School of Education Blog

My experience in Loyola's CISJ program helped me develop curriculum and evaluate instruction

When I first began at Loyola back in 2004, I didn’t have a goal other than getting a master’s degree. I took a class that taught me to read research critically, which expanded my understanding of the contributions of a research study and its limitations. I also took a class called Race, Class, and Gender (now called, "Intersectionality, Power, & Privilege") which I thought I didn’t need but later realized I had been blind. I was well aware of sexism through lived experience, and I didn’t grow up with money, but I learned of my blindness to racial privileges I had. We read Peggy McIntosh’s essay on the Invisible Knapsack, and I began to see. In 2004, the Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program was generally course-based, but I noticed in the schedule that there was an option for research in the form of a thesis (now called a “capstone”). I wanted to do something with this new understanding of mine and I thought a research study might be more beneficial than passively taking a few more courses. In other words, the courses I took at Loyola gave me the foundation and courage to make a difference in the world. 
I pursued the research under the steady guidance of program director, Dr. Stephanie Flores-Koulish. I conducted a study employing “whiteness as property” (Harris, 1993), a critical race framework, at the local independent all-girls’ school where I taught. I used a narrative inquiry method called counter-storytelling, to give voice to African American women who had graduated between the years of 1972 to 2004. I conducted 11 interviews and analyzed 34 surveys. The findings indicated the damage the hidden (Jackson, 1968) and null (Eisner, 1979) curricula had done. Many alumnae attended historically Black universities upon graduation and learned of the rich history and contributions to the humanities and the arts that had been absent at the girls' school. African American role models were absent, as well. This study catalyzed change at the school as hiring practices, curriculum, teacher training, and levels of awareness were revised at all levels. Did it become perfect? No. But it was change.  
I left the private sector to work in public schools and then moved on to higher education. Again, I took on issues of social justice for my dissertation. As my son is transgender, I focused my work on the transformative learning of parents in an effort to build a better support system for transgender and non-binary children. Last month, I earned a Ph.D., and on the evening after I defended my dissertation, I emailed Stephanie. It was because of the program at Loyola that I awoke and shifted my energy toward issues that were worth fighting for. My experience at Loyola not only improved my ability to develop curriculum and evaluate instruction; it grounded me in the reasons why I teach—to hear voices that were silent, to see ideas after a cognitive shift, and to empower students to hear and see themselves.      

Elizabeth A. McNeilly, Ph.D. is a graduate of the Master’s in Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice program. McNeilly is currently a sessional instructor, Teacher Education and Research Assistant, Field Experience at the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary.