The serendipity of connections and their consequences

Hugh Mehan


This essay is an account of how, throughout my 40-year career as an educational researcher and professor of Sociology and Education, mostly at the University of California, San Diego, I have tried to live my commitments to excellence and equity in practice to create a more just educational system. These values permeate my story, which is presented here in two parts. In the first part, broadly spanning 20 years, I focused on uncovering the roots of the seemingly inexorable social fact of educational inequality in US K-12 education, mainly through studying some of the policies and practices that produce those inequalities. My findings showed consistently that students of color from low-income backgrounds did not fare as well as their middle-income “majority”  contemporaries. In the last 20 years, I have attempted to build educational environments that might produce more equitable possibilities for underprivileged young people based on the research that uncovered the stratifying practices that produced educational inequalities.

Many of the directions that my professional career took were not thoughtfully and carefully planned. My participation in various projects was not entirely free, totally independent, or completely rational. They were often not entirely of my own making. Instead, I often responded to opportunities presented to me. In fact, I think that the concept of serendipity accounts well for the relationships that shaped my career trajectory.

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Alvarez, D., & Mehan, H. (2006). Whole school detracking: A strategy for equity and excellence. Theory into Practice, 45(1), 82-89.

Hubbard, L., Mehan, H., & Stein, M. K. (2006). Reform as learning: When school reform collided with school culture and community politics in San Diego. Routledge Falmer.

Mehan, H. (1979). Learning lessons. Harvard University Press.

Mehan, H. (2012). In the front door: Constructing a college-going culture of learning. Paradigm. (2014 edition published by Routledge.)

Mehan, H., & Cazden, C. A. (2015). Classroom discourse: Early history and current developments. In: L. B. Resnick, C. Asterhan, & S. N. Clarke (Eds.), Socializing intelligence through academic talk and dialogue. AERA.

Mehan, H., & Chang, G. C. (2010). Is it wrong for us to want good things? The origins of Gompers Charter Middle School. The Journal of Educational Change, 12(1) 47-70.

Mehan, H., Villanueva, I., Hubbard, L., & Lintz, A. (1996). Constructing school success: The consequences of untracking low-achieving students. Cambridge University Press.

Quartz, K. H., Weinstein, R. S. Kaufman, G., Levine, H., Mehan, H., & Pollock, M. (2017). University-partnered new school designs: Fertile ground for research-practice partnerships. Educational Researcher, 46(3), 143-146.


Copyright (c) 2020 Hugh Mehan

Education Review

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