THE Neero Proposal

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Symposium Proposal for NEERO Conference, April 26-28, Portsmouth, NH.

Strand: Diversity and Socio-Cultural Issues In Education

Title: The Role Of Voice In Pursuit Of Just Schooling


Post-modern inquiry eschews structuralism’s formal means of ascertaining truth. Post-modern inquiry favors non-linear, a-rational appeals to shared experience. In this paradigm, the participant’s voice becomes a container of meaning worthy of attention and study. Meaning, so it seems, comes not so much from an analysis of carefully controlled data, but from the appeal of one person’s voice to another person’s reality. Validity lies in what might otherwise be called a “shared narrative experience.” Success for the post-modern researcher who inquires into the meaning of a particular slice of reality lies in the ability of the researcher to create for the listener a shared space, a space where both are brought to a common plane of understanding. Both may be changed by the experience, their blending voices the vehicle through which experience becomes meaning.

Honoring voice in educational inquiry is not without its critics. With voice comes subjectivity, with subjectivity comes vulnerability 1. When done well, “personal voice, if creatively used, can lead the reader not into miniature bubbles of navel-gazing, but into the enormous sea of serious social issues 2.”

This symposium focuses on Just Schooling as a serious social issue requiring constant vigilance from the research and teaching community this yearly gathering of Neero scholars represents. In the context of this symposium, social justice is taken to be the context within which we educate children, hearing every voice so that no one is left out by virtue of their pigmentation, capability, gender, religious preference, sexual orientation, or economic position. “Teaching for social justice is at the core of democratic education. It serves as a reminder not only of the inequities and biases that continue to wear away at the foundation of democratic values, but of the powerful stories which inspire us to work toward change, to make the world a better place 3.” Participant voices, voices that represent several diverse facets of schooling experience, form the core of each symposium presentation. Each voice, in its own way, lends its particular insight into how we might make schools that “better place” for all its participants: students, teachers, administrators, and teacher educators.

The Papers

Paper One: Inviting the Young Adolescent Perspective on Schooling,

Authors: Penny A. Bishop and Susanna W. Pflaum

How well do schools meet the needs of young adolescents? Educational research has long relied upon adult informants to determine what young learners require. The postmodern critique of traditional research paradigms asserts that persons who are powerful and established typically are those who interpret schooling while the less powerful and less established are not heard 4. This paper presents an alternative to this silenced voice, by examining the historically under-represented perspective of middle grades learners in educational research. In particular, we present the drawings and words of sixty young adolescents, as both indicators of students’ academic engagement and as an important, alternative source of data.

Paper Two: A Thrice Told Tale of Time: Dis/Ability, Identity, and Educational Responsibility

Author: Lynn Swann

Critical educators typically seek to find and hear lost and marginalized voices within

educational processes. We also seek to expose those systems and practices of professional, institutional work which muffle or ignore certain voices, which support and veil the marginalization of persons 5. This paper presents the educational experiences of Donnie, a former student of mine with multiple dis/abilites, in his 22nd year of life, in his 12th year in the same elementary classroom, in rural western North Carolina, in 1992. His story is told as an educational ethno-biography through three texts – an ethnography, a series of fieldnotes, interviews, and headnotes 6, and a piece of fiction. As an interpretive text, the first person language of this ethno-biography is not limited to Donnie’s actual words as recorded in interviews. The first person account is a negotiated text, co-written by both Donnie and me to speak from his experiences and our relationship.

Paper Three: Listening to the Voices of Parents of Children with Disabilities

Author: Katharine Shepherd

In spite of federal mandates to include parents of children with disabilities as partners in education, professionals and policy makers have often minimized or overlooked parents’ voices with respect to the futures of their children 7. What can be done to bring parents’ voices into conversations about how to create just schools for all students? This paper presents the results of focus forums conducted with parents of children with disabilities from around the United States. The purpose of the forums was to hear parents from diverse backgrounds speak for themselves about what works and what doesn’t, and how they and others might be supported in expressing their voices and assuming greater leadership roles in individual and policy decision-making.

Paper Four: Reliving Lived Experience In The Service of More Equitable Teaching

Author: Charles Rathbone, Ph.D.

What does it mean to provide a safe learning space for adult African American students? What are the lessons one white male professor can take from his own life to understand better his commitment to more equitable and anti-racist teaching in a predominantly white institution? Can there be meaning in this inquiry for other white teachers? TuSmith asserts that the mere possibility of meaning is enough to engage the challenge, despite the risk 8. Using scholarly personal narrative 9, this paper presents the learning of one professor as he engaged the events of his personal and professional life and his continuing learning about how to provide a safe learning space for all his students.

Organization of Session

Each paper will be sectioned in the following manner.

• Overview: What was the genesis of their inquiry? Where is their inquiry located in their own professional endeavors?

• Rationale: Why choose “voice” as the data point? What is the research methodology for the inquiry?

• Data Source/Analysis: How was voice identified, recorded, and analyzed?

• Observations/Findings/Concluding Remarks: What information resulted from the inquiry and what did the authors consider to be important about the inquiry.

The symposium will be conducted section by section. After a general introduction by the moderator, the moderator will then introduce each section of the symposium with commentary. Each section will be addressed in turn by all five authors before moving on to the next session. The moderator will then conclude.


Dr. Richard Johnson III, Program in Leadership and Policy Studies, University of Vermont, has graciously consented to be both moderator and discussant for this symposium.


1. Behar, R. (1996). The Vulnerable Observer. Boston: Beacon Press.

2. Ibid. xiii.

3. Hunt, J. A. (1998). Of Stories, Seeds, and the Promises of Social Justice. In Wm. Ayers (Ed.), Teaching for social justice. (p.xiii). New York City: Teachers College Press.

4. Denzin, N. & Lincoln, Y. (1998). Collecting and interpreting qualitative materials.

Corwin Press.

5. Danforth, S. (1994). A life history of a child considered emotionally disturbed: Critical

interpretations from researcher and child. Dissertation Abstracts International, 54

(01), 534B. (UMI No. 9504481) p.57.

6. Ottenberg, S. (1990). Thirty Years of Fieldnotes: Changing Relationships to the Text. In Roger Sanjek, ed., Fieldnotes: The Makings of Anthropology, pp. 139-60. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

7. Pugach, M.C., & Johnson, L. (2002). Collaborative practitioners, collaborative schools (2nd ed.). Denver: Love Publishing.

8. Tusmith, B. (2003). Activist academic: memoir of an ethnic literature professor. In D. P. Freedman & O. Frey (Eds.) Autobiographical Writings Across the Disciplines (p. 126). Durham: Duke University Press.

9. Nash, R. (2004). Liberating Scholarly Writing: The power of personal narrative. New York: Teachers College Press.

Published by

Charles Rathbone

Retired. Emeritus. UDL consultant, FIrst UU Racial Justice Committee, photographer, married, four children, five grandchildren. Embracing life, all of it. "Today is tomorrow's past."

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