2013 Brown Lecture Draws Record Audience
2013 Brown Lecture Draws Record Audience
2013 Brown Lecture Draws Record Audience

November 2013

On Thursday, October 24, an audience of more than 650 in person and another 430 online heard Professor Gary Orfield (University of California, Los Angeles) deliver AERA’s Tenth Annual Brown Lecture: “A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education: Creating Opportunity in a Stratified Multiracial Nation.”


Orfield’s compelling lecture drew the largest audience in the history of the event. It also sparked a flurry of activity on Twitter, where the hashtag #AERABrownLecture was a top-trending topic as viewers posted quotes and comments during the address. In addition, the event was covered by several national media outlets, including U.S. News & World Report and Education Week.


Opening Remarks From AERA President Barbara Schneider and Richard Duran


AERA President Barbara Schneider welcomed the audience and extended an invitation to the 2014 AERA Annual Meeting in Philadelphia (April 3–7, 2014), themed “The Power of Education Research for Innovation in Practice and Policy.”


“In many respects, the theme captures the purposes of the Brown Lecture,” said Schneider. “Throughout the history of ideas, scholars have needed to be bold and willing to ask and confront powerful questions that some have been afraid to address.”


The Brown Lecture was inaugurated in 2004 not only to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown vs. Board of Education, but also to “acknowledge the best and courageous social scientists willing to bring innovative ideas and methods to understand the pernicious and persisting problems of racial inequality in society,” Schneider said.


In introducing Orfield, Richard Duran, chair of the Brown Lecture Selection Committee, noted, “There is no more timely or qualified speaker for us to hear this evening. As we approach the 60th anniversary of the Brown v. Board of Education decision, issues of equal educational opportunity remain woefully unresolved and civil rights for all still struggles to find its footing.”


“Professor Orfield believes research matters,” said Duran. “He brings the highest standards to the science he produces and to the critical eye he brings to his as well as the work of others. “


A New Civil Rights Agenda for American Education


Orfield opened with a broad statement about civil rights legislation, stressing that over the past two decades, there has been a serious dismantling of key civil rights laws with no positive initiatives.


“What is ‘civil rights’ and what do we need to face up to?” asked Orfield. “We’re nearly 60 years after the Brown decision, and we haven’t solved the issues that it raised.”


Orfield’s lecture addressed the lack of awareness of racial inequality in the United States. More segregated today than when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. passed away, many students face educational disadvantages made worse by housing segregation, diminishing attention in social policy, and a general ignorance about how people can work together in a modern multiracial society. A key step in effective policy, according to Orfield, is legislation that takes race into account.


“The policies that came out of civil rights were not colorblind, they were color conscious,” said Orfield. “We now think that we can safely ignore [the problem of race] and blame communities of color for their own inequality.”


An effective solution would address issues in public schools and central cities, while also making significant revisions to pre-K and postsecondary education. “The Head Start programs are not good enough,” said Orfield. “College now is as essential as high school was in the 1960s.”


Orfield advocated better research on institutional discrimination to help diminish stereotypes and deliver successful plans. He urged researchers and educators to talk to each other and said researchers should “stop feeling sorry for ourselves that we can’t do anything.”


“We need to realize that racial inequality and separation are self-perpetuating—they spread geographically and through generations,” said Orfield. He ended by declaring, “The movement begins when the people decide that injustice is unacceptable.”


The 2013 Brown Lecture Selection Committee included AERA President Barbara Schneider, AERA Executive Director Felice Levine, Richard Duran (committee chair), Shaun Harper, April Taylor, AERA Past President Bill Tierney, and AERA Director of Social Justice and Professional Development George Wimberly.


The lecture was made possible through the generous support of 14 Friends of Brown: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, American Institutes for Research, American Political Science Association, American Sociological Association, Association for the Study of Higher Education, Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation, ETS, George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development, History of Education Society, National Academy of Education, SAGE Publications, Spencer Foundation, University of California Los Angeles Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, and University of Maryland College Park College of Education.


Click here to view the full Brown Lecture on the AERA YouTube Channel.


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