Professor, Educational Leadership
"Steinhardt's commitment to diversity opens up possibilities for looking at issues around the achievement gap in schools -- the racial gap, gener, socio-economic gap -- all of which are areas of great interest for me."
“The overall goal of my work,” says Gary Anderson, “is to democratize schools. This means creating more teacher and community involvement in policy and decision making.” With extensive experience in teaching and educational administration – including two Fulbright awards in Latin America - Anderson seems uniquely equipped to meet such a goal.
Just prior to coming to NYU, Anderson helped to create a joint doctoral program in educational leadership between the University of California, Irvine and four California State University campuses. This followed ten years of experience teaching educational administration – in both English and Spanish - at the University of New Mexico. Anderson says these positions were deeply informed by the practical knowledge he gleaned from working as a teacher and an administrator for thirteen years, seven of which were in public schools in Harlem and the South Bronx.
Much of Anderson’s current work is in “action research,” also called “teacher research” because it’s undertaken by teachers and administrators in their own schools. His book, The Action Research Dissertation (2005), looks at such work. Co-authored with Kathryn Herr, his wife, the book is a follow up to their book Studying Your Own School. Both books examine how school practitioners gather data to make decisions about their practice, particularly around equity and access issues in schools.
Anderson also published Performance Theories in Education: Power, Pedagogy, and the Politics of Identity (2005). In this book, which brings together scholars in communication and education studies, Anderson and his co-editors draw on performance theory to look at different phenomena in education. Their thesis is that there are elements of performance throughout education, from teaching to identity politics to public policies. “The No Child Left Behind policy, for instance, can be considered political spectacle or performance because,” says Anderson, “it responds to what some see as a manufactured crisis. The political spectacle which is mediated by various media is created through the promotion of certain language (e.g., “nation at risk”), through scapegoating (teachers unions, welfare mothers, etc.), and through a public reduced to spectators (being polled, watching political ads) rather than ongoing actors in a political process.”
The different ways violence is manifested in schools is also of interest to Anderson. “Violence is usually conceptualized as merely doing physical harm, but I want to broaden the way we think about violence in schools to include what’s called symbolic or institutional violence. For instance, if a student experiences an assault on their sense of self while attending school, they may seek out gangs or something that will give them more self esteem.” This kind of violence, Anderson says, can result in greater forms of physical violence. “We usually view violence as being brought into schools from the community and home. But there is an argument that schools produce violence by the ways they treat kids, as well as by the institutional kinds of violence - like racism - that exist in schools.”
Anderson hopes to interview students and observe classrooms in New York schools around this topic. In fact, that kind of applied, school-based partnership is one of the primary reasons he came to NYU. “I wanted to get back to New York and the school district here. It offers more autonomy for its schools than elsewhere in the country, especially in the context of the small schools movement."
Anderson works closely with colleagues in the Department of Administration, Leadership & Technology with whom he shares similar research interests. He also mentors students in the department. “I like co-authoring with doctoral students, especially conceptual kinds of articles. If I’m invited to do a book chapter, I’ll often collaborate with a doctoral student who has a similar interest in the topic.”
Ultimately, Anderson sees his own concerns about issues of race, class and gender in schools reflected in Steinhardt’s mission. “[Former] Dean Brabeck is committed to bringing in more diversity on the faculty. Consequently, there’s a growing number of faculty who have an interesting agenda around diversity issues. That seems particularly true of my department, though I see a growing commitment to diversity across Steinhardt.” Anderson thinks that’s a good direction for the school. “It opens up possibilities for looking at issues around the achievement gap in schools – the racial gap, gender, socio-economic gap, etc. – all of which are areas of great interest for me.”