Tag Archives: Urban Education Program

The Origins of TRAUE

TRAUEOn Wednesday, December 4, 2013, the online journal Theory, Research, and Action in Urban Education (TRAUE) launched its second issue. The journal was initiated by Jean Anyon in the Urban Education Program of the CUNY Graduate Center several years ago, in an effort to educate doctoral students on the process of peer-review; create a for-and-by-students space to develop ideas in theory, research, and action in urban education; and explore the possibilities of online publication (which was, at the time, an emerging medium for peer-reviewed scholarship). I was asked to share a few thoughts on the origins of TRAUE at the issue launch, and here are my comments in full. My sincerest thanks to the students and faculty who have worked diligently in the last few months to launch an exceptional contribution to scholarship. Jean would be proud:

I decided to read from notes for this event. As much as I want to talk from my heart on the spot, it’s still hard to speak about Jean without welling up. I thought reading something would help keep the tears at bay. And somehow, talking about Jean’s work with TRAUE from notes on an iPad seems apropos.

It’s hard to describe the origin of TRAUE without also sharing a slice of Jean’s technological journey. Although the boundaries between the ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ worlds no longer feel as distinct as they once did, there was a time less than a decade ago when many of us wondered if we could read and annotate articles solely online; conduct research via digital-only media; or if online peer-reviewed journals could really have the same respect and impact as those that appeared primarily in print. If we look back on just the last five years, it’s dizzying to think about how far we’ve come.

The changes in digital communication entered most of my conversations with Jean over the last eight years. I remember discussing the advantages of having a gmail account; the mind-boggling capabilities of Apple technologies; why I felt that blogs and social media provided a new and exciting place to listen to teachers. Jean was wary at first — unclear, as so many of us were, about how digital technologies might reframe and redirect our work as teachers, scholars, and activists; but her skepticism didn’t last long, and I remember when she finally made the switch from AOL to gmail, upgraded from a flip phone to an iPhone, and gave me the go-ahead to run with my research questions about identifying online spaces worthy of educational research. When she got an iPad, she sent a steady stream of texts, amazed and delighted at her discoveries in the App Store. She became fearless in her application of digital technologies in her research and daily communication, and in many ways, her approach to TRAUE embodies her courage and willingness to try something new at a time when others weren’t willing or able to take a similar risk.

Jean was onto something when she brought the idea of an online journal to the Urban Education program here at the CUNY Graduate Center back in the 2009-2010 school year. While the idea of online journals almost seems dated now, we were one of a handful of education doctoral programs exercising the possibility and potential for digital, peer-reviewed work.

Thinking back on those first few meetings of TRAUE, it was a messy but productive time. Jean would hold multiple meeting times, to make sure everyone who wanted to could participate. She spent endless hours helping us draft and redraft our explanations for the purpose and sections of the journal; she made sure to honor and listen to everyone’s voice; and most importantly, she left the decision-making up to us. She wanted TRAUE to be a journal for and by students; to be a place for doctoral students in our program to learn the process by which journals receive, review, and publish articles; and to draw together, well, theory, research, and action in urban education.

Like so many of us have discovered –and continue to discover — since Jean passed away, she provided a wide and deep network of people, projects, and ideas with which to continue her legacy. TRAUE is, in a way, one of her many parting gifts. It is a reminder that we shouldn’t wait to try out new ideas; that research in education is dynamic and changing more rapidly than ever; that the opportunities to effect change are shifting and full of hope (or at least full of the potential for hope).

I want to end by saying that so many people were involved in the origin and evolution of TRAUE, and while I am delighted and honored to share some of my personal thoughts on the process at this event, there would be no TRAUE without the dedication, hard work, and persistence of those people who worked diligently to get the first two issues published. Jean would be proud of us for carrying on her work of fighting for change, equity, and justice in education in an ever-changing world.

 

How Do I Even Express…

getting on the busAs many of you already know, we have lost a brilliant scholar, teacher, mentor, parent, and friend. Dr. Jean Anyon, whose work has impacted the lives of so many, passed suddenly but peacefully on Saturday, September 7, 2013, after a long battle with cancer. While her body battled inwardly to fend off the disease that ultimately consumed her, she worked tirelessly to dedicate her time, passion, and energy to her life’s work of teaching and contributing to — and often resisting — the academic canon.

When I first looked for PhD programs in the summer of 2004, I was in the midst of doing a dance with socialism as a then-member of a large organization fighting for change in our often contradictory society, and stumbled upon Jean’s article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” As a teacher in a school in Harlem with few supplies and policy-driven expectations that ratcheted up with every day that passed, I was in search of a language to help me unpack, understand, and resist what I witnessed on a daily basis: the overwhelming inequities inside the classrooms of New York City and beyond. Although there were multiple programs in which I thought I could do good work, I decided to take my chances and apply only to the CUNY Graduate Center (GC), in the hopes that I could study with Jean. Her work provided the missing link to helping me gain an understanding of how things really work within the education policy world, and I was eager to get started on the project of becoming a teacher educator under her tutelage.

I’ll never forget my first meeting with Jean, prior to submitting my application. I had read her book Ghetto Schooling and several other articles, and arrived at her office armed with copious notes and stacks of ideas for what I wanted to study at the GC, based on my experience as a NYC public school teacher. I remember her office door being open, and having her invite several current students in during our meeting to meet me. She immediately put me in touch with multiple students via email, so that I might ask questions and find out more about the program in a candid way before I applied. I was so grateful for this welcome. As she would many times throughout the years to come, Jean let me and countless others know repeatedly that we are part of an enormous network of people who share a desire to create a different kind of world. Those who knew her are all part of a community that she built, from the ground up.

As the following eight years passed in what now seems like a flash, I had my ups and downs as a graduate student. Like so many other students, I suffered heartbreak and loss, battled bouts of illness and writer’s block, and struggled through many email exchanges and phone calls in which Jean convinced me that I should stay in the program when I wanted desperately to leave — when I questioned if being a scholar would also allow me to be an activist for the work I wanted to do. Although I took longer than some to complete my PhD, she was my guiding light throughout the entire process. There are a number of memories that struck me last night, as I tried to fall asleep long after bed time. Thoughts of her wisdom, humor, and high expectations for her students cycled through my mind. I thought of:

  • the first time we talked about switching her email account from AOL to Google, and how she struggled (in her wry, humorous way) with accepting Facebook, Twitter, and the ways in which technology was changing communication and face-to-face contact
  • it taking quite some time to convince her that researching blogs written by public school teachers was worthy of dissertation research…and when I did, she was so proud. I look often at the email that she wrote after I submitted my final draft. In three words she summed up everything I was feeling: “YOU DID IT!”
  • the delight that lit up her face when she got an iPad and iPhone and admitted that she, well, could probably get used to this
  • the time she had to have major back surgery and we were all so worried for her…and she unexpectedly sent me in her stead to deliver a keynote address at a new teacher retreat in Columbus, Ohio
  • when she got on the bus with us to head down to DC to protest the war in Iraq
  • when she asked me to coauthor an article that has since become an important piece in explaining why policies such as NCLB don’t work, “No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure
  • when she invited students over to her apartment, or up to her home in upstate New York, reinforcing the idea that while an educational community may start in the classroom, it travels with you wherever you go
  • when she appropriately scolded me for not completing the revisions on an accepted article for Democracy and Education because I second-guessed the points I was trying to make (which would later lay the foundation for my dissertation)
  • how much pride she took in the many accomplishments of her students and the faculty with whom she worked so closely
  • always pushing us to think outside of our comfort zone, and above all, remain ourselves in scholarship, in the classroom, and in life in general
  • how much she talked about her daughter, Jessie, who she loved with all her heart

The memories are coming at me swiftly right now, and I am overwhelmed with emotion at the loss of a woman who, in her “free” time, reached out to act as a parent when I and many others needed it most. She was more than a teacher and a contributor to the canon; more than a friend and a surrogate parent. She meant so much to me, and I hurt in her absence. But I am not alone, and gather strength from the support of the large community she built. We will continue to honor her in days to come, and reach out to one another to find ways to express the loss of someone who impacted so many of us so deeply.

Please join us at the GC in the Urban Ed lounge tomorrow, Tuesday, and Wednesday of this week, and stay tuned for news of a more formal gathering in the months to come where we can share Jean’s impact on our lives — both personally and professionally — and make plans for how to both pay forward the mentorship she so graciously offered, and ensure the immortality of her brilliant scholarly work.

Data

I’ve been silent for a while. After spending the balance of the summer recovering from a mysterious virus that had lodged itself in my inner ear, I dove head-first into my data collection and analysis this fall for my dissertation, The New York City Teacher Voice Project. So in the last five months, that’s where I’ve been: collecting, analyzing, aggregating, and wrestling with my data. And I couldn’t be more excited about writing up my findings.

Motivated by my experience as a 5th-grade public school teacher in New York City, my dissertation takes up questions around policy and practice in public schooling and investigates the local knowledge teachers share in their blog posts. As a teacher, my colleagues and I confronted obstacles to our work as teachers on a daily basis — there was a revolving door of schedule changes, too few materials, generally insufficient resources and training, etc. — and found ways to adapt to or resist the circumstances in the name of consistency. And we went through the motions largely on our own. But as online spaces to communicate grew, teachers began blogging about their experiences. It is one assertion of my dissertation that policymakers have something to learn from what is shared in these blogs.

I was thinking the other day about why my work as an educational researcher is so closely tied to my experience. I’ve always been attracted to stories. I majored in anthropology as an undergraduate student, and worked on an oral history project during an internship the summer after I graduated from college. Ethnography, or some digital version of it, was an obvious choice for my work as a doctoral student, and I’m drawn in by the narratives shared by teachers who blog about their daily work in the classroom. The experiences they write about are so similar to mine — from a lack of stall doors in the girls’ bathroom and broken copy machines to insect infestations and faulty internet access — and I’m in the process of weaving together their experiences in a sort of kaleidoscopic word quilt.

So onward with the writing. Day in and day out till it’s done. In the meantime, I spent time before the holiday break printing out my data. Don’t laugh. Until I did this, I had no sense — and no tangible way of sharing — how “much” data I had. I’ve got quite a bit to work with. And this is the one and only time I’ll every have to do this. Now I have a sense of what a stack of roughly 400 blog posts looks like in the real world.