The Heart of Praxis: NCTE2017 Proposals

The call for proposals for the 2017 NCTE conference has been issued. The title for next year’s conference, Teaching Our Students Today, Tomorrow, Forever: Recapturing Our Voices, Our Agency, Our Mission, highlights NCTE’s commitment to speaking truth to power and championing the teacher as a change maker. I’m interested in how we can use theory to reclaim our voices and engage in our work with renewed focus.

To that end, I’d like to put together a proposal for a session on using theory as a source of vitality and inspiration. Here are some rough ideas. They all fall under the draft session title of

The Heart of Praxis: Using Critical Theory to Inspire and Guide Your Teaching

1. Drawing inspiration from America’s neoliberal turn of the 1970s and 1980s, teacher prep programs are training teachers to be data managers and technicians. Politics, history, and theory are of little value when all that matters is increasing test scores among gap groups. How can we draw on critical pedagogy to recenter teacher training on issues of critical literacy and social transformation?

2. The dominance of test scores and punitive systems of accountability create an atmosphere of distrust between teachers. Building a supportive network of teacher collaboration has become increasingly difficult. For many teachers, collaboration has become yet another mandate required by central offices, a standardized ritual focused on quantitative learning outcomes and Dufour/Solution Tree agenda templates. What does radical teacher collaboration look like?  How can we use theory to replace false collaboration with meaningful exchange?

3. The rise of alternative assessment practices like standards based grading and proficiency scales harken back to the administrative progressives of the early twentieth century. Critical theory can help us understand how our language of learning sacrifices the democratic potential of education and figure out how to chart a course to a more relevant and uplifting form of learning.

4. All too often teachers experience cultural competency as a set of boxes to check off on their district-wide professional development regimens. Cultural competency can become what Leigh Patel describes as “parking lots for emotionality and white fragility.” By ignoring education’s historical role in creating and sustaining class stratification and material inequality, much cultural competency training fails to prepare teachers to ignite change within the classroom and the teacher’s lounge. How can critical race theory help us recenter our classrooms and school communities?

Again, these are just ideas. Please reply to this blog post or contact me on Twitter/email if you’re interested in putting together a proposal on these or any other theory related topics. 


  1. Arthur Chiaravalli (@hhschiaravalli)

    Wow. Love your proposal, Peter.

    We’re not far off in our thinking, connecting assessment/instructional practice with social justice issues. This goes really deep. To me, it goes down to the very underpinnings of so much that we take for granted in this country. I’m actually trying to write a blog post that isn’t book-length on this topic right now. As you probably know, my preferred word for agency is SUBJECTIVITY, which flies in the face of everything we try to do in schools where we turn everything and everyone into a measurable, quantifiable OBJECT. Not ends in themselves, but rather means to an end. That in itself is a major issue.

    But let’s also inspect the ends that our most powerful institutions — government, academia, banks — have selected for us to pursue. As it turns out — vanity of vanities — it’s all a bunch of bubbles. Bubble sheets and the trillion-dollar bubble of student loan debt.

    How does this tie into questions of inequality? One statistic I saw recently: urban students spend 266% more time preparing for standardized tests than their suburban peers. We much more readily reduce marginalized populations to objects. It’s not just the standardized tests of course. It’s a whole system built on objectification, dehumanization, neuroticization, criminalization.

    And, as if I didn’t need to mix my metaphors any further, I am also turning to the whole question of SCOREBOARDS. What does it do to a person to be subjected to an endless series of scoreboards? What does it do to a person when your only value is “putting points up on the board”? You are turned into an object, a means to an end, a stat.

    Don’t even get me started about the NCAA, which could quite possibly serve as emblem for the whole corrupt system. Check out “Four Years a Student Athlete: The Racial Injustice of Big Time College Sports”:

    Does any of this make sense, relate? Could we set up some facetime to talk about this further? I’m not sure I could even articulate all of this coherently, but your 4 topics make a lot of sense to me.


  2. Melanie Roy

    Wow. Just wow. I am blown away by how well you have articulated these issues. I would also add that the schedule is set up so that there is no longer face to face time with colleagues to talk and reflect in a meaningful way. Everything needs to slow down and the focus needs to be on quality instead of quantity. Admin says they want you to “go deeper” yet every teacher I know feels the stress of finishing units by certain dates to input data so the principals can do a song and dance for the school committee.


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