Realizing the Democratic Ideal, the conceptual framework of Illinois State University’s educator preparation program, recognizes the rights of all children to receive a high quality, democratic public school education. College of Education faculty members freely contribute to the current dialogue on educator preparation in the changing landscapes of our nation’s public schools.

We interviewed faculty researchers Beth Hatt, associate professor of educational administration and foundations, and Ellis Hurd, assistant professor of teaching and learning, about their recent publications regarding the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

These studies found common themes regarding the predominantly white, middle-class cultural practices in schools that perpetuate a lack of academic achievement among low-income students, English learners, and students with mixed heritage. Furthermore, indicators of oppression and continued marginalization of these students in traditional schooling emerged.

Research focus

Beth Hatt studied the cultural practices of smartness in a kindergarten class. Hatt found that smartness functioned as a cultural practice of schooling rather than something a student or person possesses.

headshot of Beth Hatt

Beth Hatt

Hatt said one the collective goals educators should have is “for no child to ever feel like school is something they aren’t good at or that they aren’t smart enough.”

“To do this, as teachers we have to recognize a wide range of knowledges, wisdoms, and community practices as valuable beyond traditional notions of school smarts,” Hatt said.

However, Hatt said determinations about whether a child is or is not smart “are based on teachers’ expectations mediated by knowledge of students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and racial identities.”

The researcher said she was most troubled by the fact that students were labeled smart and rewarded in the classroom if they knew curriculum content and behavioral expectations before they were taught these by the teacher.

“Hence, smartness becomes largely about possessing the cultural capital most valued by the teacher,” Hatt said.

Despite talent, effort, or even intellectual ability, many low-income and/or students of color do not possess the cultural knowledge of white, middle-class norms in traditional schooling that will get them recognized as smart.

Hatt said if educators fail to pay attention to this issue—how smartness operates in schools—“we miss a critical opportunity to reimagine and reinterpret smartness, particularly for low-income students and students of color.”

Hatt authored “Smartness as a Cultural Practice in Schools” in the American Educational Research Journal and “Still I Rise: Youth Caught Between the Worlds of Schools and Prisons” in The Urban Review, and co-authored “A Demanding Reality: Print-Media Advertising and Selling Smartness in a Knowledge Economy” in Educational Studies.

“The Reflexivity of Pain and Privilege”

Ellis Hurd examined the construction of personal identities for persons with mixed heritage in the U.S. Hurd created a new framework for understanding the struggles of racially, culturally, and sociolinguistically diverse individuals with mixed heritage as a persistent, simultaneous discourse of both pain and privilege.

headshot of Ellis Hurd

Ellis Hurd

Mixed heritage students sometimes identify as part of a privileged class as they travel between and negotiate within racial, cultural, or social groups. However, fear of oppression, pressure, or convenience can cause individuals with mixed heritage to misidentify their “true” identity, which remains in flux.

Hurd said identity construction for students with mixed heritage, especially students in the middle grades who are experiencing developmental changes, can be challenging.

“Even if a student of mixed heritage assumes to identify with or within a singular schooling group, they find they may still be seen by others as unacceptable,” Hurd said.

In historically white, middle-class school cultures, differences in language, dialect, skin color, or physical features can deny them full acceptance by either group.

Hurd said educators who do not recognize the inequalities in schools are unable to work toward addressing them.

“Educators who aspire to treating all students the same, regardless of the students’ backgrounds or races, must realize this is an ultimate failure to recognize the existence of racial and cultural diversity and, even more, to recognize racial inequities in schools,” Hurd said.

Hurd authored “The Reflexivity of Pain and Privilege” in the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, “A Framework for Understanding Multicultural Identities: An Investigation of a Middle Level Student’s French-Canadian Honduran-American (Mestizo) Identity” in the Middle Grades Research Journal, and “Confessions of Belonging: My emotional Journey as a Medical Translator” in Qualitative Inquiry.