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Artiles to deliver AERA's Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture

ASU Professor Alfredo Artiles
April 01, 2011

With his sights set on a career in clinical psychology, 17-year-old Alfredo Artiles was told at the registration window of Guatemala’s Universidad Rafael Landívar that he’d need to select a sub-specialty to pursue for the first three years of the five-year degree program in psychology. One of the three options to choose from was special education.

“I had never heard of this field,” Artiles recalls. “So I figured it must be new and there was probably a lot of work to be done in that area. I thought I would give it a try and marked that box.”  

The rest, as they say, is history, for he not only quickly fell in love with the subject area but also with the children he worked with, says Artiles. The work filled a deeper passion as well.

“Having lived my formative years in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Guatemala during times of political and sociocultural struggles, I saw rampant poverty and social inequities all around me,” he explains. “And growing up within the Jesuit educational system, from kindergarten through college, my outlook on life has always been grounded in social justice and service to others.”

After college, he taught special education and was a school principal before going on to earn a master’s and doctorate in special education at the University of Virginia. On the faculty at ASU since 2004, Artiles today is recognized as a thought leader in the fields of special education and educational equity. A professor of culture, society and education in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ School of Social Transformation, he also co-directs the Equity Alliance at ASU with Professor Elizabeth Kozleski.

On April 9, Artiles will have the honor of presenting the Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture at the 2011 annual meeting of AERA, the American Educational Research Association. The Wallace Lecture is one of only three invited addresses delivered at the conference. The accolade comes ten years after Artiles received the Early Career Award of AERA’s Committee on Scholars of Color in Education.

AERA is the national interdisciplinary research association for approximately 25,000 educational researchers in the United States and abroad. Some 13,000 are expected to attend the 2011 meeting in New Orleans. In the audience will be college and university professors, leaders in school systems, in federal, state and local agencies, foundations and the private sector – all devoted to leveraging educational research and scholarship to improve education and serve the public good. Inducted as an American Educational Research Association Fellow in 2010, Artiles completes two years of service this spring as vice president of AERA’s Divison G: Social Contexts of Education.

“Professor Artiles’ work on issues of race and special education has been influential beyond the U.S.,” says Allan Luke, research professor in the faculty of education at Queensland University of Technology, who will present this year’s AERA Distinguished Lecture. “Many of us in Australia and the Pacific have looked to his incisive scholarship to reexamine how educational systems categorize those cultural and linguistic minority students who sit at the margins of mainstream schooling. Artiles is a brilliant scholar, meticulous writer and, as importantly, a generous colleague with a staunch commitment to social justice. His Wallace lecture in New Orleans will be one of the highlights of the annual conference.”

In his address Artiles will draw on his comprehensive studies of racial disproportionality in the mild or subjective disability categories to articulate a framework for studying shifting views of difference and competence that emerge at the intersection of multiple, often contradictory, policies and practices in U.S. urban education. 

Disability labels can be used to offer key support systems to people with disabilities; they grant rights and afford access to resources. But a “disability” label, Artiles says, can also have dire long-term consequences for struggling learners, such as persistent low academic achievement, a greater chance for grade retention and school dropout, placement in the juvenile justice system, and poor post-school outcomes. Our challenge is to disentangle the paradoxes that emerge in our efforts to create equitable educational systems.

“If an English language learner is having difficulty with reading, is this due to an ability difference or a linguistic difference?” he asks. “There is an emerging discussion about whether language differences are now being construed as ability differences in certain school districts around the nation in light of the increase of English language learners identified as having disabilities in recent years.”

Artiles sees great promise for the interdisciplinary study of racial disparities in special education to contribute to a new generation of scholarship on educational (in)equity and the transformation of schools’ responses to difference.

“It’s exciting to be in a field that increasingly draws from interdisciplinary frameworks at a time when societal views of difference are shifting and the boundaries are blurring between general and special education,” observes Artiles, “As researchers, we’re solidly focused on evolving learning and teaching strategies that help all children develop their full potential.”

Alfredo Artiles’ Wallace Foundation Distinguished Lecture, titled “Toward an Interdisciplinary Understanding of Educational Inequity and Difference: The Case of the Racialization of Ability,” will be archived as a video viewable from the AERA website after the conference, at