This month, we are delighted to introduce Dr. Ruby Takanishi, a senior research fellow with the Early and Elementary Education Policy Program at New America. She is the author of First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School. Takanishi is the former president and CEO of the Foundation for Child Development, a grant-making philanthropy that launched the PreK—3rd movement in 2003. She has received awards from the American Psychological Association, the American Sociological Association (Division of Children and Families), and the Society for Research in Child Development in recognition of her contribution to connecting research with public policies. The American Education Research Association honored her with its 2014 Distinguished Public Service Award. Takanishi received her PhD from Stanford University and has previously taught at UCLA; Teachers College at Columbia University; Yale University; and Bank Street College.
We asked scholars to describe one of the following: a) what drew them to do work on Asians, Asian American children and youth, or another topic that is important to you now? b) who was an important mentor to them in this work, or an influential particular study in the field or in a related field? c) any particular advice or tips to someone starting out in the field who is doing work in their area.
I was encouraged by an increase in the numbers of Asian American researchers, and correspondingly by more attention and research on the development of children and youth in the diverse groups that constitute this category. When I was president of the Foundation for Child Development, we initiated the Young Scholars Program that focused on seeding research on immigrant children from birth to age 10. That effort resulted in early career researchers of all racial/ethnic groups, including Asian American researchers, to conduct research based on their interests. Field-building and networking were intentionally built into that professional support strategy. But there is still much to do; as the American children and youth become more racially, ethnically and linguistically diverse, research support has not kept pace. Thus, and including my chairing a National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine consensus committee on the effective education of ELs, what we need to inform policies and practices, especially in the education of dual language learners and English learners from birth to age 21, remains inadequate to what we must accomplish.
We also asked scholars to describe a particular recent finding, current study, or recent publication and what makes them excited about it. Feel free to describe its importance from any one or more of these lenses: a) research contribution; b) our knowledge about Asian or Asian American populations; c) our knowledge about other understudied populations; d) practice or policy relevance.
My book – First Things First! Creating the New American Primary School – was published by Teachers College Press in August 2016. It has two central themes that exemplify my professional journey. First, I believe that knowledge should be useful. Thus, what we have learned about children’s development should inform policy and practice. Second, I have lived in historical circumstances where social justice is at my core. My basic premise is that the current educational structures are socially constructed and they are not meeting children’s and society’s needs. We created these structures; they are not inevitable. There is a mismatch between what we know about children’s learning during the first decade of life and how we educate them. This mismatch is particularly harmful to children who are growing up in conditions of concentrated disadvantage. I argue that every child has a civil and human right to early education, starting at age three, and targeted programs should be accessible to vulnerable groups from birth to age two. First Things First! offers specific strategies for achieving these goals.
Experiences with Asian Caucus
I am encouraged by the Tri-Caucus 1 structure and efforts to integrate racial and ethnic concerns into Governing Council. This is what I hoped would occur when I served on Governing Council in the early 1990s. (I also was involved in the integration of social policy issues into SRCD in the eighties.) I grew up in Hawai’i in a sugar plantation town of 2,000. I learned that a community ethos can strongly support social integration of immigrant groups largely from Asia (China, Japan, Philippines), but that within multi-generational families, racial and class tensions, cultural values and even insularity can also be influential. What takes place in the public sphere – business, public schools, community organizations- and what takes place in the private world of families and cultural groups can co-exist, if there is a widely shared commitment to cultural diversity. This is what I hope for SRCD going forward.
Two book events will be held in New York City in October 2016: Bank Street Bookstore on October 20, at 5, and New America-New York City on October 24, from 6-8, with Nikole Hannah-Jones of the New York Times. All are welcome!
1 Tri-Caucus is a recent collaborative initiative by the Asian, Black, and Latino Caucuses of SRCD to better coordinate projects of mutual interest across the Caucuses and in interaction with SRCD as a whole, with the overall aims of promoting research on racial/ethnic minority and immigrant-origin children as well as supporting racial/ethnic minority scholars.