Guest lecturer emphasized critical thinking when dealing with inequality in schools

AUGUSTA, GA – Dr. Patricia Alvarez McHatton, dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, visited Augusta University teacher education students and AU College of Education faculty on March 15 to talk about how to address inequality in the k12 classroom.

Alvarez McHatton’s lecture, titled “Knowing is Not Enough: How Do We Move from Awareness to Praxis,” addressed the continuing struggle for equity in education. Despite legislative and advocacy efforts, school-aged children are still struggling. How can teachers implement lessons from research in their classrooms?

“We have an ethical and moral responsibility to all children,” Alvarez McHatton said. “A responsibility to right the wrongs that history has imposed by removing social barriers and providing necessary support. Without support, we’re missing out on talent and we don’t even know what we’ve lost.”

McHatton, herself, immigrated to the United States from Cuba as an elementary student when she spoke little English. She was an English as a Second Language student, enjoyed middle school very much – but then dropped out of high school. Slowly defying the educational attainment statistics surrounding high school dropouts, she went to college “on the 20-year plan,” then completed a masters and a doctorate. And yet, she said, no one ever questioned her when she was dropping out of high school.

“Part of [addressing inequity] is thinking about all the social, political, cultural issues that are in play in the schools and really being aware of the ways that kids get stigmatized and pathologized and criminalized sometimes in these institutions where they are served,” Alvarez McHatton said.

Alvarez McHatton stressed the need for openness, communication, constant reevaluation and the need to use evidence-based approaches to try to solve problems of practice in teaching. But even evidence-based approaches have their weaknesses, she said.

“Research tells us what has worked. But it doesn’t necessarily tell us what will work,” McHatton said.

She likened this seeming paradox – the idea that peer-reviewed research on a solution to a problem may not actually address the problem – to the old Heraclitus quote: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Each student is different, each classroom is different and each school year is different. The problems of practice facing an educator may not be the same from one to another. In fact, there may be more than one solution, and outcomes can never be guaranteed.

“One issue, all of these possible ways of defining it. Wherever you enter the situation, you may come up with a different solution,” Alvarez McHatton said, depending on whether you look at issues from a student’s needs, a classroom environment, a school’s guidelines, a district’s plans or even national policies.

A robust Q&A session followed, with questions from faculty, professional educators and pre-service teachers in attendance. Ultimately, Alvarez McHatton said, change is a necessary battle, and the solutions may not be immediately evident. But passionate educators can be agents of positive change, even if they don’t feel overwhelming support from colleagues.

“It takes a minority of just 5 percent to influence a crowd’s direction,” Alvarez McHatton. “Be one of that 5 percent and you can change the world.”

The visit was part of the College of Education’s ongoing Dean’s Lecture Series, which brings to Augusta University preeminent scholars and leaders in their respective fields to share their knowledge with faculty and students and to present work that has had significant impact in addressing the many 21st century challenges in education, counseling and kinesiology.

Alvarez McHatton started her career by earning her B.A. in special education behavior disorders, learning disabilities and eventually went on to get her M.A. in special education varying exceptionalities. Finally, she got her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction with an emphasis in special education and urban education. She is the dean of the College of Education at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley; and currently also serves as interim provost and vice president of Academic Affairs.

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