AERA Statement on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting
AERA Statement on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

For Immediate Release:
November 2, 2018

Tony Pals,
(202) 238-3235, (202) 288-9333 (cell)

Collin Boylin,
(202) 238-3233, (860) 490-8326 (cell)

Statement by the American Educational Research Association on the Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting

November 2, 2018

The American Educational Research Association mourns the loss of 11 more people senselessly killed at the hands of bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism, the latest in a pattern that has become pervasive in our country. Last Saturday, a single gunman rendered an unspeakable act of violence against Jewish people engaged in prayer at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

We at AERA extend our sympathy to the families, friends, and colleagues who have most immediately suffered this loss. Joyce Feinberg, a member of the education research community and formerly staff at the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh, was one of the victims. She was also a member of AERA and our Division of Learning and Instruction until her retirement in 2008. Her work led her to conduct research in schools and in informal education settings such as museums. In this most recent violent event, Joyce Feinberg lost her life. But her work sends a message about where solutions may lie.

In recent years, we have witnessed multiple acts of violence, including school shootings; the killings of dozens of unarmed black men, women, and children; hate crimes against gays; and white supremacy marches. While each of these violent acts is different, they share elements of hate and anger that research from our field can address. For decades, members of our association have carefully studied the root causes of racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and xenophobia, and we have evidence of how schools and other educational institutions can be sites of healing and transformation.

For instance, we know that early socialization with people of different racial, ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds, under the right conditions, has a more powerful positive influence on lifelong perspectives than does later exposure. We also know that direct and continuing interaction with people of diverse backgrounds and perspectives can, when thoughtfully implemented, enhance respectful relationships and inter-group understanding.

Research in the field of education provides abundant examples of what those inter-group interactions and shared learning experiences should look like. There are effective research-based violence prevention programs that can be introduced and further refined and tested in schools and the informal educational spaces that Joyce taught us about. In addition, we have knowledge of how to teach and construct formal and informal curricula that can reduce hate and prejudice rather than ignore or perpetuate it. We also know that curricula that do not center or privilege one viewpoint or perspective help students see value in cultural expressions that are too often marginalized in a predominantly white and Christian nation. Teaching young people the value of other ways of knowing makes them less hostile toward those who are different.

Finally, we know from the research the power that adult authority figures have over children in shaping their beliefs and behaviors, and we see daily illustrations that too few adults have led by example to create and foster a more respectful and peaceful society.

What we know already can be better disseminated, used, and applied. AERA has held public events and scholarly sessions around this agenda. But we know that these issues must be studied further and researchers must work more closely with educators to derive more promising practices in schools and classrooms that can be models for others. We renew our call to the education research community to enlarge our focus on work that addresses racism, antisemitism, homophobia, and xenophobia.  

Tragedies such as the mass shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh lead us to reaffirm our research call to action and to work side-by-side with the thousands of educators who know that our field has the knowledge and commitment to prevent further violence. In the memory of our colleague Joyce and others who have lost their lives to violence in recent years, we renew our commitment to the potential of education to free us from hatred and reduce the divisions and inequality that erode democratic ideals.   

- Felice J. Levine, AERA Executive Director
- Amy Stuart Wells, AERA 2018–19 President

# # #

About AERA 
The American Educational Research Association (AERA) is the largest national interdisciplinary research association devoted to the scientific study of education and learning. Founded in 1916, AERA advances knowledge about education, encourages scholarly inquiry related to education, and promotes the use of research to improve education and serve the public good. Find AERA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.