Elizabeth Janson PhD '16 is committed to transforming public education and providing youth with the resources they need.
Year: Class of 2016
Degree program: PhD in Educational Leadership and Policy
Previous degrees: BA ’10, MAT ’11
Hometown: Rehoboth, MA
Award: Donald C. Howard Pillars of the Community
Research: Globalization, standardization, cultural politics
Leadership: Graduate Student Senate, ELP Graduate Student Association
Doctoral studies in educational leadership and policy
I’m pursuing a doctorate degree in Educational Leadership and Policy. I chose my program because it is committed to social justice and addresses not only educational problems, such as inequality in education, but is committed to understanding how those educational problems are caused by policies outside of education—allowing for segregation, poverty, homelessness, etc. The program is committed to addressing local needs while making international connections, because we live in a globalized world.
When I was approached about doing a PhD in education, it took some coaxing and cajoling…a ton of coaxing! My program director, an MAT professor, and a high school colleague were relentless in telling me I should and could.
For two years after earning my MAT, I taught secondary English, but I became frustrated with the educational system due to policies that prevented me from helping youth; instead, teachers are forced to waste their time on standardized testing. At the same time, I began thinking about two people I had known: a girl ("Jess") who had overdosed, leaving behind a baby girl; and a youth ("Blake") who had also been involved with drugs, had straightened himself out, and was going to be a history teacher. One lived and one didn’t. Blake had gotten help in school; Jess had been forgotten. As I saw this system that continued to neglect the real needs and thwart administrators and teachers from helping youth, I became angry. I realized that I needed to study the system and figure out how to counteract this disposability of youth and indoctrination of passivity in a democratic society.
Research in globalization, standardization, cultural politics
I had always been a quiet student, but I wanted to push myself in my PhD experience in order to figure out a way to help transform public education and help youth. I’ve been blessed with many opportunities as a result. I have presented at both local and international conferences including one of the biggest education conferences in the world, American Educational Research Association (AERA) as well as at AAACS, NEERO, CIES NorthEast, and TRED, the Transformative Researchers and Educators for Democracy Conference here at UMassD.
My research background is in globalization, privatization, standardization, decolonial theory, curriculum theory, and cultural politics. I’ve had my work published both in academic journals and books, including Educational Policy Futures, Transformative Researchers and Educators for Democracy: Dartmouth Dialogues, and Curriculum: Decanonizing the Field, and I am a contributing author to some forthcoming books.
Leadership & advocacy for graduate students
I’ve been the president of the Educational Leadership and Policy-Graduate Student Association since 2012. In that capacity, I’ve been responsible for helping my peers advocate for our departmental needs and helping them organize the TRED Conference. TRED formed my first year as a doctoral student, and I have been able to watch it grow for the past four years. We have had scholars from all over the country and the world participate.
For the past two years, I’ve also served as a Graduate Student Senator for the School of Education. This year, I also served as GSS treasurer. The GSS has gone above and beyond in making a crucial path of advocacy and community for graduate students and studies at UMass Dartmouth. I am so fortunate to be working with such an amazing group of individuals.
To connect with other schools in the UMass system as well with as the other public Massachusetts universities, we created the EMIRGE (Empowering Massachusetts Innovation and Research in Graduate Education) Conference, to be held this spring.
A pedagogy of hope
After graduation, I am open to different possibilities. I currently am a high school teacher, and I love working with my students. They inspire me and make me a better educator and learner. I will always believe in teaching as a transformative engagement.
Teaching for me is dialectical. I am constantly learning from my students as well as re-learning and unlearning. I have learned that a pedagogy of hope is crucial to teaching in education today. I hold onto that hope because every time a student comes back—even when I thought I would never see him or her again—it reminds me of the incredible power and responsibility of public education. I am continually humbled by the dedication and knowledge of my colleagues.
Transforming education, changing education policy
I plan on using my doctorate to keep fighting to transform public education and work at the local, national, and international levels in finding connections and alliances, so that our youth can have the schools and resources that they need. I want to help change educational policy—in particular, the emphasis on standardized knowledge and thus standardized testing. Education should not be focused on the production of knowledge but on the creation of knowledge, while recognizing that knowledge production for centuries has painted one picture of the world. I want to eradicate the corporate influence in the curriculum and make education about students becoming citizens and creators instead of producers and workers. Public education should be about democracy, not "corporatocracy". Teachers should be with students, not filling out spreadsheets of student data to document progress. For me, youth are more than data on a screen. But, current educational policy emphasizes students as data instead of students as individuals.
I am also a board member of 3rd EyE Unlimited in New Bedford, and I hope to be able to dedicate more time to that organization upon graduation. Spaces for youth empowerment and self-actualization are so crucial in helping them find ways to define their futures.