Touro Hooding Ceremony Honors GSE Class of 2021
Keynote Speaker Dr. Kevin Kumashiro Urged Education Graduates to Challenge Status Quo
The hooding ceremony for the Touro College Graduate School of Education (GSE) Class of 2021 was held in special recognition of education students who completed the requirements for a master’s degree and advanced certification. The ceremony took place on June 13, 2021 and honored GSE students who demonstrated commitment, intellectual growth, and leadership capacity.
In the welcome remarks, Dr. Patricia Salkin, Touro’s Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs and Provost of Graduate and Professional Division, urged graduates to continue achieving excellence. “Our classroom teachers are unsung heroes in society. You have an incredible responsibility to meet each student where they are and bring their knowledge and skills forward so that they may grow into significant contributing members of society,” she said. “So much of the promise of the future of the United States of America, and indeed the world, starts with the work that you each do.” Jacob Easley II, dean for the GSE explained, “The hooding ceremony is a special event for our candidates, which we added to complement commencement. The accomplishments of our 2021 graduates, one of our largest classes yet, are remarkable and deserving of a recognition in a unique way that both inspires and challenges them for the positive work ahead.”
The keynote speaker, Dr. Kevin Kumashiro, also admonished GSE graduates to challenge the status quo in education. In his dynamic presentation, he addressed how to do work in education in a way that intervenes in this moment of time and advances justice. “Education is not only about preparing us to succeed in the world as it is. No, education, at its core, should be about building our capacity to imagine the world as it is not yet, the world as it could be, and to create towards that vision,” said Dr. Kumashiro, “Education should not be about teaching us to buy into someone else's story or the dominant stories. Education at its heart should be about skepticism and inquiry and investigation. We should be questioning. We should be imagining. We should be creating.”
Dr. Kumashiro is an internationally recognized expert on educational policy, school reform, teacher preparation, educational equity, and social justice, with a wide-ranging list of accomplishments and awards as a scholar, educator, leader, and advocate. He has authored dozens of articles and essays in academic journals and periodicals, as well as research briefs and position statements, and his work has been supported by over $4 million in federal grants. He is an award-winning author and editor of ten books, and he appears frequently in media interviews. He also is a founding member of EDJE (Education Deans for Justice and Equity), among other leading social justice organizations in education.
“One of the biggest paradoxes in education, I would argue, is what we are when we contrast what we say we want to do versus what we actually do. In education, we often talk about the purpose or the goal of education as being about providing equal educational opportunity or leveling the playing field or preparing everyone to succeed,” said Dr. Kumashiro in his thought-provoking speech. “Our job is actually to dive into that contradiction, that schools may have been built for one thing, but it always accomplishes multiple things and it's always accomplishing contradictory things.”
Full Text of Dr. Kevin Kumashiro's Remarks
Thank you so much. It's such a treat to be here at the Touro Graduate School of Education Master's Hooding Ceremony. Big thank you to Dean Jacob Easley for inviting me to join this exciting ceremony and to be a part of this celebration. So big congratulations to all of the graduates for what you have accomplished. And thank you for choosing the path as you look to your future, a path of education, and whether that is as an educator, a leader, a counselor specialist, a scholar, an advocate, whatever your role may be. This is an incredibly challenging time. And so big shout out to you for choosing education. It's challenging, particularly because we're facing a pandemic that has completely changed what schools and universities look like. As you probably experienced in your university setting in your field work, we also know this is a challenging time for many other reasons. We have less people sending their children to public schools. We have less folks entering the education professions. We have more people leaving. We talk about an exodus, for example, of educational leaders. It's not surprising that this work has the lowest job satisfaction rate among educators in two decades. And the stress level over the past year has skyrocketed.
So that's kind of depressing and maybe not the best way to start a speech at a graduation ceremony. But I say this to name the context that we're in and to raise the question, how do we do our work in education in a way that intervenes in this moment and advances justice? What I wanted to do in my short time with all of you is reflect on three principles that I have found particularly helpful for thinking about how we do our work in education. One is around problems. The second is around paradoxes and the third is on portals. I like alliterations. So, they all begin with the letter P. Let me talk about problems. One of my favorite scholars, many of you probably read in your courses, is the great Brazilian educator Paulo Freire who in the late 1960s wrote a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
One of the things he tells us in that book is that we should not dive too quickly down a path to solve a problem until we first take time to understand more deeply what that problem is. He calls this reading the world. He says, we should be taking the time to tell our own story of what the problems are. Otherwise, we might be buying into someone else's story and in so doing, we might come up with a solution that doesn't make things any better. In this way, education plays a central role in this justice work. Education plays a central role in exposing the dominant stories, as well as in crafting or writing the alternative stories. Education can be about teaching us to conform to how others tell us the world is supposed to look, but education can also be about liberating our mind and building our capacity to imagine the world very differently.
In this sense, education should not be about teaching us to buy into someone else's story or the dominant stories. Education at its heart should be about skepticism and inquiry and investigation. We should be questioning. We should be imagining. We should be creating. This is what makes education scary to some people, but it's also why education is so central to the work of democracy. The big question this raises for me is what are we actually doing in education? This leads to my second theme on paradoxes. A paradox is two contradictory things that co-exist. One of the biggest paradoxes in education I would argue is when we contrast what we say we want to do versus what we actually do. In education, we often talk about the purpose or the goal of education as being about providing equal educational opportunity or leveling the playing field or preparing everyone to succeed.
And those are great goals. I'm all for them. What's the reality? Well, if we look historically at the earliest public schools in this country, those were not the goals. When we created the earliest public schools, we included only a small sector of the young people population. You needed to be white male and your family had to own property. And as we were forced to include more and more children into schools, we just came up with more and more ways to differentiate and sort them such as through segregation or tracking or labeling or discipline. We might say that the purpose today is to provide equal educational opportunity, but what's the reality or the reality is that historically the function of schools has been to sort. We've just come up with different ways of doing that over time. Now, does everyone see that our job isn't to wish away that complexity and ignore that history?
Our job is to dive into that contradiction, that schools may have been built for one thing, but it always accomplishes multiple things and it's always accomplishing contradictory things. In fact, another central site of contradiction in schools is curriculum. What we teach? Curriculum is always partial. It will always include only certain things. And it has to, by necessity, exclude all kinds of other things. It will always be influenced by only certain forces or at least certain forces and voices more than others. And this raises to me, the question of what's the story that we are telling in our curriculum versus what's the story that we should be telling right now? Why is it that over 15 states are considering or already passed laws to ban teaching about racism? This is a heated, perhaps the most heated battle right now in education. And this reveals that many people across the political spectrum realize that schools are a foundational site of political and ideological struggle.
For any society, schools are aware. We struggle to define where we fight to define who we are and perhaps more importantly, whom we are to become. And this then leads to a third theme that I want to mention, which is about portals. One of my favorite writers is the amazing Indian novelist and public intellectual Arundhati Roy, who at the beginning of the pandemic last year wrote an article that went viral. It's called The Pandemic Is a Portal. What she basically argues is that in the moment of crisis, we could insist and want to return to normalcy. Isn't that how we often talk about when we were locked down, we couldn't wait till we were back to normal. She asks do we want to go back to normal because normal wasn't so great for many people.
Normal was infused with all sorts of inequities and injustices. What's the second way that we can respond to a crisis? One was to return to normal. The second is to follow what other people say we should be doing to follow conventional wisdom about what it means to respond. And what she points out is that sometimes the responses to a crisis can make things worse. The third response then is to pause, to examine, to interrogate, or to bring into play a pivot. In other words, the pandemic can be a portal. It can be a gateway to a different vision of what the world can look like. Think about the pandemic that we've just experienced. What we just went through both highlighted and exacerbated inequities. It highlighted the wealth inequities, but it also made it a lot worse. It highlighted inequities with healthcare, but it also made it a lot worse. It also highlighted inequities with technology and education, and it made it far worse. A crisis can both exacerbate inequities, but a crisis also will always coincide with numerous social movements. Think about the worldwide and escalating movements for racial justice, religious justice, gender justice, environmental justice, peace, anti-imperialism, and prior violence. This is a moment when there's a lot of opportunity. Not just a sense of despair. The amazing journalist Naomi Klein reminds us that how we respond to crisis depends on the stories available to us. And this is where education comes in. One of its roles is to teach and learn alternative stories of what the real world can look like. Or maybe even more accurately, a more accurate story, of what is really going on and how we can make things better.
Education is not only about preparing us to succeed in the world as it is. No education, at its core, should be about building our capacity to imagine the world as it is not yet, the world as it could be, and to create towards that vision. This is what this moment invites of us. That is why I cannot wait to see how you are able to move us forward. As you embark on this next journey and this next chapter in your life, it's such a thrill to be a part of this celebration. I so appreciate being able to join all of you in your graduation. Once again, congratulations and good luck moving forward!