The research community
at the Institute includes
visiting scholars, consultants,
economists, research analysts,
and research assistants. These
scholars bring a diversity of
backgrounds, interests, and
expertise to research that
deepens our understanding
of economic opportunity
and inclusion as well as
policies that work to improve
both. We talked with four
of them about their work.
When Chelda Smith immigrated to the United States from Haiti,
one of her first lessons was about how to succeed in America. Her
father explained the country’s race-based structures that placed
Black people at the bottom. To achieve upward mobility, she would
need to learn to navigate them.
“[Many of] us understand the social hierarchy and how we’re
supposed to interact with one another,” Smith said. This understanding
informs our interactions and results in particular outcomes.
Smith is focused on one context: the classroom.
have a sense of
agency, they are
Efforts to diversify teacher ranks and embrace multicultural
curriculums are important, but Smith says a major piece of the
puzzle is missing. Most of us—educators
included—don’t understand or haven’t
reconciled our own relationships to oppression,
privilege, or marginalization.
How then can teachers effectively model
or instruct cultural understanding?
As an associate professor in the College
of Education at Georgia Southern
University, Smith is working to highlight
the dominant culture—to empower marginalized students.
Counternarratives provide sources of truth beyond the dominant/
White male view adopted by national curriculums.
As an example, Smith offers the disputed story of the Alamo
and Texas independence taught across the country. If teachers
understand their own biases, they can elevate counternarratives—
such as those of the enslaved, women, Indigenous people,
“It is bad for everyone to learn [the false history of Texas independence],
but it is especially problematic for Latinos to learn it,”
Smith said. “Where is your agency if you’re learning false history
about your people that denigrates you?”
Elevating counternarratives gives children an opportunity to
see themselves in the curriculum in an appreciative—as opposed
to deficit-based—way. Without these perspectives, teachers are
missing opportunities to educate students toward empowerment.
“When people have a sense of agency, they are more ambitious
all around,” Smith said. Also, research shows that teacher efficacy
is a key to student success. For Smith, it is vital that teachers and
teacher educators have “asset-based dispositions” toward marginalized
Using counternarratives, teachers can pave the way to better
economic outcomes for all students.
“We can give children an education that allows them to feel they
can achieve their goals,” Smith said. “But, more importantly, they
can use it to help solve the problems of their own communities.”
More Scholar Spotlights from this issue