Change and Equity: Dr. Jeannie Oakes builds upon the narrative at the 26th Annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture

By: Anique Hameed, Crim Center Marketing and Communications GRA

 Education is a transformative field that shapes the educator, student, and broader community.  We have traditionally heard narratives of the impact of inequitable urban schools and school systems on those same educators, students, and community members. This traditional narrative tends to place the burden of inequitable schools on the shoulders of students and communities they serve or the teachers that work with them.  In the spirit of Alonzo A. Crim’s teachings, the Crim Center has embraced the challenge to shift the narrative and highlight models of success and excellence in urban education.  The Crim Center does not dismiss the inequities that exist in schools.  Those definitely exist and need to be addressed.  We aim to join others in shifting the conversation about these inequities (symptoms) and their causes to a focus on getting out of our silos to work together on informed sustainable solutions. To that end, this year’s work in the Crim Center is rooted in the theme, Reconstructing the Narrative: Stories of Change, Equity, and Promise in Urban Education.

The Benjamin E. Mays Lecture helps to officially launch our theme by setting the tone and framing the vision of the impact we plan to make over the next 12 months. The 26th Annual Benjamin E. Mays Lecture took place on November 5, 2014 on the campus of Georgia State University. Dr. Jeannie Oakes, Presidential Professor Emerita in Educational Equity at the University of California, Los Angeles and president-elect of the American Educational Research Association, served as this year’s Benjamin E. Mays Lecturer.

The day began with the Fireside Chat, hosted by the Crim Center’s Urban Education Think Tank (UETT). The Fireside chat provided an open forum for Georgia State University graduate students to share their challenges, successes, and other experiences in the field of education with their peers, while also gaining valuable insight from the lecturer. Early College students as well as Jumpstart and T.E.A.M. AmeriCorps members talked mingled during the pre-lecture reception and then ushered guests into the Speakers Auditorium as the lecture began.

Students from the Center’s Early College program as well as Jumpstart and T.E.A.M. AmeriCorps  members served as ushers for the evening.  This year’s lecture opened with a musical performance by world renowned saxophonist Ryan Kilgore, and members of the R&B group Shai, Garfield Bright and Darnell Van Rensalier. The trio performed Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” while a images highlighting the history of the Crim Center’s work flashed on screen behind them.

Dr. Oakes delivered a impactful lecture that challenged the audience members to think deeply about their explanations for school failure and the educational inequities that currently exist in the public school system.  She presented an argument that connected structural inequalities in schools to the inequalities nurtured in the nation’s capitalist economic system. She painted an ominous picture of the cycle of social and educational inequality by which impoverished students receive poor education resulting in limited pathways to success while their wealthier counterparts are presented clear pathways to success.

 Dr. Oakes then shifted the tone of the lecture to one of hope, saying that, “this discomfort provides an opportunity to rebalance our educational system….  We know a lot more [about addressing inequality] now than we did in the 1960s and 70s.”  She suggested that if we become an educational community that is actively engaged in addressing the issues impacting equity in our schools, then we could work toward closing the often-cited achievement gap. She argued, “Schools of education could take on the charge of creating a more educated public. We could educate people about issues.” Dr. Oakes then urged the audience to “find practices that engage our democratic ideals” and to look beyond policy solutions toward solutions based on ecosystem and culture of equity.  Throughout the lecture Dr. Oakes reinforced Dr. Crim’s philosophy of the Community of Believers, the idea that “schools belong to everyone,” and our collective responsibility for ensuring the success of our children.

After a question and answer session with that audience that was facilitated by Dr. Benjamin E. Mays Chair and current AERA President Dr. Joyce King, AERA President-elect Dr. Oakes was presented a gift on behalf of the GSU community by Dr. Susan Crim-McClendon, daughter of Alonzo A. Crim and Principal of Woodson Primary. The evening concluded with a special presentation from the Crim Center’s Early College Program.

Please be sure to join us as we continue the conversation about Reconstructing the Narrative: Stories of Change, Equity, and Promise in Urban Education at the 10th Annual Sources of Urban Educational Excellence Conference. To learn more about Source Conference visit http://crim.education.gsu.edu/research/sources-conference/. For more information about the Mays Lecture email cueeinfo@gsu.edu.