History can be a powerful tool in helping us understand the roots of present day injustices so we can challenge them.
As a student growing up in Los Angeles, Maribel Santiago found it difficult to engage with K-12 history courses that were disconnected from her lived experiences. Yet the stories her parents shared about their family in Oaxaca, Mexico, and their experiences as immigrants inspired her interest in the teaching and learning of Latinx history.
Santiago will join the University of Washington College of Education in January 2020 as an assistant professor in justice and teacher education. Earlier this year, she received a prestigious National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship to conduct the first large-scale comparative study exploring the teaching of the differing experiences of Latinx peoples in K-12 social studies classrooms.
Santiago leads the History TALLER (Teaching And Learning of Language, Ethnicity, and Race) research group — pronounced tah-yĕr, Spanish for “workshop” — and is currently an assistant professor at Michigan State University. She earned her doctorate in curriculum studies and teacher education at Stanford University.
In the following Q&A, Santiago discusses her research agenda, a book that changed how she thought about history and more.
What drew you to education?
As a K-12 student I hated history, so I never thought I would become a history teacher. I thought I was going to become a civil rights attorney because my parents instilled in me a sense of social justice. But in college I realized that I actually loved history and that it was my schooling experience that made me dislike history.
History the school subject was boring and didn’t connect to my lived experiences. But history can be a powerful tool in helping us understand the roots of present day injustices so we can challenge them. This motivated me to become an educator and researcher and help students and teachers engage with history in ways that connect content to students’ lives.
Describe your research agenda. What makes this work meaningful to you?
My research focuses on preparing educators to teach about race/ethnicity in history classrooms. Social studies curriculum often approaches the teaching of race/ethnicity as a binary, subsuming the experiences of other people of color under the Black civil rights narrative. As a result, educators are encouraged to include Latinxs, but not their distinct experiences with race/ethnicity, language and immigration.
I challenge these assumptions, focusing on how to teach Latinx complexities with the intent to interrogate the contradictions within Latinx communities, such as inter-ethnic tensions and the continued privileging of lighter-skinned Latinxs.
What attracted you to UW College of Education?
In a nutshell, the faculty and students. I’m grateful to be part of a community of scholars who understand the urgency of researching and building towards educational equity and justice. I’m excited to build alongside them and help shape the field of education.
What's a course you're particularly excited to teach?
Since I have a Spencer postdoctoral fellowship this year, I won’t start teaching until fall 2020. I don’t know what I will teach, but I look forward to working with social studies education students.
Tell us about an education-related book that has influenced you.
“500 Años Del Pueblo Chicano / 500 Years Of Chicano History: In Pictures” changed the way I thought about history. I was a middle school student when I read the copy my brother checked out of the library. It opened my eyes to a whole other side of history that I hadn’t learned in school.
This history of resistance resonated with the oral histories my parents shared with us about our family in Oaxaca, Mexico. The book highlighted the difference between the history I learned at school and outside of school. This became fundamental to how I approached my teaching and what eventually led to my research interests.
What's something that students and colleagues should know about you?
Two questions guide my work: Are we doing right by our students? What is best for the collective? Whether teaching, researching or collaborating with others, these questions remind me about the urgency of our work. As academics, it’s easy to get caught up thinking about ourselves and forget the purpose of our research. It’s important to remind ourselves that we are accountable to children and their communities.
Besides your work, what's something that you're passionate about?
I love popcorn! I’m partial to savory flavors: butter, cheese, salt and pepper, movie theater, truffle.
Oh, and my rescue dog, Caramelo. He’s a small chiweenie (chihuahua wiener mix) with a huge personality. I’m not big on social media, but Caramelo is; he even has his own Instagram. He’s equally as excited as I am about joining UW since he likes playing with huskies.
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