A Rorschach Test for Bias in Education Scholarship

I noted a few weeks back that education scholarship marginalizes itself when it so often seems to treat the more conservative half of the nation with casual contempt. In response, some professorial friends asked if the partisanship and bias I think I see isn’t just a product of my imagination. It’s a legitimate question. On that point, I think the following conference invitation from a branch of the National Council of Social Studies offers a simple Rorschach test to gauge how far apart we really are in determining what constitutes ideological bias. As an old social studies teacher, it struck me as a particularly fitting example for seeing if we’re talking to or past one another.

Here’s the test: read the invitation and see how it strikes you. Yep, it’s that easy. If you think it’s fair-minded and promotes civil inquiry across heterodox views and values, okay. If that’s the case, though, I’m not sure where we go from here. If, on the other hand, you can see why some might read it as nakedly partisan and narrowly ideological, we’ve got something to talk about. Anyway, see what you think.


The College and University Faculty Assembly (CUFA), an Affiliated Group of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), invites proposals for its Annual Conference, which will be held on November 15-17, 2016, in San Francisco, CA. The theme of this year’s NCSS conference is Expanding Visions/Bridging Traditions. In the spirit of this year’s theme, the CUFA 2017 program will challenge presenters and attendees to (re)envision the future of social studies while also responding to the present conditions of the field. CUFA 2017 will look at what social studies can make possible in turbulent times when settler colonialism, systemic and systematic racism, white supremacy, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia, transphobia, free speech and voter suppression, socioeconomic disparities, sexism, environmental destruction, and the corporatization of PK-12 and teacher education (to name a few) continue to threaten each and every one of us, both personally and professionally, in the United States and around the world. Social studies education must be(come) a driving force for social change.

As Program Chair, I challenge you to disrupt status quo discourses, practices, and methods in your paper and session proposals. I ask you to consider the following question: How does your research and/or teaching work to transform social studies education in our local, state, national, and global communities?

As you prepare your proposals, please consider the following areas of relevance for social studies in PK-12 and higher education settings:

Anti-Oppressive, Anti-Racist, and Critical Pedagogies
Subversive Social Studies Teaching Methods
Indigenous Studies
Gender Studies
LGBTQ+ Studies
Critical Race Studies
Critical Media Literacy
Environmental Justice
Economics Education
Geography Education
Global Education
Politics, Power, and Policy in Social Studies Education
Research Methodologies (Qualitative, Post-Qualitative, Quantitative, Mixed Methods)
Social Studies Advocacy and Outreach
Citizenship Education
History Education

This year’s program will include individual papers and roundtables, symposia, contemporary issue dialogues (CIDs), invited speakers, and CUFA/NCSS co-sponsored Research into Practice (RIP) sessions. I am also working closely with NCSS event staff to offer CUFA pre-conference workshops on the morning of Wednesday, November 15. CUFA 2017 will continue to also feature an unconference space and the Java Networks lunch.

I encourage colleagues preparing symposia and CID proposals to explicitly create space(s) that talk across theories, methodologies, and practices where everyone is seen, heard, and can contribute to new visions for social studies. I urge colleagues from a variety of disciplinary perspectives to submit their work. Accepted proposals will be linked to presentations through the open conference system. Authors will have the option of uploading their completed papers to replace the proposal after the program is finalized.

The submission deadline is 11:59 pm PST, Tuesday, February 28, 2017: http://www.socialstudies.org/cufa2017/openconf.php. No submissions will be accepted after that time and date.

For those of you on Twitter, please tweet about the conference using the official conference hashtag: #CUFA17. I will also post regular updates about the conference on CUFA’s Facebook groups.

If you have any questions about the call, proposal submission process, or reviewer sign-up process, please contact me at [email redacted]. Thank you for your hard work and commitment to the social studies education community.

In Solidarity,

Sarah B. Shear, Ph.D.
CUFA Program Chair, 2017 San Francisco
Assistant Professor, Social Studies Education, Penn State Altoona
Faculty, The Graduate School, The Pennsylvania State University

At least to me, an invitation like this conveys a pretty clear sense of who is welcome, what they’re welcome to talk about, and what kinds of views constitute “solidarity.” If this were an invitation to a meeting of the Bay Area Young Democrats or the Elizabeth Warren fan club, that’d be just fine. But this is supposedly a community of scholars convening to explore thinking and research on social studies and civic education—and yet, I get the sense that they expect participants to arrive with very clear, predictable, and “correct” views on the some of the biggest questions of our time. Given how polarized we are today, though, I’m honestly curious how many readers read this as I do—and why others might read it differently.

—Frederick Hess

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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