A Winning Seminar Selection in Beantown

Just returned from the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar in Boston where I attended a number of excellent presentations about all sorts of education-related topics. My general rule-of-thumb when conferencing is to go to a few talks on topics I’m familiar with and write about often, but after that it’s a free for all! In the spirit of adventure, I also pick one subject that I know absolutely nothing about. Sometimes that ends up being the most memorable.

For my next few posts, I’d like to share what I learned with you at three very different sessions. Let’s start with “Covering Education with Cultural Sensitivity”, something that is on many education writers’ minds these days.  The panel was made up of Jesse Holland (Associated Press), Kristina Rizga (Mother Jones), and Kimberly Hefling (Politico) and both the talk and following Q&A were lively and engaging.

Five takeaway messages:

Don’t assume anything

Look for the real story, not simply for the one that confirms what you already thought. If there’s any doubt at all in your mind, go the extra mile. Always make those additional calls to clarify and confirm details

Know your personal blind spots

Be sure you understand who you’re talking to and what they want. If you have any uncertainty at all about the message, don’t hesitate to stop the interview and ask things like “What did you mean by that?” or “I don’t know anything about this. Can you help me understand it?”

There is no monolithic “Black voice” (or Latino or White)

It is always possible to find at least one person in the group who doesn’t agree with the view being espoused. Instead of saying “Latino parents agree…” say “Parents, some of whom were Latino, agree…”

Never sacrifice accuracy for expediency

Always take the time to grasp and find the true narrative of the story. Doing research is one way to do this. An even better one is to find someone in the group you’re writing about and have a real conversation with them about the topic and their perceptions of it (Jesse recommends over lunch!)

Create networks intentionally

According to Kristina, she didn’t have a lot of naturally diverse connections in the communities she was writing about. Her solution for this was to form an online Skype book club where she and other readers from different backgrounds discuss a diverse selection of books. Other places to make connections include libraries and religious communities.

Hope these suggestions are as helpful to you as they were to me!

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