presented a citizen-scholar model that aims to make research helpful in addressing threats to democracy, the miscarriage of justice in and out of schools, and various acts of violence against diverse populations in the U.S. and across the globe.

"What is a citizen-scholar? A true citizen-scholar talks to the people, not just to other scholars. True citizen-scholars ask how they can help, and take their research findings and apply them in communities," said Harper.

He added, “Citizen-scholars translate what they know beyond academia, amplify research by scholars of color, relentlessly search for a ‘vaccine’ to treat injustices, and join with others within and outside their fields.”

Throughout the address, Harper emphasized courage, actionable intelligence, transdisciplinary collaboration, and inclusive coalitions that meaningfully engage the public. It is through these approaches, concluded Harper, that researchers can “use what you know to fight evil in our schools and in our society.”