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The Art of Truth Telling: An Imperative in Education and Educational Research

This year, the Institute positions the concept of truth as fundamental to the work of social justice in education. “Truth” harbors multiple meanings within education and educational research. First and foremost, schools, curriculum, teachers, teaching, and learning owe their very purpose to truth in knowledge. Second, the research  and scholarship produced within the academy relies on qualifiable philosophical stances about what constitutes truth. Within the academy, there is an on-going debate about the singularity of truth as opposed to the multiplicity of truths—the competing conceptualizations that speak to the ‘politics of reality.’  And, yet, distinctions must be made between the multiplicity of truths and lies. The Institute theme endeavors to fully engage the current socio political moment, including competing discourses related to “the Big Lie” of the 2020 election, the congressional hearings on January 6th, local debates on critical race theory in school curriculum, the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade ruling, as well as the distrust fomented around public health before, during, and after the  COVID-19 pandemic.  

In exploring the fracturing of our social relations and systems, specifically in education, the Institute aims to deal substantively with the question of truth. The current moment begs for education research to answer not only how people come to understand and believe different systems of knowledge across various disciplines, but also how people come to misunderstand and disbelieve in various systems of knowledge. (The latter comprises the study of ignorance or agnotology.) 

As an orientation to doctoral education, the RSJI centers this year’s programming on truth and truth telling through the arts as an educational practice. We center the arts to highlight tools that create possibilities for the truth—for example, by softening intellectual spaces emotionally or incisively slicing through ideological strongholds. The design of the Institute allows participants to engage these ideas in intellectually rigorous ways through a series of speakers, panels, and workshops over a two-day intensive experience. A detailed description of the programs and events with learning objectives are provided below. 



Morning Session: Beginning with the Truth about Land (10:00 AM -12:00 PM)

Room 4212, School of Education

The RSJI will begin with community building by centering the land on which the Institute is being held, namely the traditional territory of the Anishinaabe people. Through a group-based activity, as we rightfully pay respects to the land on which the University of Michigan is situated, we also acknowledge the lands we have traveled and the places that we have called home that provide the literal ground for our identities–who we are and who we are becoming. We then turn to a discussion of land acknowledgements as problematic truths that may unwittingly give license to erasure once spoken. As such, we begin the Institute considering:”If truth isn’t merely something we talk about, but instead informs how we take action, what should truth compel us to do?”

Closed session to registered participants.

Mid-day Session: Telling Hard Truths as the Work of Elementary Teaching (12:45 PM - 2:15 PM)

Suite 1005, TeachingWorks, School of Education

After lunch, the RSJI welcomes Dr. Natalie Davis, assistant professor at Georgia State University, and graduate of the U-M School of Education as the opening keynote speaker. Some of Dr. Davis’s early work documents the teaching of science for young Black children using the Flint Water Crisis. Dr. Davis will provide answers to the question: Can truth telling be a part of the work of elementary teaching? She will offer insight into her scholarly development and trajectory, and connect her growing body of research to issues of method, truth, and artfulness by integrating multimodal texts and examples of robust forms of sociopolitical learning for children. Dr. Davis will highlight the role of dreaming and poetics in pursuing educational justice.

Open session to students, faculty, and staff across campus.

Evening Session: Screening of Documentary and Panel Discussion: Truth Tellers (3:15 PM -6:00 PM)

Auditorium, U-M Museum of Art

The evening will conclude with a screening of the documentary, Truth Tellers, and a panel discussion about the film. The documentary is described as: “a new documentary film chronicling the lives of courageous Americans fighting for racial equity, climate justice and indigenous rights through the eyes of Robert Shetterly, a long time activist and artist. The film explores the intersection of these issues stressing the urgency of coming together to confront them and galvanizing our resolve to uphold our country’s founding ideals.” We will be joined by the documentarian, Robert Shetterly, and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician from Flint, MI, whose research revealed that the children in Flint were being exposed to dangerous levels of lead, and Dr. Natalie Davis to examine projects of truth telling in relation to racial, climate, and indigenous justice. Through the panel discussion and audience participation, the collective will explore several questions, including: What kind of courage is required to tell the truth? Why do projects in truth-telling require courage (i.e, does truth exist without courage)? How can art serve to educate about hard truths?  

Open session to students, faculty, and staff across campus.


Morning Session: The Work of Truth Telling in Education (10:00 AM -12:00 PM)

Room 4212, School of Education

The morning for Day 2 will start with a fireside chat with educational activist, Bill Bigelow (featured in Truth Tellers), and scholar, Dr. Whitney Peoples, to discuss the broader role of education in sharing and expanding social understandings of injustice as unavoidable truths. Bigelow is the curriculum editor of the magazine, Rethinking Schools, and co-director of the Zinn Education Project. Dr. Peoples is the inaugural director of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in the U-M School of Public Health.

Closed session to registered and invited participants.

Mid-day Session: Disrupting Histories to Touch the Truth (12:45 PM -3:15 PM)

Suite 1005, TeachingWorks, School of Education

After lunch, participants will be joined by Dr. James W. Hammond, a postdoctoral fellow and graduate of the U-M School of Education. Dr. Hammond’s scholarship seeks to reframe histories of education by excavating hidden racist logics and projects at work in “everyday” education policies and practices. His talk highlights the complex and pervasive ways that scientific racism shaped educational assessment in the 19th and early 20th centuries, entrenching an infrastructure of injustice that continues to haunt education today. 

Open session to students, faculty, and staff across campus.

Due to change in the archivist’s availability, the Clements Library session will be postponed and rescheduled during the fall term.

Dr. Hammond’s talk will transition immediately to the nearby U-M Clements Library, where participants will engage with historical artifacts related to early education in the United States. Building on Hammond’s talk, this archival engagement will investigate how documentary evidence from the educational past can aid us in defamiliarizing aspects of the present that we might otherwise take for granted. Taken together, this session’s combined events work to address these questions: How can the ways we approach history reveal (or conceal) truths about educational injustice? What artifacts, stories and voices must we study in order to learn truths about our history to help us make sense of current truths in education?

Closed session to registered participants–U-M Clements Library limited access.

Evening Session: Truth in Fiction: A Talk by Michelle Coles author of Black Was the Ink (3:30 PM - 5:30 PM)

Suite 1005, TeachingWorks, School of Education

The first part of the evening will be a talk by author, Michelle Coles, who describes herself as: “a debut novelist, experienced civil rights attorney, and mother of four. As a 9th generation Louisianan, she is highly attuned to the struggles that African Americans have faced in overcoming the legacy of slavery and the periods of government-sanctioned discrimination that followed. Her goal in writing is to empower young people by educating them about history and giving them the tools to shape their own destiny.” A discussion of her new book will be moderated by Dr. Ebony Thomas, a scholar and researcher of race and representation in children’s and young adult literature. Through their rich discussion and audience participation, the collective will explore: How can fiction bring us closer to historical truths? Why is fiction such a powerful tool in education? 

Open session to students, faculty, and staff across campus.

Late Evening Session: Singing the Truth: The Educative Art of Gospel and the Blues (5:30 PM - 8:00 PM)

Courtyard, School of Education

The evening will conclude with dinner and a performance by Rev. Robert Jones—a storyteller, singer, and award-winning multi-instrumentalist. Rev. Jones will take the audience on a journey of the role of gospel and the blues in telling truths about the Black American experience. This session will continue our exploration of history and truth, pushing us to consider: How does music carry material realities and truths through sound? 

Closed session to registered and invited participants.

Several breaks are planned throughout the Institute.

All meals and snacks will be provided across the two days.