April 30, 2012
Right after being at TEDMED I flew to Vancouver, British Columbia for the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). There are 25,000 members! And about half that number actually come to the five-day meeting. These are the folks who teach education courses at colleges and universities and train new educational researchers, their graduate students, directors and program people at research and evaluation organizations, deans and administrators and advocates. So many educated people!
I’m a long-time AERA member, I present something each year, and I just finished my tenure as chair of one of its many (SIGs) Special Interest Groups—Cultural-Historical Research. For three years I’ve been leading the effort to bring play and its importance to the learning process to AERA. This is no small task, as play is nowhere to be found in this organization. A look through the 300+ entries in the annual meeting program index comes up empty for play, performance and creativity (and overflowing with assessment, evaluation, curriculum studies, special education, and school reform). And a few years ago, a petition to form a Play SIG was denied by the association.
Be that as it may, my SIG—Cultural-Historical Research—is one of the very few that annually sponsors sessions on play and/or performance. And this year, we had a great one! For our meeting/social hour, we featured a brief talk by Graduate Student Award winner Tony Perone, and a panel organized by Carrie Lobman featuring play researchers/advocates Joan Almon (Alliance for Childhood), Mike Askew (Monash University), Andrew Burton (Street Spirits Theatre Company), Artin Göncü (University of Illinois-Chicago), and Jaime Martinez (NY Institute of Technology). They involved the audience in some simple play activities and each speaker was as passionate, compelling and playful as any TEDMED speaker I heard earlier that week. The crowd was small and it’s my hope that the new SIG officers will continue to reach out and build the play movement within AERA.
I also attended a session in which part of the discussion was how it was hard to be a Vygottskian educator in the US and countries that are following the US model (which, one speaker, called “a road to hell”). As it often does among researchers, the conversation among speakers and the audience turned to talk of teachers, including their “resistance.” My experience in these kinds of discussions is that they go nowhere fast. So, when called on I said I was speaking as a community organizer. I told them that one of my missions has been to make Vygotsky a household word by speaking with kids, parents— everyone—about learning and developing. Parents and students need to be let in on the way learning is understood, how they are being taught, and hear of other approaches including Vygotsky’s. I asked them why they were only speaking of and to teachers and urged them to open up the conversation about a Vygotskian understanding of the learning-developing process. I got some applause and sat down.
While its politics aren’t particularly conservative, AERA is very conservatively organized and structured and, as such, it contributes to its members remaining conservative—comfortable with what and who they already know and do, even if the impact on the everyday lives of children and educators is minimal. I’ll keep organizing!