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NewsApr 29, 2022

Holding the system to account

Annual June Fox Lecture features student awards, presentation from ‘controversial’ education expert Donaldo Macedo on the importance of truth-telling and asking pointed questions

sky view of campus

Too many schools are lacking in two things: truth and respect.

Donaldo Macedo, professor emeritus and distinguished professor of Liberal Arts and Education at the University of Massachusetts Boston, minced few words at the 26th annual June Fox Lecture, held virtually on April 27.

Macedo kicked things off by quoting Adolf Hitler’s “big lie,” drawing parallels with the way students and American society at large have traditionally been indoctrinated: make the lie big, repeat it enough and people start to believe it.“The official history of the United States is largely based on lies,” Macedo said, with the American history of slavery, annexation of Indigenous people’s lands and other practices being minimized or ignored outright. Macedo inveighed against official denunciations of — including some states’ legislative efforts to outlaw — the teaching of Critical Race Theory as an attempt to whitewash the nation’s more malignant behavior and character.

A critical theorist, linguist and expert on literacy and education studies, Macedo has been a central figure in the field of critical pedagogy for more than 30 years. His work with Paulo Freire broke new theoretical ground, as it helped to develop a critical understanding of the ways in which language, power and culture contribute to the positioning and formation of human experience and learning.

“We cannot pretend that slavery did not exist, neither can we pretend" that many institutions didn't profited greatly from it, Macedo said.

Racism permeates most or all aspects of life outside the classroom, too. Macedo, an immigrant from Cape Verde, worked his way through college as a mechanic but, even after publishing several works, was asked at a cocktail party not long ago, “Do you read?”

Others believed they were complimenting him by telling him how articulate he is, as if the default assumption of immigrants is otherwise.

“It is this type of question that if you are not white and middle-class, you have to answer constantly,” he said.

And Macedo has endured the labels of “controversial” and “provocative” throughout his career because he dares to criticize the educational system. Such labels, Macedo added, serve to silence people with questions.

In the Covid pandemic, he has seen a similar disrespect for parents of schoolchildren when they question why school boards unilaterally implemented remote learning.

“Through Covid, it became clear that the parents aren’t being listened to,” Macedo said. “In a nutshell, it’s total lack of respect for the community. Respect for the other is fundamental.”

He advised that educators remind themselves of the “pedagogy of listening” and added that all enterprises, whether schools or corporations, should be guided by an “ethical compass.”

Lesley University and our people, including former Dean William Dandridge, are important models for the future of education, Macedo indicated.

Student award winners

The future of education will be shaped by individuals who share Macedo’s “curiosity and compassion” and willingness to tackle tough challenges. The June Fox Lecture honored several of our Graduate School of Education students, including:

  • Elizabeth Ho, winner of the June Fox Merit Scholarship
  • Sally Marmet, recipient of the Dr. William Dandridge Book Award
  • Kathryn Beadle, winner of the Mario Borunda Book Award

“As human beings, we are capable of producing miracles, producing beauty” and changing cultures, Macedo said, explaining why he remains optimistic despite the obstacles to progress.

The June Fox Lecture Series honors the leadership and legacy of Professor Emerita June T. Fox, who served as dean of the Division of Education and Special Education (now the Graduate School of Education).