Home / Policy  / Who Does and Does Not Deserve Agentic Learning: Charles Mills and the Line of Personhood/Subpersonhood in Schooling

Jennifer Keys Adair, Ph,D., is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Adair works with parents, teachers, administrators and young children to offer more dynamic and sophisticated learning experiences to children from resilient, marginalized communities in the US and globally. Her areas of expertise include early childhood education for children of immigrants, project-based learning, and the importance of young children recognizing racial discrimination and valuing cultural differences. Dr. Adair is a former Young Scholars Fellow with the Foundation for Child Development and a current Spencer Foundation major grant recipient.

Dr. Adair has published in numerous journals including Harvard Educational Review, Race, Ethnicity and Education and Teachers College Record. She conducts research and lectures in multiple countries, most recently in Austin as part of Blackademics and SXSWedu. Jennifer’s work and expertise can also be found in a variety of news outlets including The Conversation, Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.

This talk considers learning as “opportunities” that are constructed in and translated through white supremacy. Using an historical interrogation provided by the work of Charles Mills, Adair argues that although learning and development are presented as an amoral, biological or even constructivist set of events, their application to children’s lives is one of constructing and reifying personhood and subpersonhood along racial lines.

Using interview data with young children, teachers, and directors in Texas and the particular case of the “word gap” argument, Adair shows how denying children of color certain learning experiences is often justified by a perceived “lack of development.” This denial then prevents children from demonstrating capabilities and contributes to blaming/changing children and families rather than supporting cultural communities and improving institutions and systems.