Flipping Scripts in an Angry Nation: Putting the Anthropological Project to Work for Change Via Everyday Talk (in Schools)

Mica PollockProfessor, Director of CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment, and Teaching Excellence) University of California, San Diego

In this talk, Pollock applies lessons from her new book Schooltalk to the current political climate and discusses talk’s potential for changing us all. Before and since the 2016 election, U.S. residents have seen a spike in explicit hate speech – cruel comments that denigrate and distort types of people. Such speech has spiked in schools as well. It’s a moment when we need civil discourse and dialogue against hate more than ever. But in the United States, we also need to be thinking about whether our most routine talk distorts and denigrates people. Drawing on decades of work about how people talk every day about students and in schools, Pollock offers a vision of schooltalk for equity – that is, talk that accurately describes people as individuals and members of communities (including lives in opportunity contexts), and then actively supports the full human talent development of every person and all groups of people. At root, schooltalk for equity leverages the anthropological learning project for social change via schools. Speakers seek to flip under-informed “scripts” about types of people by learning accurate information about people’s actual lives. While many scholars today frame such learning as unlikely and even cognitively impossible, Pollock argues that such learning can and must happen in the daily activity of schools. Pollock thus frames schooltalk as critical work putting today’s educators and students on the front lines of social change.

Mica Pollock is an anthropologist and author of the new book Schooltalk: Rethinking What We Say About –and To – Students Every Day (The New Press 2017). Pollock’s work explores educators’ key role in immediate and long-haul efforts against racism and inequality; she pinpoints the key role of language in educators’ everyday work. Pollock’s first book, Colormute: Race Talk Dilemmas in an American School (2004, winner of the 2005 AERA Outstanding Book Award), helped readers navigate six core U.S. struggles over talking (and not talking) in racial terms in schools. Her other books include Because of Race, Everyday Antiracism (2008), and Companion to the Anthropology of Education with Bradley Levinson (2011). Her newest work at UC San Diego explores how networks of conversation partners can leverage a university to share opportunities to learn in a diverse community.

Discussant: Thea Renda Abu El-Haj, Associate Professor of Education, Barnard College, Columbia University

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