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Beyond Equity as Inclusion: A Framework of “Rightful Presence” for Guiding Justice-Oriented Studies in Teaching and Learning

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Abstract

Current discourses of equity in teaching and learning are framed around calls for inclusion, grounded in the extension of a set of static rights for high-quality learning opportunities for all students. This essay presents a rightful presence framework to guide the study of teaching and learning in justice-oriented ways. This framework highlights the limitations of equity as inclusion, which does not adequately address the ways in which systemic injustices manifest in local classroom practice. Rightful presence orients the field towards the importance of political struggles to make present the lives of those made missing by schooling and discipline-specific norms. Three tenets for guiding the use of this framework in teaching and learning are offered. Two contrasting vignettes from STEM classrooms illustrate tenets and emergent tensions.
Educational Researcher, Vol. XX No. X, pp. 1 –8
DOI: 10.3102/0013189X20927363
Article reuse guidelines: sagepub.com/journals-permissions
© 2020 AERA. http://er.aera.net MONTH XXXX
1
Consider the following quotes shared by youth during a
classroom ethnography of sixth-grade STEM (science,
technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning:
When you walk into some classrooms, you feel they don’t want you
there. (Sana, 13-year-old)
Just because my friends don’t speak English they don’t count. I see it
everywhere. . . . Like my friend Kiera has so many ideas and no one
even knows it. (Valia, 12-year-old)
These quotes give witness to some of the oppressions minori-
tized youth experience through the regularities of classroom
practice, including otherization, conditional participation/
belonging, and dehumanization. These oppressions are not iso-
lated experiences, but systemic and enduring, manifesting daily
in local practice in classrooms across the United States (Milner,
2015). Despite decades of reform, minoritized youth continue
to be positioned, through dominant discourses and practices, as
“missing” or “out-of-place” socially, culturally, academically, and
historically, despite their embodied presence in classrooms
(Tedesco & Bagelman, 2017, p. 382).
Addressing the ways in which systemic injustices manifest in
classroom practice remains a significant challenge in the study of
teaching and learning (Artiles, 2011). Systemic injustices are
made invisible through their regularities in practice. Teachers
often unknowingly mete out injustices through quotidian teach-
ing practices. Contemporary equity-driven reform efforts in
teaching and learning are grounded in the liberal ideal of inclusion
(Martin, 2019). That is, all students should have access and
opportunities to participate in discourses and practices central to
the disciplines, in ways tailored to their particular needs and socio-
cultural locations. However, such calls fall short of embracing
the political struggles of those oppressed in classroom settings—
in both form and meaning—as acts of justice (de Royston et al.,
2017). It is in these struggles that relationalities in classrooms,
which reproduce oppressive modes of power, are challenged, dis-
rupted, and potentially restructured.
We contend that, thus far, equity frameworks in the teaching
and learning of academic subjects have minimally disrupted the
927363EDRXXX10.3102/0013189X20927363Educational ResearcherEducational Researcher
research-article2020
1University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI
2University of North Carolina at Greensboro, NC
Beyond Equity as Inclusion: A Framework of “Rightful
Presence” for Guiding Justice-Oriented Studies in
Teaching and Learning
Angela Calabrese Barton1 and Edna Tan2
Current discourses of equity in teaching and learning are framed around calls for inclusion, grounded in the extension of a
set of static rights for high-quality learning opportunities for all students. This essay presents a rightful presence framework
to guide the study of teaching and learning in justice-oriented ways. This framework highlights the limitations of equity as
inclusion, which does not adequately address the ways in which systemic injustices manifest in local classroom practice.
Rightful presence orients the field towards the importance of political struggles to make present the lives of those made
missing by schooling and discipline-specific norms. Three tenets for guiding the use of this framework in teaching and
learning are offered. Two contrasting vignettes from STEM classrooms illustrate tenets and emergent tensions.
Keywords: critical justice; diversity; equity; ethnography; inclusion; learning environments; middle school; rightful
presence; social justice; STEM; systemic injustices; teaching and learning
REVIEWS/ESSAYS
2 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
racial, gendered, and linguistic hierarchies in education, while
mostly maintaining these oppressive power dynamics (Willis,
2015). In this essay, we argue for a framework of rightful presence
to guide justice-oriented studies of teaching and learning, using
our work in STEM education to illustrate our argument.
The idea of rightful presence emerges from critical justice
studies of the potentials and limitations of sanctuary cities serv-
ing borderland and refugee communities (Squire & Darling,
2013). Sanctuary cities operate on benevolent, guest (immi-
grant, refugee)–host (citizens) relationships, where municipal
legislation formalizes the rights of immigrants and refugees in
response to national efforts to enforce dehumanizing immigra-
tion laws and practices.
Being welcomed as guests with institutionalized rights pro-
vides access and opportunities otherwise denied to newcomers.
However, as guests, newcomers are subject to unequal power
relations since the enactment of inclusionary practices are bound
to an existing, hierarchical social order (Doty, 2006). By extend-
ing a set of institutional rights to newcomers, hosts consign
newcomers permanently as guests with attenuated agency, and as
responsible to current dominant power dynamics (Shirazi, 2018).
Furthermore, hosts are those “privileged enough to be able to
choose whether or not to extend the hospitality that appears so
needed” (Squire & Darling, 2013, p. 63). For example, sanctu-
ary cities legislate access to schooling and health care and provide
volunteering opportunities for those denied the right to work.
However, the enactment of these legislated rights is shaped by
social structures, such as Whiteness, masculinity, and class privi-
lege. These social structures mediate access in practice and often
render invisible the experiences of newcomers (Vrasti & Dayal,
2016).
Rightful presence is predicated upon practices that critique
guest/host-powered relationalities and the terrain upon which
these relationalities are enacted (Tedesco & Bagelman, 2017).
Rightful presence asserts that legitimately belonging in a place,
whether it be a sanctuary city or, as we discuss later, a classroom,
centers making present the political struggles guests embody and
experience. These political struggles include the “fraught histories”
and “concrete injustices” guests endure across time and settings,
often unperturbed by anodyne inclusionary practices (Squire &
Darling, 2013, p. 4). To restructure new justice- centered futures,
hosting needs to shift from merely extending host-centered
rights to actively engaging in processes of reauthoring of rights
with newcomers through political struggle.
Discourses of Equity in Teaching and Learning
Equity as Inclusion
There are shared assumptions regarding how and why teaching
and learning sustain inequities, especially pertaining to minori-
tized youth. Inequity is persistent, complex, and made manifest
in educational processes and outcomes (Artiles, 2011). Inequities
are (re)produced through the social structures of schooling,
including assumptions embedded in models of teaching and
learning, assessment, and management (Mills & Ballantyne,
2016). Inequity-producing social structures are systemic and
have histories in social, political, moral, and economic policies
and practices maintained by dominant culture/White suprem-
acy (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Inequities result in opportunity and
outcome gaps, realized across historically privileged and disad-
vantaged groups.
Equity as inclusion seeks to redress the accumulation of many
of these systemic inequities by questioning who has access to
high-quality learning opportunities. High quality typically refers
to instruction aimed at supporting all students in learning chal-
lenging ideas, participating in discipline-specific activities, and
being valued as members of the learning community (Windschitl
et al., 2018). Inclusion considers how opportunities to learn
mediate outcomes, such as development of disciplinary knowl-
edge and practice, identities, interest, and future pursuits (Horn,
2018).
Inclusion is denoted by the language of contemporary reform
efforts (e.g., mathematics and science for all; National Council
of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000; Next Generation Science
Standards Lead States, 2013). Here, inclusion involves the exten-
sion of rights to disciplinary learning to all students, with special
attention paid to ensuring that minoritized students gain access
to such rights. Rights extended include access to pedagogies,
tools, and materials that can be differentiated to learners needs
and sociocultural contexts.
Inclusion also denotes membership into the classroom learn-
ing community, as well as to the broader institutions in which
the classroom is nested (e.g., disciplinary communities, society),
all governed by sociohistorical relations of power, including, but
not limited to, White supremacy and dominant patriarchy
(Nasir & Vakil, 2017). Full membership into well-resourced
learning communities may provide powerful opportunities oth-
erwise unavailable, especially to minoritized youth. However,
with rights extended come responsibilities expected. Stringently
defined rights demand responsibilities—regarding who one is
and must become—that closely align to established structures
and practices.
The Limits of Inclusion
Reform efforts focused on inclusion do little to disrupt systemic
inequities in classroom practice. Framing equity around the
extension of rights, while foregrounding the importance of
membership, occludes the undergirding relationalities. Although
Squire and Darling (2013) address sanctuary cities, this power-
ful relationality also drives equity as inclusion in classrooms.
Students are guests in classrooms and schools, hosted by teach-
ers and school leaders. Teachers, as hosts, mediate access to valu-
able resources. The power to host allows one to control guests
through the very rights extended to them—rights defined and
shaped by the territories they are meant to reflect. The power to
host also allows one to rescind rights at any moment. For exam-
ple, students, positioned as guests in their classrooms, are
expected to follow majoritarian routines with the threat of
social or disciplinary sanctions for noncompliance. In its most
benevolent enactments, the host strives to welcome guests. Yet
extending rights to guests does not challenge the relational hier-
archies in classrooms or the disciplines. Extending rights only
provides resources and approaches for making participation in
the current constructions of classrooms and disciplines possible.
MONTH XXXX
3
The very idea of extending rights is rooted in maintaining oth-
erness. The fact that one needs rights continually extended
works to inscribe one as perpetually foreign. Inclusion “rests on
the implied promise of not radically altering the status quo,”
which maintains racialized, gendered, and classed hierarchies
(Martin, 2019, p. 469).
Further, the extension of rights to guests is built around indi-
vidualized notions of justice-to-come, abstracted from relations
of power (e.g., dimensions of power operating in canonical
Western epistemologies) or context (e.g., who one is, where one
grows up, etc.). Equity as inclusion may formalize the rights
youth should have in classrooms and provide opportunities oth-
erwise denied. However, it does little to account for whose values
undergird these rights and how such rights are enacted in prac-
tice. Even more, the extension of rights conceals the reproduction
of unjust sociohistorical power dynamics that undergird the set of
rights extended. Youth historically marginalized in the disciplines
and schooling are expected to reconfigure themselves towards the
dominant White, patriarchal, English-speaking culture, regard-
less of the real and symbolic violence such acts require (Gholson
& Robinson, 2019). Such views of equity do not fully account
for the political struggles that oppressed others might enact
through collective resistance as they draw from their rich cultural
practices (e.g., Black love) to inscribe new meanings to their
rights in the spaces they inhabit (Kohli & Pizzaro, 2016). The
very foundations upon which rights are anchored—that of an
assumed, historical establishment—has to be actively forsaken.
“Unless You’re Black”
The lack of an extension of rights to legitimate participation in
the disciplines is a fundamental injustice. Work along these lines
should not be dismissed. However, only extending rights without
attending to the political struggle to reauthor rights is insuffient
for disrupting guest/host power dynamics, limiting the possibili-
ties for justice-oriented social change in the here-and-now and
possible futures.
Consider Amir, a 12-year-old Black boy, whom the authors
encountered as part of a year-long ethnographic study of justice-
centered teaching practices across in/formal contexts (Kim et al.,
2019). Amir was engaged in a forensic science investigation with
his sixth-grade classmates at his local science center as a part of
the regular school day. Over six once-a-week full-day sessions,
students learned about forensic science, experimenting with dif-
ferent technologies used to generate data about crime scenes (e.g.,
DNA, fingerprinting, blood type) and how to use these data in
evidence-based detective work. The teacher, Mr. A, supported
students’ participation in discipline-specific ways—ensuring all
students engaged with the hands-on and discussion-based learn-
ing activities. His facilitation positioned students to be contribut-
ing members of the learning community.
During the last session, students pulled their ideas together in
a crime scene investigation. Mr. A explained that they were
responsible for gathering and analyzing data so that they could
accurately find and convict the right criminal. He emphasized
the importance of being fair and using data as evidence. Amir
quickly interrupted by calling out “Unless you’re Black! If you’re
Black, you’ll be convicted.”
Mr. A seemed caught off-guard by Amir’s comment, respond-
ing, “I like the passion in that statement, but let’s make sure we
talk about that somewhere else, other than this classroom, at the
moment. If you want to talk about that later, we absolutely can.”
Amir did not verbally respond, but instead, lightly nodded his
head in frustration. Working with friends, Amir completed his
work as expected, with animation and rigor. He stated that he
liked most of his forensic science class. He did not talk to his
teacher about this topic later.
Mr. A told us that this moment hit him “really quick[ly]
because it’s a very powerful thing to say.” He also noted that talk-
ing about racism and forensics was “challenging” to do “in front
of a whole group of students, when all these students come from
different backgrounds.” He remembered that he “gave Amir a
smile. I didn’t want him to think what he said was wrong.” Mr.
A further explained that he thought Amir understood, from
their exchange, that science class was “not a place to bring up
politics.”
Having lessons at the science center afforded Amir opportu-
nities to leverage resources he might not otherwise have had at
his school. Simultaneously, his comment put these rights in ten-
sion with the political struggle of being Black in the White-
dominated spaces of the criminal (in)justice system and STEM.
Amir’s experiences of injustice in STEM and society, where the
criminal (in)justice system systemically inflicts injustices upon
Black bodies (Alexander, 2012), were amplified by having his
concern sidelined as not the focus of class.
Mr. A, the institutional representative of these rights, wel-
comed Amir as he extended these rights, but was unwilling, in-
the-moment, to engage with Amir, to reauthor such rights in his
learning community. This interaction had both embodied and
epistemological consequences. Amir’s Black body was disavowed
in this moment. Further, the injustices historically borne by
Black bodies were effectively elided from their study of forensic
science. While Amir actively participated and demonstrated
learning of the key ideas through his accomplishments, the pos-
sibilities for disrupting the local production of systemic inequi-
ties were suppressed. The extension of rights to participate, in
this case, still invalidated legitimized discussions of how the
norms governing forensic science are racialized.
A Black child may never fully have a rightful presence in the
American criminal (in)justice system as it is currently con-
structed. However, pedagogical strategies, such as those that
might engage in refusal in and of antiblackness (Martin, 2019),
which makes present and problematizes such fraught histories,
could make space for legitimized discussions of the racialized
dimensions of forensic science towards a more rightful presence
for Amir/Black students in STEM class. The political struggle of
making present Amir’s embodied understanding of forensic sci-
ence could open up new learning trajectories that make move-
ment towards his more rightful presence in this setting possible.
Beyond Equity Towards Rightful Presence
Rightful Presence in Teaching and Learning
What rightful presence offers teaching and learning exceeds the
limits of equity. Rightful presence, as a justice-oriented political
4 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
project, focuses on the processes of reauthoring rights towards
making present the lives of those made missing by the systemic
injustices inherent in schooling and the disciplines (Calabrese
Barton & Tan, 2019). These processes take shape in political
struggles to legitimize the wisdom of lives lived (Delpit, 1998;
Tuck, 2009) and the historicized inequities incurred in local
practice (Ladson-Billings, 2006), with the goal of making both
injustice and social change in the here-and-now visible in class-
room practice.
We develop this frame in relation to teaching and learning
through a set of three tenets (Table 1) in hopes of orienting the
field towards more justice-oriented processes and outcomes. In
explicating each tenet, we draw from studies in the field reflexive
of particular justice-oriented principles. The tenets are followed
by a vignette from our work as a way to look across them and to
surface the tensions that such work inevitably entails.
Tenet 1: Allied political struggle is integral to disciplinary learning:
the right to reauthor rights. The first tenet focuses on the idea
that the extension of a set of static rights, without accompanied
political struggle, is problematic. It suggests that the political
struggle to reauthor rights is integral to what it means to learn.
When allies, such as teachers, help students to challenge and
transform what participation in the disciplines entails or what
meaningful representations of learning look like, they are engag-
ing in politically oriented acts of reauthoring rights as a part of
disciplinary learning. Such modes of support involve both peda-
gogical and ideological commitments (Philip et al., 2018) in
that they shape opportunities for humanizing participation by
valuing students as cultural and whole people, whose knowl-
edge/wisdom, experiences, and fraught histories are integral to
disciplinary learning. Such modes of support also position stu-
dents’ lives as more than individual resources for learning but,
rather, as shared reflections of historicized experience that can
open up new, more empowering, learning trajectories (de
Royston & Sengupta-Irving, 2019). Further, when political
struggle as a shared burden is viewed as a part of disciplinary
learning, reauthored rights—such as those challenging whose
ways of knowing and being matter, how and why—gain legiti-
macy in classrooms.
Consider Davis and Schaeffer’s (2019) study describing how
a teacher engaged her Black elementary students in an investiga-
tion of water as a resource “with dynamic molecular properties,
but which has historically “been limited, compromised, and
intentionally withheld from nondominant communities” (p. 3).
Not unlike Amir in his study of forensics, the authors illustrate
how the study of water “unjustly” places children, with fraught
water relationships, in “untenable epistemological positions” (p.
3). However, as children engaged in critical dialogue over the
multiple dimensions of the Flint water crisis (a nearby city), they
were supported in expressing social, emotional, and political
ideas and embodied experiences as a part of studying water.
Through the investigation, children developed critical, systemic
explanations of environmental justice, alongside complex and
embodied understandings of the relationalities between nature
and culture (e.g., bodily consequences of water deprivation),
reauthoring what it meant to learn science.
Tenet 2: Rightfulness is claimed through presence: making justice/
injustice visible. Rightful presence requires that political struggle
in classroom practice organize towards making present the inter-
sections of contemporary (in)justices, while orienting towards
new, just social futures. Acknowledging minoritized youths’ his-
tories of injustice, alone, is insufficient without disrupting the
current social order. Thus, this second tenet is about how right-
ful presence is indicated by the extent to which injustices are
made visible and present in teaching and learning alongside
amplifications of youths’ lives and wisdom, such that new pos-
sibilities for social change arise. Teachers work with students to
make intersections between youths’ lives and disciplinary learn-
ing and injustice/justice concrete—and thus the substance on
which one can work—through discourses, practices, and shared
outcomes of learning.
One powerful example reflective of this tenet involves
Gholson and Robinson’s (2019) description of the role “restor-
ative practices” can play in Black learners’ engagement in math-
ematics. The authors describe the Silhouette Activity, where
learners write and draw the internal/external messages they have
received as Black mathematics doers and knowers, creating new
dialogic spaces for making visible and present the physical,
symbolic, and epistemological violence they have experienced in
mathematics classrooms. Such restorative practices, when coupled
with mathematical investigations into justice-relevant societal
issues, guide learners individually and collectively, to interrogate
experiences with mathematics by exploring tensions, hurts and
hopes, calling attention to historicized experiences of being
Black in math, while fostering new possibilities for future-ori-
ented identity development.
Table 1
Undergirding Assumptions of Equity as Inclusion and Rightful Presence
Inclusion Rightful Presence
Extension of a set of rights Political struggle is integral to disciplinary learning: the right to reauthor rights
(Tenet 1)
Located in the abstract future Rightfulness established through presence: making visible the intersections and
justice/injustice in the present while orienting towards new social futures (Tenet 2)
Burden/cost of the enterprise borne by the othered, who seeks
membership
Shared burden/cost between currently powered and the othered (Tenet 3)
Culture of hospitality, involving an ethical commitment to leverage guest/
host relationships towards equitable ends
Culture of disruption towards justice, where modes of power/authority are
collectively called in question (Tenet 3)
MONTH XXXX
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Tenet 3: Collective disruption of guest/host classroom relationalities:
amplifying the sociopolitical. Rightful presence foregrounds the
need to disrupt normative knowledge/power relationalities in
classrooms grounded in White, patriarchal dominance, among
others. However, disrupting these relationalities necessitates a
collective and iterative endeavor shared between the more pow-
erful and the historically less powerful. That is, how rights
become reconstituted involves actions by those seeking the right
to reauthor rights and by those authorized to extend rights, shift-
ing the social hierarchies of classrooms.
This shared commitment to collective disruption focuses on
how individual outcomes are an extension of social transforma-
tion, reconfiguring the discourses and practices of who, and
what, legitimately belong in the disciplines and society. We see
this as a concerted effort to identify and amplify the sociopoliti-
cal (e.g., disrupting social hierarchies) and its intersections with
the epistemological (e.g., what it means to know and do) within
disciplinary learning. Further, as acts of justice accumulate over
time and scales of activity (interpersonal interactions, whole class
activity, school-wide policies), they can render new forms of
power and positionality, opening further opportunities to sup-
port political struggle.
Rubel et al. (2017) describe how one teacher used a trio of
embodied mapping tools to support mathematical meaning-
making while also making visible the persistent socioeconomic
and place-based inequalities affecting nondominant communities.
An oversized neighborhood floor map allowed student experi-
ences to become the terrain for learning. Geographic informa-
tion system (GIS) maps layered race, power, and inequality as
factors shaping the distribution of alternative financial institu-
tions. Participatory mapping amplified the social- mathematical
processes that take place within these institutions. Salient to this
tenet, the three mapping tools together produced new classroom
discourses, reorienting individual counterstories into a collective
disruption of majoritarian stories about their neighborhood,
mathematical practices, and schooling. These acts supported
students in their own political formation, for example, learning
mathematics through investigating the unfair collective impact
of social systems. They also remediated the knowledge/power
relationalities, shifting what counts as knowing in mathematics
and why, as well as the nature and boundaries of participation in
mathematics/community.
These tenets are offered as starting points for what it may
mean to work towards rightful presence in teaching and learn-
ing. We now turn to a vignette from a 4-year study with middle
school teachers seeking to implement justice-oriented teaching
(Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2019) to illustrate these tenets and
emergent tensions.
“The Occupied”: Possibilities and Tensions
Consider the students in Ms. J’s sixth-grade classroom who
designed and built a lighting system that allows classroom mem-
bers to know when the class bathroom is occupied as part of an
engineering unit on sustainable communities (Calabrese Barton
& Tan, 2019). Their school is located in one of the most diverse
areas of the city, and serves students from immigrant and
multigenerational Black, Latinx, and White neighborhoods. In
this school, classroom bathrooms do not lock.
Three youth—Meg (White girl), Mateo (Latino and Indigenous
boy), and Trynn (Black boy)—designed and built “the Occupied
to solve the problem of bathroom barge-ins. The Occupied used
the bathroom light as a switch to activate a solar panel, which
powered three LED lights, in parallel circuit, affixed to the bath-
room’s outer wall. When the bathroom light is turned on, the
LEDs on the outer wall light up. Meg indicated, “Sometimes kids
make a mistake. We want to stop the kids who do this on purpose
and “then spread rumors” about the students barged in upon.
Mateo explained, “Tomas got walked in on twice! Now he never
goes to the bathroom during the day. . . . In the sixth-grade hall-
way, they make up rumors. It’s ridiculous.”
In this case, targeted bathroom bullying through intentional
barge-ins was a political struggle for most boys of color in this
class. The unfolding of this political struggle took place across
many moments and required a shared commitment among Ms.
J and her students.
With teacher support, students studied the bathroom prob-
lem by conducting, then analyzing, surveys, interviews, and
observations in their school as a part of STEM class (Tenet 2:
Making Justice/Injustice Visible). They used these data to design
a way to implement their lighting system so that it could effect
change. As students built and refined their prototype, they were
encouraged by Ms. J to reenact the barge-ins to test real-life sce-
narios, promoting class-wide dialogue on the problem of bath-
room bullying (Tenet 1: Right to Reauthor Rights). During
these reenactments, Mateo, who struggled to find success in
school and whom his teacher described as having a “sad” history,
started role-playing the master electrician, wearing his uncle’s
electrician shirt. He brought in electrical tape and told stories of
building circuits with his uncle from the age of 3 onwards as he
roamed the room helping other groups (Tenet 3: Amplifying the
Sociopolitical).
These moments made increasingly present how systemic
injustices operate through classroom regularities and that their
maintenance and disruption are necessarily collective endeavors.
However, tensions emerged as the class collectively engaged in
political struggle, and Ms. J began to understand her role
differently.
Allied political struggle required Ms. J to recognize she was
not the sole expert, and she needed to learn with/from her stu-
dents (Tenets 1 & 3). This was not easy. She desired her students
to successfully learn STEM, but was unsure of how to help them
as they sought to integrate their struggle into STEM. Ms. J said
she was “uncomfortable” and “unsure” of her own practice, as
students designed and built a project she, herself, could “never
have imagined.” The Occupied also required greater technical
expertise than required by the standards, leading her to worry
whether “this group . . . can get this done” and about her own
ability to help: “I just wasn’t sure I could help them!” She also
did not know if the project would work in her classroom.
Ms. J extended the right to high-quality STEM learning
through supporting deep engagement in engineering. She also
slowly, but more consistently, began to rely on group members’
expertise when she did not know how to help. Further, by
6 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
grounding engineering design in students’ meaning-making of
community data, she opened herself to making present the polit-
ical struggle of bathroom usage while diminishing fear of oppres-
sive repercussion. Students had space to introduce this discourse
as a legitimately welcomed, epistemological dimension to engi-
neering (Tenets 1 & 2).
Ms. J stated that the Occupied changed her views on barge-
ins, impacting her practice. She noted how important it was to
position students as experts and critics on what they were learn-
ing. Furthermore, although a successful, experienced teacher,
Ms. J acknowledged that she had to come to terms with her own
role in reproducing bathroom injustice. She felt vulnerable, as a
veteran teacher, in acknowledging she missed this inequity. She
admitted to being “unaware” of the racialized impact of bath-
room barge-ins, not wanting to believe the racialized patterns—
“it can be a problem sometimes, but it’s kids being kids.”
As Ms. J felt her attention shift to what justice could mean in
the here and now, Ms. J further supported students whom she
noticed were working together to call out injustice (Tenets 2 &
3). For example, she described several occasions where students
collectively called out “the lights are on” as barge-ins occurred,
increasing awareness of its frequency, and by/to whom it hap-
pened. Months later, according to the student-creators, everyone
“could see” how barge-ins related to bullying, and that their
design reduced barge-ins. Students’ ongoing engagement with
bathroom barge-ins, through the Occupied, led to new discourse
threads in their classroom on the prevalence of bullying in school
and its disproportional impact on boys of color. These discourses
became seminal to what it meant to learn and be an expert in
STEM (Tenet 1). When children in other classrooms learned
about this design, they lobbied for its installation—by peer
inventors—in their classrooms, too.
Conclusion
With this essay, our goal is to seed, with the rightful presence
framework, what we consider an important and urgent conversa-
tion for the education field. We have argued that beyond inclu-
sionary practices, working towards justice in teaching and
learning demands a collective struggle for the rightful presence
of youth historically marginalized in schooling and society.
Whether/how the expansive aspects of fully lived lives are ele-
mental to learning depends upon whose lives are lived in any
given moment in any given space.
The rightful presence framework asks reformers to shift away
from inclusionary (e.g., “for all”) foci where the impetus is on
the individual to assimilate into the culture of power or remain
marginal to the learning community. Instead, the framework
refocuses reform on the locally conditional ways in which nor-
malized learning can be disrupted and transformed through
engaging in political struggle against Whiteness and patriarchy.
Political struggle is ever-present in the daily practices of teaching
and learning, whether recognized or not, and is central to oppor-
tunities to learn (de Royston & Sengupta-Irving, 2019). Local
political struggles are the place-based instantiations of systemic
injustices played out in real time, enacted through social negotia-
tions. This points to the imperative for policies addressing teach-
ing and learning to directly identify how educational and
disciplinary systems of power maintain structural racism and
other intersectional oppressions (Gillborn, 2015).
Further, the framework asks reformers to attend to transfor-
mational social change as foundational to individual learning.
Rightful presence calls attention to liberating youths’ embodied
present, rather than some distant future. Rightful presence chal-
lenges what has been considered legitimate, possible and desirable
within disciplinary learning. How learning unfolds in ways
that allows injustice/justice to be made present and acted upon
towards the re-authoring of rights in classroom spaces, is critical.
Although the field centers the translational work of theory to
practice, we believe that a rightful presence framework argues for
greater attention to the need for translational work from practice
to theory. We suggest new policy (albeit inchoately sketched
through the enactment of new practices toward rightful presence)
is currently being authored on the ground in grassroots efforts to
design for and support minoritized students’ rightful presence in
academic learning by careful attention to the sociopolitical dimen-
sions of teaching and learning (e.g., Kohli & Pizarro, 2016).
What evidence might indicate that students are developing a
more rightful presence in classroom learning? For starters, right-
ful presence assumes that one has say in the what, why, how,
when, and for whom of everyday life in the environment in
which one rightfully has stature. Another indicator of a nonguest
is the evidence of material artifacts that literally “claim space” for
a specific, rightful person, that signal one’s assumed presence. In
the classroom, an example of such an artifact would be the
Occupied—student-produced disciplinary-based artifacts with
an afterlife that endures to solidify the rightful presence of its
creators and those whom the project serves. Markers of rightful
presence therefore include shifts in the positionality and perfor-
mative range for minoritized students and the physicality of
classrooms, whose “stuff” is evident and conspicuous.
How might educators be supported in learning to teach in
ways that promote a more rightful presence for minoritized stu-
dents? More expansive views of classroom instruction and rela-
tionalities are required. Teachers will need support in developing
strategies to notice and make present the lives of their students as
integral to disciplinary learning, and as powerful lenses for expos-
ing/restructuring the injustices that position youth as marginal to
learning. Teachers may need support in developing caring and
embodied understanding about the institutional nature of
oppression and their students’ experiences with it (Daniels &
Varghese, 2019; de Royston et al., 2017), as well as in translating
how this matters in disciplinary learning. New insights are needed
on how this kind of learning can happen within pedagogical
approaches for disciplinary learning, not separate from them.
The sociopolitical nature of rightful presence struggles pres-
ents risks to teachers, whose agencies may be curtailed by insti-
tutional norms reproducing systemic oppressions. However,
minoritized youth have, across generations, borne the oppres-
sions of not engaging such risks. As one youth urgently pointed
out, “I am a kid NOW.” As a field, we dither at the cost of
youths’ continued and cumulative marginalization.
The tensions inherent in the collective struggle for rightful
presence lie in both the willingness to acknowledge the need to
colabor for rightful presence and in translating this complex idea
into concrete pedagogical and schooling practices and policies.
MONTH XXXX
7
Garnering insights on such practices and policies would be pro-
ductive to the field moving forward toward justice.
ORCID ID
Angela Calabrese Barton https://orcid.org/0000-0002-
9555-5214
NOTE
The authors would like to thank the feedback of the reviewers as
well as the contributions and care of the research collaborators, teach-
ers, and youth with whom they work. This work was supported by the
National Science Foundation (Division of Research on Learning Award
No. 1502755).
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AUTHORS
ANGELA CALABRESE BARTON, PhD, is a professor of the learn-
ing sciences and science education at the University of Michigan, 4107
School of Education, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; Angiecb@umich.edu. Her
8 EDUCATIONAL RESEARCHER
research focuses on justice-centered teaching and learning in schools
and communities and centers community-engaged partnership through
sustained engagement in community-engaged design-based research
with communities of color.
EDNA TAN, PhD, is professor of science education at the University
of North Carolina at Greensboro, 402 SOE Building NC 27402;
E_tan@uncg.edu. Her research is focused on long-term community-engaged
partnerships with teachers and youth of color on justice-oriented STEM
engagement in community.
Manuscript received March 6, 2019
Revisions received July 23, 2019, and February 19, 2020
Accepted March 27, 2020
... Even as we became frustrated with the way the elected official responded to students' use of scientific evidence, the young people themselves remained hopeful and committed. Thus, we call on teachers to cultivate SEPs that take seriously the rightful presence of youth and their communities in service of disrupting the world as it is and moving toward speculative civic possibilities and imaginations that allow for the dreams of our youth to take root (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2020;Garcia & Mirra, 2021). ...
... Even as we became frustrated with the way the elected official responded to students' use of scientific evidence, the young people themselves remained hopeful and committed. Thus, we call on teachers to cultivate SEPs that take seriously the rightful presence of youth and their communities in service of disrupting the world as it is and moving toward speculative civic possibilities and imaginations that allow for the dreams of our youth to take root (Calabrese Barton & Tan, 2020;Garcia & Mirra, 2021). ...
... As noted by Calabrese Barton and Tan (2020), both equitable and justice-oriented provision of the needs of all students in the teaching and learning engagement is required for effective interaction between the students and their teachers. Science concepts must not be considered only from the perspective of any gender or based on any discriminatory factor that may negatively affect any student. ...
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