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Preaching to the Choir

After reflecting on the UCEA 2011 convention, I have to say that it was an intellectually engaging and exhausting conference. I appreciated the thoughtfulness that went into the program planning and I commend the program planning team and the UCEA staff for making it all come together seamlessly. The solid program also opened us up to new ways to use, think about, and expand these important meetings. Of note is the fact that there was good content like the general sessions that was captured on video, making it easier can continue and spur more discussion. I can easily see how I can include some of the session video clips in class and I cannot wait until they are posted. Also, I was impressed that the team was interested in gathering data through focus groups conducted during the convention. Of course there was the content of the sessions themselves that contributed to the appealing discussions.

However, there was also a necessary but exhausting aspect of the convention. This is not necessarily negative but requires us to process and act, in my view. Two seemingly opposing thoughts were presented to me during the convention and together they captured this exhausting aspect. One thought was from a colleague who said he felt the 2011 convention’s focus on social justice was much more substantive this year than in previous two or three years. He actually felt invigorated by this and motivated get more involved the work of UCEA. The other opposing thought was that though UCEA has worked hard to provide more spaces for “marginalized viewpoints or epistemologies” in educational administration and policy, are those spaces thought of as by and for the intended people of those groups. Since I have been unfairly, though truthfully, accused of “dressing like a Baptist minister” on occasion, I will shamelessly invoke an overused but apropos aphorism in the form of a question to clarify the point of the second thought. Are scholars from underrepresented groups and/or marginalized epistemologies “preaching to the choir”?  That is, are the attendees of “social justice sessions” that focus on the complex intersections of leadership and social identities based on race, class, sexual orientation, ability, language, religion attended by people who do the work or have an interest in doing it? For an example, consider convention General Session 4 organized in honor of the Barbara L. Jackson Scholars but open to all conferees. The session featured dynamic speaker George Yancy, a philosopher who works in the area of critical race theory, whiteness studies, and the black experience. His topic was leadership and the problem of the color line. I thought this was a powerful, forthright, relevant, and intellectually engaging session that should have enjoyed an audience as large and diverse as one that might be found at a UCEA Presidential Address general session. Nevertheless, while I noted that this session’s audience was of considerable size, it was made up mostly of scholars of color, even beyond the Jackson Scholars. Is this example one of “preaching to the choir”?

By working hard to allow for spaces for the marginalized, could we have in some way segregated this content and again inadvertently relegated it to the fringes, especially if only the choir is showing up? Does it move the broader conversation forward if we are just “preaching to the choir”? I realize that UCEA has no power over scholars to attend particular sessions and I know that often packed convention schedules may preclude attendance at sessions perceived as not directly related to your line of inquiry. Still, if you think the questions I have presented are legitimate and/or valid questions, I hope you will make an effort accept this challenge. To be clear, if you agree that these questions may be able to spark a dialogue that may hold the promise of increasing organizational potential, then I invite you to read the work of a scholar who has a different perspective, viewpoint or epistemology from your own. In addition to attending that scholar’s session, commit to involving that scholar in a deeper conversation about her/his work.  Let’s then see if we are able to do more than “preach to the choir”. 

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