Engagements: The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism

*This piece is accepted for publication in 35(2) edition of Cognition and Instruction and will be linked to that web version once it has completed publisher copy editing.
**Updated with copy edit & small revisions from authors 2/14/17.

The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism

The Politics of Learning Writing Collective1

  1. This essay is coauthored by Thomas M. Philip, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies, UCLA; A. Susan Jurow, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder; Shirin Vossoughi, School of Education and Social Policy, Northwestern University; Megan Bang, College of Education, University of Washington Seattle; and, Miguel Zavala, College of Educational Studies, Chapman University.


What responsibilities do researchers of learning have in the wake of Trump’s election and the proliferation of far-right, populist, nationalism across the globe? In this essay, we seek to prompt and engage a dialogue about the political role and responsibilities of our field at this historical moment. First, we situate the social hierarchies that were most pronounced during this election within a longer history of U.S. policies and practices. We then examine the ostensible division between research on learning and the political contexts and consequences of learning. We argue for the need to address this false chasm and build on scholarship that has demonstrated the inextricable links between learning, power, and politics. We conclude by exploring how research on learning might more meaningfully engage with the political dimensions of learning through teaching, engaged research, publishing, professional forums, and service.



On November 8, 2016 U.S. voters helped elect a president who overtly and implicitly built a campaign founded on hate and bigotry. Trump ran on a platform that was anti-Muslim, anti-Mexican, anti-people of color, anti-Indigenous, anti-woman, anti-disabled, anti-LGBTQ, anti-immigrant, and anti-earth.

While the U.S. foundation in settler-colonialism has long generated these and other forms of oppressive hierarchical denials and erasures, they have been dramatically emboldened and encouraged in recent months as evidenced by the Klan’s endorsement of Trump’s campaign (Holly, 2016). The political shifts in the U.S. go beyond the symbolic: within the first three days of the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented over 200 incidents of hateful intimidation and harassment linked to Trump’s victory (Southern Poverty Law Center, 2016). As Trump prepares to take office, it is apparent that his campaign rhetoric will translate into policies that will systematically inflict violence on specific groups of people and on the earth. Such shifts are evidenced by his reaffirmation to create a national registry for Muslim Americans (Phillip & Hauslohner, 2016) as well as his transition team’s efforts to take aim at federal staffing, programming, and funding directed at climate change and women’s rights (Landler, 2016).

The election in the United States is especially troubling given the recent successes for the far-right across the globe. Groups with nationalist agendas control the governments in Poland and India (Pradhan, 2016; Traub, 2016). The National Front is possibly on course to a victory in France with its history of anti-Semitism and its valorization of Nazis and its contemporary anti-Muslim policies (“Where will populism strike next in the EU,” 2016). Brexit was a win for the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party (Taylor, 2016). The far-right has made significant gains in Germany, The Netherlands, Greece, Hungary, Sweden, Austria, Slovakia, and elsewhere in Europe  (“Europe’s rising far right, 2016). The Nippon Kaigi, which advocates for the revision of Japan’s pacifist Constitution and reframes Japan’s World War II atrocities in Asia as “liberation,” is a formidable presence in the Japanese Diet and the Prime Minister’s cabinet (“Right side up,” 2016). Factions of Brazilians are rejecting democracy and agitating for a return to authoritarian military rule (Powell, 2016). And this list continues. From an international perspective, Trump’s victory is the rule rather than the exception to a global political trend.

What do these events mean for how we conduct research on cognition and learning? In this paper, we argue that the rise of nationalism across the globe demands more explicit attention to how power imbues the purposes, mechanisms, and consequences of learning, as well as our approaches to the design, study, and theorization of learning environments. In recent years, scholars in our sub-field of the Learning Sciences have been engaging issues of culture, identity, race, and power more visibly in their work (e.g. Archer et al., 2016; Connor, 2014; Esmonde, 2014; Jurow & Shea, 2015; Nasir, Snyder, Shah, & Ross, 2013). We view this integration of diverse theories and methodologies as an important step toward the development of more robust and relevant approaches to studying and designing for learning and we strive to see this movement extended.

As researchers who focus on cognition and learning, and more specifically as Learning Scientists, our training has taught us to continuously re-examine our assumptions, approach tensions and contradictions as openings for change, and imagine new iterations and ways forward. As our field has developed and expanded over the past decades, so have we. The inclusion of new viewpoints, particularly from scholars of color and critical theories and expansive methodologies, has underscored the pressing need for engaging the political dimensions of learning. More recently, we have developed The Politics of Learning Writing Collective, which serves as a space to nurture forms of research and writing that closely attend to the political dimensions of teaching and learning. This space has incubated a deeper understanding of the forms of practice, design, and theory-building that become possible when power is central to our analysis of learning as well as the ongoing impediments to these perspectives in the broader field.

We also take this moment as an opportunity for self-reflection. We write here as Learning Scientists who have sought to challenge neutrality and indifference through our work on culture, race, power, politics, and ideology, while recognizing our complicity in these dynamics. We write as people who have been racialized as the “Other” or erased and invisibilized historically and anew in this presidential election, but also as individuals who benefit from the privileges accorded to our profession. We write as educators whose vision of justice entails the realization of the equitable and sustainable distribution of material and symbolic resources globally; healing historical and ongoing atrocities that are made possible by settler-colonialism, slavery, and conquest; and living peaceably and in balance with the earth. We write not as outsiders critiquing the field, but as members working to envision our field’s collective responsibility toward decolonial justice and the defense of communities who are experiencing symbolic and material violence.

In this spirit, we propose directions that research on cognition and learning might consider in response to the current political context. We begin by briefly contextualizing the social hierarchies and hostilities that were pronounced during the recent U.S. election. We then highlight what we see as a disjuncture between the Learning Sciences and political concerns, a separation that we argue must be addressed. Finally, we explore how the Learning Sciences might more meaningfully engage with the political dimensions of learning. Rooted in sociohistorical perspectives (Cole, 1988, 1996; Engeström, Miettinen, & Punamäki, 1999), we believe that naming political problems and seeking political solutions demand national and local specificity and a sensitivity to context. As researchers of learning situated in the United States, we grapple with the proliferation of nationalism within our borders and acknowledge that the directions we propose may not necessarily apply across these political boundaries. We write in this international journal to seed a meaningful dialogue across the global community of scholars. We hope others will respond from their particular cultural, spatial, and historical contexts as we collectively consider what it means to develop a political theory of learning at this historical moment.

Situating Trump’s Election

Many see Trump as an unexpected departure from the road of American progress. We problematize this narrative by situating Trump’s victory in the recent historical context of the U.S. and explicitly grappling with what these histories mean in relation to our identities as scholars. We argue that recognizing the history of policies and practices that have inflicted symbolic and material violence on groups of people is a necessary, but not sufficient, step toward a political theory of learning. These forms of critical reflection cannot only happen in our lives as everyday political actors; they are crucial to shaping dialogue in these scholarly forums where we fashion the standards for our profession.

From a liberal perspective, the anti-immigrant and anti-poor rhetoric in Trump’s campaign appears to be an about-face from eight progressive years under the last administration. But these political turns are not so straightforward. In recent years for example, the Obama administration’s deportation of over 2.5 million undocumented children and families (Iaconangelo, 2016), from Central America and Mexico in particular, displayed our nation’s refusal to understand immigration in light of a troubling legacy of U.S. military and political-economic intervention in these countries. Economic policies that favor the wealthy have led to drastic inequalities over the past few decades where a mere 20 Americans have more financial assets than the bottom half of the country—157 million people—combined (Collins & Hoxie, 2015). The classism of incarceration was unmasked as the Department of Justice failed to prosecute the Wall Street architects of the Great Recession (Cohan, 2015), but federal prisons were expanded to accommodate disproportionately low-income, non-violent offenders (Rabuy & Kopf, 2015).

The flagrant misogyny and racism in Trump’s campaign have roots in a larger context and longer history of settler-colonial violence in the U.S.. We are reminded time and again that sexual violence against women carries few consequences in the U.S: only 7 of every 1,000 reported cases of rape lead to a felony conviction (RAINN, 2012). The rise in violence against Muslim Americans, those assumed to be Muslim, and other immigrants exposed the nation’s insatiable need for a scapegoat (Lichtblau, 2016). Black Lives Matter highlighted a continuing legacy of state-sanctioned violence by police against Black men and women (Alexander, 2010). North Carolina’s transgender bathroom laws revealed that the fight for LGBTQ rights is far from settled (Kopan & Scott, 2016). The militarized response to the protection of water and sacred sites led by the Standing Rock Sioux people, and thousands of Indigenous peoples who stand in solidarity, is a stark reminder of the on-going struggles for sovereignty and self-determination by Indigenous peoples resisting settler-colonial violence and erasure (Indian Country Today Media Network, 2016). At an international level, the extra-judicial killings of thousands of people in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Iraq through covert CIA drone operations (Serle, 2016) evidence a history of the U.S.’s violation of other nations’ sovereignty.

These cases and many more compel us to recognize that the political shifts embodied by Trump’s victory did not emerge in a social vacuum. These political and powered contestations have always been with us, but have been obscured by the dominant discourse that the nation was making adequate progress toward equity and justice. The mandate for Trump, which is inextricably tied into his rhetoric of hate and bigotry, shatters the illusion of incremental progress and the accompanying narratives of American exceptionalism. It has made visible the contemporary tensions and fissures in our nation, in unprecedented ways, to those outside of non-dominant communities. The hostility that characterized Trump’s successful campaign did not require an electorate that was actively and overtly committed to hate and bigotry. It succeeded, in part, through indifference to contemporary inequities and injustices that were glaring if we looked below the surface. But indifference itself is a political stance—an action that in this election enabled racism, xenophobia, and misogyny to flourish.

By focusing on Trump alone, we risk individualizing contemporary systemic problems of inequity and injustice and their historical roots. The need for a political theory of learning was pertinent before Trump as it certainly will be after him. But a political theory of learning is not timeless or unbounded by space. As Fanon (1963) reminded us, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it” (p. 206). As Learning Scientists, we seek to articulate and pursue a bold and relevant political theory of learning for our historical moment. In relation to the recent presidential election, we might focus our attention on documenting and understanding the changing power relations, which provided a mandate for Trump, and its impact on knowledge practices in and outside of school and the organization of collective social action that nurture new solidarities and decolonial forms of justice. We need to study the differently lived experiences of those living in the U.S. and Indigenous lands and those affected globally by U.S. policies so that we can move forward with a sense of “radical hope” (Lear, 2006) that can help us imagine and realize more humanizing, just, and equitable forms of and relationships with each other. Our scholarship has the potential to be a form of transformative resistance against the most significant political threats to our democracy today by explicitly defending and furthering the rights and well-being of Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, people who are differently abled, LGBTQ communities, and the earth.

The Separation between the Learning Sciences and the Political Contexts and Consequences of Learning

In the U.S., the dominant mantra has been that the road to an equitable democracy might be slow and bumpy, but we have come a long way as a nation in our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness for all. This hope seemed to hold true for the Learning Sciences as we developed a storehouse of robust principles, practices, and methodologies that could guide our research and contribute to a vibrant, increasingly diverse democracy. As scientists who study learning, many of us saw ourselves conducting basic research that could improve our systematic understanding of learning, learning environments, and in turn, society. Commitments to equity and justice have been reflected primarily in the promise that research would broaden opportunities for learning. Yet as a number of scholars have argued, access to normative disciplinary knowledge alone (a “sameness as fairness” approach) does not beget more expansive forms of equity (Gutierrez & Jaramillo, 2006) and epistemic heterogeneity (Rosebery, Ogonowski, DiSchino, & Warren, 2010). An exclusive focus on access can also obscure the ways competition and failure are built into educational systems (McDermott, 1997), or leave unquestioned the narrow economic discourses that increasingly shape the purposes of education (Spring, 2015). Within a larger political context that rarely challenged narratives of progress, the field maintained its focus on broadening opportunities for learning without engaging deeply with research that convincingly demonstrated that the political forms and ends of learning matter and that seemingly neutral approaches to learning are never in fact neutral (Apple, 2000; hooks, 1994; Freire, 1970; McLaren & Farahmandpur, 2004).

Fields of research do not exist outside of relationships of power and new approaches to scholarship emerge as a result of, in response to, or at least within the backdrop of prevailing political processes. For instance, Cognition and Instruction published its first issue in 1984, at the start of Reagan’s second term as president. The journal expanded from an early focus on information processing to constructivist understandings of meaning making; then from learning as a situated social phenomenon to its current broadened examination of learning as an activity that occurs within and across contexts (Enyedy & Hall, 2016). While the theoretical and methodological shifts in Cognition and Instruction over the last three decades reflect a changing political landscape and greater diversity in the perspectives of its contributors and readers, the political contexts and consequences of these movements in scholarship have not been explicitly considered in this journal. Similarly, the Learning Sciences grew from loosely-knit collaborations in the early 1980s to the establishment of the Journal of the Learning Sciences in 1991 (Kolodner, 2004). The field coalesced at the very time the “New Democrats” under Bill Clinton moved the Democratic Party to the right on economic policies like welfare and trade (as Tony Blair did for the Labor Party in response to Thatcherism)—policies that appealed to middle-class Whites who had deserted the Democratic Party during the Reagan years (Hale, 1995). During this dramatic political shift, the field productively broadened research on learning but largely shied away from engaging its political contexts by opting for discourses and presumed positionalities of neutrality and objectivity (Booker, Vossoughi, & Hooper, 2014). While the Learning Sciences have contributed greatly toward more thoughtful learning designs, tools, and analyses over the last two to three decades, the ideology of incremental progress and the absence of a strong scholarly stance against indifference have constrained these activities from deeply addressing inequities and injustices in learning and in society. We are concerned that if we do not actively address the political dimensions of learning, we risk perpetuating the status-quo with its multiple and intersecting forms of domination and oppression. We also foreclose the space for the development of forms of design, partnership, and research that are adequately sensitive to the role of power.

The Need to Engage the Political Contexts and Consequences of Learning

Social movements for justice in this country have faced both successes and setbacks, over the decades and over the centuries. Most of the critiques and proposals that we present here would have been applicable even if Clinton had won the election. But, Trump’s administration, signaled by his proposed appointees who have unscrupulous ties to white supremacist groups (Lichtblau, Haberman, & Parker, 2016; Rosenberg & Haberman, 2016) and who are anti-Muslim (Shear, Haberman, Schmidt, 2016), and by his own denial of the scientific consensus on climate science (Wong, 2016), presents a distinct danger to non-dominant communities within and outside the U.S., to national and global political systems, and to the sustainability of the earth. The specter of hostile governmental policies compels us to build on and expand scholarship that starts from the premise that learning, equity, and justice are inextricable (Radinsky & Tabak, in press). The most pressing challenge for research on learning is how to substantively address the powered and politicized contexts and consequences of learning in ways that make it possible for children, their families, and communities to create thriving, self-determining lives (e.g. Lee, 2008; Calabrese Barton, 1998; Kirshner, 2015; Rosebery, Ogonowski, DiSchino, & Warren, 2010; Taylor & Hall, 2013).

So how might we envision the responsibilities of Learning Scientists in this more overtly troublesome political moment? We see a path forward that builds on the diverse theoretical and methodological work of scholars, practitioners, activists, and communities who have helped us recognize that learning is situated in social, historical, and spatial contexts (e.g., Erickson, 2004; Fanon, 1963; Foucault, 1975; Habermas, 1971; Lave & Wenger, 1991). For us, to embrace learning as situated means to conceptualize it as inherently political—it is always embedded in and articulated through hierarchies of power and tied to particular visions of possible futures. We must continue to ask and explore these questions in all of their inevitable nuance, but we know that at minimum our efforts ought to resist the tendency to depoliticize the situated nature of learning and withstand the inclination to ignore the always present historical and ideological dynamics and contexts. Now, more than in our recent past, the belief that equitable and just outcomes are natural byproducts of exacting research is untenable. We need to develop multiple spaces, methods, theories, and tools to critically examine power and politics in learning.

As Esmonde and Booker (2016) have compellingly argued, a political theory of learning could build from the intersection of the Learning Sciences and Critical Social Theory—a multidisciplinary framework that has roots in Marxist, feminist, queer, postcolonial, Indigenous, and anti-racist thought and seeks “the production and application of theory as part of the overall search for transformative knowledge” (Leonardo, 2004). Leveraging and extending these two fields have the potential to help us resist the violent policies and politics that currently exist and appear on the horizon. Research on learning is deepened when the complexities of culture, race, identity and power are treated as central to robust empirical analysis. Similarly, critical perspectives that highlight the reproductive and oppressive processes of schooling could offer a more agentive and complex portrait of human activity if they attended more closely to the cognitive, interactional, organizational, and relational dimensions of learning. These analytic intersections are crucial to the development of new findings, theorizations, and forms of design that are adequately sensitive to the multiple layers of human experience within learning environments. Given the diversity and interdisciplinarity that characterize the Learning Sciences in terms of where we study learning, the theories that inform our work, and our methods for conducting research, the field can and should play a pivotal role in the current political moment. Our collective expertise as a field uniquely links scales of analysis (socio-cultural, ontogenetic, micro-genetic) and, we believe, can enable us to address the powered and political purposes, contexts, and consequences of learning. These perspectives are vital to a political approach to the study of learning and the design of transformative learning environments—an approach that is rooted in the unequivocal premise that the purposes and consequences of learning are mutually constitutive of its cognitive, interactional, material, organizational, and relational dimensions.

In our view, a political approach to research on learning attends to how we conduct research as much as what we research. It necessitates reconfigurations of the roles and relations between researchers and “the researched,” commitments toward sustained collaboration, and strivings for transformative possibilities in both the processes and outcomes of research.


Paths Toward a Political Theory of Learning

Research on learning that aims to defend against symbolic and material violence and contribute to justice requires that we build new forms of partnership and collaboration and explore novel ways to make power and politics explicit in our analyses.We realize the inherent risks of exclusion that arise from naming particular forms of oppression, but are also aware that blanket affirmations of diversity quickly become hollow. The 2016 election has made apparent the need for scholarship that explicitly defends and furthers the rights and well-being of people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, people who are differently abled, LGBTQ communities, and the earth. These are stances that have been limited, at least explicitly, in the Learning Sciences. Our call for a politically-relevant theory of learning necessitates that we take a stand, in solidarity with these communities, through our decisions about what we research, how we research it, and who we partner and collaborate with. While this work is arduous, messy, and contradictory, it is also vital to the development of the field and the well-being of humanity and the earth.


As schools and universities brace for what might be the most overt threat to academic freedom by the federal government since the McCarthy era (Fichtenbaum, Bunsis, & Reichman, 2016), as academic pursuits that run counter to the administration’s interests face dismantling (Milman, 2016), and as K-12 public education is in jeopardy of being gutted (Goldstein, 2016), it is crucial that we, as researchers who focus on learning, protect and expand the space for engaged research, and work in solidarity with students, families, K-12 teachers, and communities who experience symbolic and material violence. Below we outline promising steps in this direction as well as initiatives that we believe are critical as we engage the deeply politicized, contentious, and consequential dimensions of learning.


One of the hallmarks of research on learning, particularly the Learning Sciences, is its commitment to interdisciplinarity. Yet, a conspicuous absence in the approaches we tend to leverage in our core courses is critical social theory. A commitment to the political and powered dimensions of learning would incite graduate and undergradaute programs that focus on learning to more intentionally support students to learn about race, gender, class, sexuality, nation, ideology, settler-colonialism, and other intersecting processes of power. Making such links would allow a new generation of researchers to not only build on critical social theory, but also extend it by attending to the specific dynamics of human learning and the nuanced interactional and relational dimensions of power that are often glossed over in these approaches (Bang, Warren, Rosebery, & Medin, 2012; Esmonde & Booker, 2016; Philip, 2011; Warren & Rosebery, 2011). We also see a need for the simultaneous expansion of the repertoire of methodologies for studying and organizing learning. Recent courses within Learning Sciences programs that present a range of approaches to collaborative and community-based design research offer promising models for more explicit engagement with the axiological dimensions of research (Bang, et. al., 2016). As reflected in Mike Rose’s 2016 AERA presidential session on “Writing for Public Scholarship,” our approach to graduate education would also benefit from greater attention to the craft of writing for wider audiences in ways that disrupt the binary of scholarly and public domains, and intervene in pressing questions of policy and practice.

Facilitating teaching spaces that productively address the powered and political dimensions of learning is difficult. It is fraught with challenges (Philip, Olivares-Pasillas, & Rocha, 2016; Wortham, 2004), which often leads to avoidance by teachers. Given the multiple forms of privilege and oppression that intersect in any one of us, we cannot continue doing this work in isolation. We must seek out more cooperative approaches to teaching, including working collaboratively with our university colleagues, with K-12 teachers with whom we conduct research, and community partners with whom we work. Our approaches to teaching and research need to value the political analysis and visions of young people that defend and further the rights and well-being of Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, people who are differently abled, LGBTQ communities, and the earth. This historical moment may also create new openings for collaboration across research on learning and teacher education, as pre- and in-service teachers wrestle with the growing discord between educational policies and mandates and the intellectual, social, and cultural resources and needs of their students (Horn, 2016; Stillman, 2011; Stillman & Anderson, 2011).

Engaged and Sustained Research:

Engaged research requires that we acknowledge, learn from, and contribute to the political and social movements that have been an ongoing part of communities for generations from places of humility, deference, reciprocity, and solidarity. Sustained research emphasizes a long-term commitment to “receiving, cultivating and building increased capacity to continue the ongoing work of social change” (Bang & Vossoughi, 2016, p. 177). We view both engaged and sustained research as powerful models for research on learning and equity that is consequential for communities (Jurow & Shea, 2015). These approaches turn the tools of systematic inquiry and reflexivity towards collaborative work with and alongside communities who experience symbolic and material violence. They are also rooted in the understanding that what we count as knowledge, what we ask questions about, and how we answer those questions are not value-free; people benefit and suffer, differentially based on their positionality, as a result of these decisions.

Contrary to the notion that foregrounding the political aspects of learning deems our analyses less “scientific” or “valid,” we worry that eclipsing the space for these lenses leads to an impoverished view of learning. For example, we may miss key insights into valued forms of development that fall outside of generic or normatively defined outcomes (Matusov, 1998), how learning environments and forms of pedagogy are experienced by participants, as well as the complex relationships between educational settings and the wider historical context and political-economic order. In this vein, Erickson (1984) calls for engaging in “disciplined subjectivity”—a form of systematic inquiry that makes substantive contact with the perspectives of those closest to the activity. As Erickson writes: “I must stay around until it makes sense and report it as it makes sense. I may still choose to condemn or not, but I am obliged to make it intelligible as seen from within and to portray the actors as humans, not as stick figures or monsters” (1984, p. 61). We also resonate with scholars who have argued for “strong objectivity”—methodological innovations that incorporate the critiques and insights of those who have been historically marginalized in official forms of knowledge production and uncover the cultural assumptions in “view from nowhere” science (Harding, 1991). These understandings (among others) are essential to forms of design, partnership, and research that support equitable and self-determined educational activity. As a field, we are now positioned to build on approaches to research that expand and productively redefine notions of systematicity and objectivity (Bang & Vossoughi, 2016; Gutiérrez & Penuel, 2014; Gutiérrez & Vossoughi, 2009; Gutiérrez & Jurow, 2016), particularly toward a political theory of learning that defends and furthers the rights of communities and groups of people who face symbolic and material violence.

Turning our research lenses onto the spaces of knowledge production within the field (such as graduate education, journals, and conferences) we might also consider when and how graduate students and junior scholars receive messages about what counts as valid or legitimate forms of research. We are particularly concerned that simplistic binaries between the political and the scholarly obscure the political dimensions of all research and the possibilities for strong, systematic scholarship that engages explicitly with political questions and phenomena. Whether explicit or implicit, these messages often function to exclude or erode a more diverse range of epistemological and political perspectives and continue to conflate careful research with distance from the communities we study.


At this historical juncture, we believe that scholarly journals—as the joint activity and production of all of us who write manuscripts, engage in peer review, and serve in editorial roles—can and indeed should play an instrumental role in addressing symbolic and material violence. Allan Luke’s analysis of publications in the American Educational Research Journal during the Civil Rights movement powerfully illustrates that academic journals are “gatekeeping institutions” and “technologies for the codification of fields of knowledge and truth” (Luke, in press; also see Kumashiro, 2005; Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1999). Even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and more than a decade into violent struggles and mass protests over civil rights, the journal had no visible engagement with issues of race. Instead, Luke points out that it featured topics like class size, eye movements, teaching boys to read, and even teaching women to bowl given their presumed inability to easily swing their arm. The leading journal of educational research remained indifferent to the most pressing civil rights struggles of the time. It broke this silence with the publication of Arthur Jensen’s unscientific, racist, and hereditarian explanation of differential educational achievement. Journals paradigmatically form truth and engage in the “time-based adjudication of what counts as knowledge” (Luke, in press). At this time, when rights won through the struggles and sacrifices of those before us are severely threatened, as well as the rights of those who will come after us, we hope that fields that focus on learning and their flagship journals will continue to work toward a more synchronous and meaningful relationship between “canonical science [and] the larger social movements and historical moments of struggle, conflict, and change” (Luke, in press). We must collectively develop peer-review criteria and new genres of publications that allow us to swiftly and rigorously engage the intersections between learning and the most pressing political issues of our time.

We must also find ways for international journals that focus on cognition and learning, such as this one, to surmount the epistemological and economic barriers that prevent genuine engagement with global perspectives (i.e.how do these journals broaden perspectives, contributions, and audiences to include scholars from the Global South who are often absent and/or excluded in these scholarly spaces)1. Treating the internationalization of these intellectual forums as a top priority in the coming years represents a powerful form of resistance to the rise of xenophobia and nationalism.

how do these journals broaden perspectives, contributions, and audiences to include scholars from the Global South who are often absent and/or excluded in these scholarly spaces

Professional Forums:

Professional forums, like conferences, allow us opportunities to exchange new ideas and build professional relationships. They also hold the untapped potential to become democratic publics—spaces where we learn and dialogue about pressing matters that affect the public and their intersections with issues of learning. For these forums to genuinely fulfill the role of democratic publics, we might turn our tools of design towards the development of professional learning environments that move beyond traditional formats and intentionally cultivate space for political dialogue and exchange. In addition to a focus on research, this might include expanding the space for discussions of pedagogy in higher education. We must also commit to tangible and institutionally supported strategies to recruit and retain a new generation of researchers who will defend and further the rights and well-being of Indigenous people, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, women, people who are differently abled, LGBTQ communities, and the earth through their scholarship. Drawing from our collective work on transformative approaches to equity, we know that such retention requires forms of professional development, advising, and mentorship that communicate to students that who they are matters to the work and that the limits they encounter in existing research and practice are seeds for new contributions and possibilities.


Research, teaching, and outreach that engages the political entails far more than applying scholarship to an explicitly political domain. It requires building relationships and working in solidarity with communities to generate new ways of engaging in scholarship that defends and furthers the rights and well-being of communities and groups of people who face symbolic and material violence. Reward structures within universities must become more responsive to these forms of service as scholarship. It is also important to consider how universities might value service work that does not necessarily manifest into scholarship but contributes to local social and educational movements. We are not advocating a position whereby everyone needs to do such work—such a stance threatens to trivialize these forms of service. The reward structures of the university should, in the least, not penalize those who meaningfully engage in community-based and community-focused service. This includes recognizing the time and relational work involved in building trusting and sustainable university-community partnerships (Coburn & Penuel, 2016). Further as such partnerships continues to expand, carefully attending to their dynamics is critical since interest convergence (Bell, 1980) can easily reproduce powered hierarchies that reify fundamental inequities albeit with new narratives and processes.


In the weeks following the presidential election, the writer Junot Díaz called on fellow Americans to organize, form solidarities, and to fight to be heard, to be safe, and to be free (Díaz, 2016). Our nation has always wrestled with the foundations and consequences of white patriarchal settler-colonialism. The invigoration of the “alt-right” and its dubious and insidious relationship with the new administration (Lombroso, 2016; Shear, Haberman, & Schmidt, 2016) concerns us further. This moment, if ever, is not the time for neutrality. We are forced to wrestle with the ways in which our scholarship on learning enables, contests, and stands by the escalation of hate and violence in this country. It is a time that we take a stance, as a community of researchers, in solidarity with those who increasingly suffer material and symbolic violence in our communities, in this nation, across global contexts, and with our planet.


We thank the following colleagues for reading early drafts of this manuscript and for providing valuable suggestions, comments, and critiques: Margaret Eisenhart, Ayush Gupta, Kris Gutiérrez, Ilana Horn, Allan Luke, Ananda Marin, Doug Medin, Rebecca Neri, Maria C. Olivares-Pasillas, Joshua Radinsky, Maxine McKinney de Royston, Laurie Rubel, Kathy Schultz, Edd Taylor, and Beth Warren.


  1. One metric for the international reach of journalsis the location of the authors’ institutions. For all articles published between 2011 and 2016 in Cognition and Instruction, the corresponding authors were located in the following countries: United States – 55; European Union – 15; Israel – 6; Canada – 2; Norway – 1; Hong Kong – 1. These data speak to an absence of voices from the Global South and other regions of the world.


Alexander, M. (2010). The new Jim Crow: Mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness. New York, NY: The New Press.

Apple, M.W. (2000). Official knowledge: Democratic education in a conservative age. New York, NY: Routledge.

Archer, L., Dawson, E., Seakins, A., DeWitt, J., Godec, S., & Whitby, C. (2016). “I’m being a man here”: Urban boys’ performances of masculinity and engagement with science during a science museum visit. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(3), 438–485.

Bang, M. & Vossoughi, S. (2016). Participatory design research and educational justice: Studying learning and relations within social change making. Cognition & Instruction, 34(3), 173-193.

Bang, M., Warren, B., Rosebery, A.S., & Medin, D. (2012). Desettling expectations in science education. Human Development, 55, 302-318.

Bell, D. A. (1980). Brown v. Board of Education and the interest- convergence dilemma. Harvard Law Review, 93(3), 518-533.

Booker, A., Vossoughi, S., & Hooper, P. (2014, June). Tensions and possibilities for political work in the learning sciences. Paper presented to the International Conference of the Learning Sciences, Boulder, CO.

Calabrese Barton, A. (1998). Margin and center: Intersections of urban, homeless children and a pedagogy of liberation. Theory into Practice, 37(4), 296-305.

Coburn, C. E., & Penuel, W. R. (2016). Research-practice partnerships in education: Outcomes, dynamics, and open questions. Educational Researcher, 45(1), 48-54.

Cohan, W. D. (2015). How Wall Street’s Bankers Stayed Out of Jail. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2015/09/how-wall-streets-bankers-stayed-out-of-jail/399368/

Cole, M. (1988). Cross-cultural research in the sociohistorical tradition. Human Development, 31, 137-151.

Conner, J. (2014). Lessons that last: Former youth organizers’ reflections on what and how they learned. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(3), 447–484.

Diaz, J. (2016, November 21). Radical hope. The New Yorker. Retrieved from: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/21/aftermath-sixteen-writers-on-trumps-america#diaz

Enyedy, N. & Hall, R. (2016). Cognition and Instruction in Transition. Cognition and Instruction. Advanced online publication: http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/07370008.2017.1262105

Erickson, F. (1984). What makes school ethnography ‘ethnographic’?. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 15(1), 51-66.

Erickson, F. (2004). Talk and social theory: Ecologies of speaking and listening in everyday life. Malden, MA: Polity.

Esmonde, I. (2014). “Nobody’s rich and nobody’s poor … it sounds good, but it’s actually not”: Affluent students learning mathematics and social justice. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 23(3), 348–391.

Esmonde, I. & Booker, A.N. (2016). Power and privilege in the Learning Sciences: Critical and sociocultural theories of learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Europe’s rising far right: A guide to the most prominent parties. (2016, November 17). The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/world/europe/europe-far-right-political-parties-listy.html?_r=0

Fanon, F. (1963). The wretched of the earth (C. Farrington, Trans.). New York, NY: Grove.

Foucault, M. (1975). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York, NY: Random House.

Fichtenbaum, R., Bunsis, H., & Reichman, H. (2016, November 9). Higher Education after the 2016 Election. American Association of University Professors. Retrieved from: https://www.aaup.org/news/higher-education-after-2016-election#.WDX80KIrKRv

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Goldstein, D. (2016, November 23). How Trump could gut public education. Slate. Retrieved from: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/education/2016/11/how_trump_and_education_secretary_betsy_devos_could_gut_public_education.html

Gutiérrez, K. D., & Jaramillo, N. E. (2006). Looking for educational equity: The consequences of relying on Brown. Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education, 105(2), 173–189.

Gutiérrez, K., & Jurow, A.S. (2016). Social design experiments: Toward equity by design, The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 25(4), 565-598.

Gutierrez, K.D. & Penuel, W.R. (2014). Relevance to practice as a criterion for rigor. Educational Researcher, 43(1), 19-23.

Gutierrez, K.D. & Vossoughi, S. (2010). Lifting off the ground to return anew: Mediated praxis, transformative learning, and social design experiments. Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 100-117.

Habermas, J. (1971). Knowledge and human interest. Boston, MA: Beacon.

Hale, J. F. (1995). The making of the new democrats. Political Science Quarterly, 110(2), 207-232.

Harding, S. (1991). Whose science? Whose knowledge?: Thinking from women’s lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Holley, P. (2016, November 2). KKK’s official newspaper supports Donald Trump for president. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/11/01/the-kkks-official-newspaper-has-endorsed-donald-trump-for-president/

hooks, b. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.

Horn, I.S. (2016). Accountability as a Design for Teacher Learning: Sensemaking about Mathematics and Equity in the NCLB Era. Urban Education. Advance online publication: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0042085916646625

Iaconangelo, D. (2016, October 20). How many people has Obama really deported? The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from: http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Politics/2016/1020/How-many-people-has-Obama-really-deported

Indian Country Today Media Network (2016, August 23). Native Nations Rally in Support of Standing Rock Sioux. Retrieved from: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2016/08/23/native-nations-rally-support-standing-rock-sioux-165554

Jurow, A. S., & Shea, M. (2015). Learning in equity-oriented scale-making projects. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 24(2), 286–307.

Kolodner, J. L. (2004). The Learning Sciences: Past, Present, and Future. Educational Technology: The Magazine for Managers of Change in Education, 44(3), 37 – 42.

Kopan, T. & Scott, E. (2016, March 24). North Carolina governor signs controversial transgender bill. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2016/03/23/politics/north-carolina-gender-bathrooms-bill/

Kumashiro, K. (2005). Thinking collaboratively about the peer-review process for journal-article publication. Harvard Educational Review, 75(3), 257-285.

Ladson-Billings, G., & Tate, W. F. (1999). Editorial statement. American Educational Research Journal, 36(1), 45.

Landler, M. (2016, December 22). Transition team’s request on gender equality rattles State Dept. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/22/us/politics/state-department-gender-equality-trump-transition.html?emc=eta1

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, UK: University of Cambridge.

Lear, J. (2006). Radical hope: Ethics in the face of cultural devastation. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Lee, C. D. (2008). The Centrality of Culture to the Scientific Study of Learning and Development: How an Ecological Framework in Educational Research Facilitates Civic Responsibility. Educational Researcher, 37(5), 267-279.

Leonardo, Z. (2004). Critical social theory and transformative knowledge: The functions of criticism in quality education. Educational Researcher, 33(6), 11–18.

Lichtblau, E. (2016, September 17). Hate crimes against American Muslims most since post-9/11 era. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/18/us/politics/hate-crimes-american-muslims-rise.html

Lichtblau, E., Haberman, M., & Parkernov, A. (2016, November 18). Donald Trump selects senator Jeff Sessions for attorney general. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/us/politics/jeff-sessions-donald-trump-attorney-general.html

Lombroso, D. (2016, November 21). ‘Hail trump!’: White nationalists salute the president elect. The Atlantic. Retrieved from: http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/11/richard-spencer-speech-npi/508379/

Luke, A. (in press). On the race of teachers and students: A reflection on experience, scientific evidence and silence. American Educational Research Journal.

Kirshner, B. (2015). Youth activism in an era of education inequality. New York, NY: New York University Press.

McDermott, R. (1997). Achieving school failure 1972-1997. In Spindler, G. (Ed.), Education and cultural process: Anthropological approaches, 3, 110-135.

McLaren, P., & Farahmandpur, R. (2004). Teaching against global capitalism and the new imperialism: A critical pedagogy. New York, NY: Rowman & Littlefield.

Milman, O. (2016, November 23). Trump to scrap Nasa climate research in crackdown on ‘politicized science’. The Guardian. Retrieved from: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/nov/22/nasa-earth-donald-trump-eliminate-climate-change-research?CMP=twt_gu

Nasir, N.S., Snyder, C.R., Shah, N., & Ross, K.M. (2012). Racial Storylines and implications for Learning. Human Development, 55, 285–301

Philip, T. M. (2011). An “ideology in pieces” approach to studying change in teachers’ sense-making about race, racism, and racial justice. Cognition & Instruction, 29(3), 297–329.

Philip, T.M., Olivares-Pasillas, M.C., & Rocha, J. (2016). Becoming racially literate about data and data-literate about race: Data visualizations in the classroom as a site of racial-ideological micro-contestations. Cognition and Instruction, 34(4), 361-388.

Phillip, A. & Hauslohner, A. (2016, December 22). Trump on the future of proposed Muslim registry: ‘You know my plans.’ The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-politics/wp/2016/12/21/trump-on-the-future-of-proposed-muslim-ban-registry-you-know-my-plans/?utm_term=.799ba9e16421

Powell, E. (2016). Why do some Brazilians want military rule? The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved from: http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Global-News/2016/1117/Why-do-some-Brazilians-want-military-rule

Pradhan, S. (2016, October 20). For better or worse, the BJP is turning to Hindutva (again). The Wire. Retrieved from: http://thewire.in/74617/bjp-modi-hindutva-up/

Rabuy, B. & Kopf, D. (2015, July 9). Prisons of poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned. Northampton: MA: Prison Policy Institute.

Radinsky, J. & Tabak, I. (in press). Outgoing editors’ note: The Journal of the Learning Sciences as a mirror of trends in the field. The Journal of the Learning Sciences. Advance online publication: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10508406.2017.1260414

Right side up. (2015, June 6). The Economist. Retrieved from: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21653676-powerful-if-little-reported-group-claims-it-can-restore-pre-war-order-right-side-up

Rosebery, A.S., Ogonowski, M., DiSchino, M., and Warren, B. (2010). “The coat traps all your body heat”: Heterogeneity as fundamental to learning. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 19(3), 322-357.

Rosenberg, M. & Haberman, M. (2016, November 17). Michael Flynn, anti-Islamist ex-general, offered security post, Trump aide says. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/18/us/politics/michael-flynn-national-security-adviser-donald-trump.html

Serle, J. (2016, July 1).  Obama drone casualty numbers a fraction of those recorded by the Bureau. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. Retrieved from: https://www.thebureauinvestigates.com/2016/07/01/obama-drone-casualty-numbers-fraction-recorded-bureau/

Shear, M. D., Haberman, M., & Schmidt, M. S. (2016, November 14). Critics see Stephen Bannon, Trump’s pick for strategist, as voice of racism. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/15/us/politics/donald-trump-presidency.html

Southern Poverty Law Center (2016, November 11). Over 200 incidents of hateful harassment and intimidation since election day. Retrieved from: https://www.splcenter.org/hatewatch/2016/11/11/over-200-incidents-hateful-harassment-and-intimidation-election-day

Spring, J. (2015). Economization of education: Human capital, global corporations, skills-based schooling. Routledge.

Stillman, J. (2011). Teacher learning in an era of high-stakes accountability: Productive tension and critical professional practice. Teachers College Record 113(1), 133-180

Stillman, J. & Anderson, L. (2011). To follow, reject, or flip the script: Managing instructional tension in an era of high-stakes accountability. Language Arts, 89(1), 22-37

Taylor, A. (2016, June 25). The uncomfortable question: Was the Brexit vote based on racism? The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/06/25/the-uncomfortable-question-was-the-brexit-vote-based-on-racism/

Taylor, K.H., & Hall, R. (2013). Counter-mapping the neighborhood on bicycles: mobilizing youth to reimagine the neighborhood. Technology, Knowledge and Learning, 65-93.

Traub, J. (2016, November 2). The party that wants to make Poland great again. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/06/magazine/the-party-that-wants-to-make-poland-great-again.html

Tyson, A. & Maniam, S. (2016, November 9). Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/behind-trumps-victory-divisions-by-race-gender-education/

Warren, B. & Rosebery, A. (2011). Navigating interculturality: African American male students and the science classroom. Journal of African American Males in Education, 2(1), 98-115.

Where will populism strike next in the EU? (2016, November 11). The Economist. Retrieved from: http://country.eiu.com/article.aspx?articleid=814807465&Country=France&topic=Politics&subtopic=Forecast&subsubtopic=Political+stability

Wortham, S. (2004). The interdependence of social identification and learning. American Educational Research Journal, 41(3), 715-750.

Wong, E. (2016, November 18). Trump has called climate change a Chinese hoax. Beijing says its anything but. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/19/world/asia/china-trump-climate-change.html




One thought on “Engagements: The Learning Sciences in a New Era of U.S. Nationalism

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *