Earlier this year, I shared my fear that a glitchy chatbot had seized control of a major education research journal. The editors’ torrent of inhuman gibberish made it hard to imagine that real people were still pulling the strings.

Well, recently, I got a worrisome signal that this same shady AI (or one of its cousins) had seized the presidency of the American Education Research Association (AERA), an outfit that bills itself as the world’s largest organization of education researchers. I know this is a bold claim, so I dusted off my modified Turing Test and interrogated the (very) extensive description of the presidential program. By pulling verbatim takes, we’ll try to determine whether the prose reads like the product of humans . . . or glitchy AI. (To quote Dave Barry, “I’m not making this up.” Really.)

Rick: Let’s get a baseline here. Where can people find education researchers?

AERA Presidential Program (APP): “We conduct our work in a variety of settings, including universities, community colleges, schools, school districts, professional preparation programs, museums, libraries, think tanks, advocacy and community organizations, philanthropies, and in legislative or governmental contexts.”

Rick: Wow, that’s impressive! Is there anything that all these people have in common?

APP: “Our engagement with the field binds us together as producers, consumers, sensemakers, and implementers of research.”

Rick: You’ve sketched out a theme for next year’s AERA meeting. Can you describe it?

APP: “The 2025 AERA Annual Meeting provides rich opportunity to reflect on the monumental challenges and transformations we have undergone due to the Covid-19 pandemic and ongoing social and environmental crises; to reflect on the history of efforts to repair educational inequality through law, policy, practice, and pedagogy; to consider opportunities for research to inform remedies; and ultimately, be a part of holistic repair for those who have suffered harm, loss, and trauma.”

Rick: I’m sorry, but I’m not sure I actually followed that. Can you perhaps boil it down?

Rick: Okay. Well, moving on, you mention the notion of “remedy.” How have schools fared on that count?

APP: “In education, too often the notion of remedy has been misunderstood to require remedial approaches to teaching and learning, mis-locating deficits in individual learners, schools, and school systems instead of critically examining our institutions, social processes, politics, and policies, and our own research approaches that produce hierarchies of knowledge and epistemological silos.”

Rick: It doesn’t sound like reading, writing, math, or content knowledge are a major concern.  When it comes to education research, what are the most pressing issues?

APP: “Students and their families are contending with ongoing health issues, new and existing forms of disability, housing insecurity, food insecurity, climate crises, and income insecurity. Meanwhile, education institutions are facing fiscal cliffs, born of declining enrollments and rising costs, and are struggling with teacher, staff, and school leader shortages, burnout, and insufficient staffing for school psychologists and counselors for the students who remain.”

APP: “The collective research expertise in our field is needed to confront racism and ethnic discrimination, violent extremism, political repression and polarization, climate change, science denial, deepening racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic segregation and inequality, and the ongoing loss and trauma related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The 2020 police murder of George Floyd and attacks on Latine/a/x people and Asian Americans, coupled with ongoing anti-immigrant policies, forced too-often delayed conversations about the ongoing role of race, anti-Black racism, ethnic discrimination, and anti-immigrant sentiments, power, and violence.”

Rick: That’s a lot to take on. What do education researchers need to know in order to be effective?

APP: “The concept of repair, when joined with remedy, implies the responsibility to right what is wrong. It enhances the possibility of acknowledging the full scope of harms, to understand how educational inequalities are interconnected with social, health, and political injustice, and to imagine multisector and multifaceted approaches to the education of young people, college students, and graduate students and to the professional preparation of teachers, school leaders, mental health providers, medical providers, and lawyers.”

Rick: Are there examples of where the education community has made a positive difference?

APP: “Many education researchers, working with advocates, organizations, policy makers, and educators, have advanced promising work on reparations and on restorative justice pedagogies and practices. Similarly, some local teachers unions have incorporated school and community well-being elements into their collective bargaining.”

Rick: Huh. Doesn’t sound like education researchers have had a lot of success. Given that, do you think they’re really up to this ambitious role you’ve sketched?

Rick: Fair enough. I’m guessing you don’t like school choice. Given that, just out of curiosity, what’s the most impenetrable way you might say, “They keep passing voucher laws”?

APP: “Neoliberal logics pushing for the privatization of public education are successfully informing the adoption of voucher programs that are further destabilizing public education.”

Rick: Okay, last question. Can you offer a pithy call to action for next year’s AERA?

APP: “The 2025 meeting theme calls us to consider how we can work across disciplinary, epistemological, and methodological orientations to forge deeper connections in our field that can speak to the challenges we face in education and in our imperfect multiracial democracy.”

It’s got to be AI, right? The punch-list rambling, disinterest in actual learning, rote invocation of ideological tropes, and fascination with oppression are so tritely optimized that it feels artificial. And yet, reading back through this transcript, it bothers me that I can’t confidently distinguish autopilot AI from earnest edu-babble. Perhaps my AI fears are overblown. After all, I guess it’s possible that this detached unintelligibility and politicized liturgy are just the mundane culmination of what gets practiced daily in ed school corridors and conferences.

Frederick Hess is an executive editor of Education Next and the author of the blog “Old School with Rick Hess.”

Education scholars should focus less on what’s been reported and more on what’s understood in the field

Education Next is a journal of opinion and research about education policy.

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