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Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Faculty Focus: Challenging Expectations — in Research and in the Classroom

Faculty Focus Graphic
Dr. Belén Hernando-Lloréns returned to her hometown of Madrid in 2013 expecting to find a brewing feminist revolution in the schools. What she found instead turned her own expectations and beliefs — and her dissertation research — upside down.

She was there to explore how Latina immigrant students responded to instances of sexual harassment in their schools, and what she found surprised her. Rather than taking to the streets in protest or speaking out in other ways in school, Hernando-Lloréns found girls self-blaming, falling silent and using what she called the technologies of the body — loose-fitting clothing meant to under-sexualize themselves.

What was going on? And what did this mean for her research? 

Now an Assistant Professor in the San Diego State University School of Teacher Education, with a joint appointment on the Imperial Valley campus, Hernando-Lloréns provides answers in a recently published article in the Journal of Curriculum Studies, where she transcends notions of agency in critical pedagogy that parallels responsible citizenship with resisting social norms. She concludes that these girls’ responses cannot be dissociated from the historical production of the logics of conviviality that circulates in educational reform and schools, where dissent is displaced from democratic culture.

She is also co-editing a special issue on “Conviviality in Education and the Making of Difference” in the journal Globalisation, Societies and Education, which brings together a range of critical methodological and theoretical frameworks to explore the colonial legacies of conviviality in education. The call for papers is open until February 1, 2021.

Along the way, what Hernando-Lloréns learned about herself as a scholar and the practice of research itself was equally significant. The difficult experience of grappling with confounded expectations inspired her to write “Meditations on Experience: The politics and ethics of ‘not knowing’ in educational research,” which is forthcoming in an edited volume in Critical Theoretical Research Methods in Education in Routledge.

Here, Hernando-Lloréns reflects on the experience of “not knowing” as a valuable tool of inquiry in educational research and other topics. 

How did you react when you realized the girls in your study were not responding as you had expected?

“From a feminist perspective, I started wondering, 'What's wrong here?' I think I found myself judging the girls in a way, like, 'This is not how they should be doing it.' But what I did was rewrite my questions and challenge my own assumptions about what civic participation, agency, activism and the political mean. I started to ask why they weren't doing the revolution that I was expecting and suspected was the way to respond. So what I did was go historically to trace how this notion of participation has been defined in education policy in Spain and to try to see and understand how discourses of conviviality entangle with those.” 

What did that experience teach you about research? 

“I really feel that sometimes in the field of education — especially in the critical tradition — we try to look at notions of human action and the political in pretty pre-defined ways. To be political is to go and march in a demonstration or to make a t-shirt with a message. What I think this paper shows, and can contribute to the field, is that we actually need to be more cautious. We can be pretty oppressive in our own research when we don't take a step back and interrogate how we have come to talk about responsible citizenship in this way. Good research is not really about applying theory, it's about challenging the notions and theories that you are drawing on. I think it's important for students to know the messier piece of all this. And research is messy.” 

Can you tell us about your own upbringing in Madrid? 

“I was raised by a single mom — my dad died when I was 5. She only had a basic education. There were times when I was growing up and she'd write a note to someone and I'd have to review the spelling errors or things like that. But my mom put all her effort in my education. She used to say, ‘I will walk in slippers, but you will have an education.’” 

What has struck you most about teaching in the Imperial Valley? 

“If you are attentive to the context, it really shapes your scholarship. In my new research, I am approaching the Imperial Valley as a colonial space. What I've found here is that some of the issues and concerns that this community is facing are closer to the issues in Mexico or Venezuela than in Chicago or New York. You see a lot of the issues around the land — who owns it and who works it. Basic labor rights are and were not met. What’s the impact of that on our children daily school experiences and opportunities? What about even the experiences of those students on the IV campus? Just listening to your students and reading their journals — especially about what it meant for them to grow up there at a time when bilingual education was banned in California — it's really eye-opening.” 

How are you able to connect with your students? 

“It's interesting because I'm from Spain and I'm teaching in this region with Latinx students. As someone from Spain, I do, myself, embody the colonial legacy. But even though I embody a lot of privilege growing up in Spain, I feel like my own personal life experiences kind of connect with them in many ways. I tell them the story about writing things for my mom or about not having children’s books at home growing up and their faces change. They say, 'Yeah I know what you mean.’ I think for a lot of them, that doesn't really connect with what they expect a professor from Spain to be. Of course, I don’t want to essentialize their experiences, since many of them come from different life trajectories. But that's a side of myself that I think is important for them to know.”