Bulldog Bites

News and Views from the University of Redlands

Promoting the power of public education

Professor Brian Charest believes in the power of school reform. (Photo by Coco McKown '04, '10)

Professor Brian Charest believes deeply in the power of publicly funded education and the need to challenge the status quo in schools. He also views school reform as inextricably linked with community revitalization and is energized by the opportunity to help educate the next generation of teachers.

“I was drawn to Redlands because teaching here allows me to work with aspiring educators who are going to go back and work in their communities,” he says. “Many of my students come from the Inland Empire, and they’ll be returning to the communities where they were raised to put their education into practice, which is exciting.”

According to Charest, the current challenges in the schools sparked by the COVID-19 pandemic underline the urgency of reform: "People are at home, they're with their kids and are really feeling the effects of whatever poorly thought-through policy is affecting them."

Charest has intimate knowledge of the difference committed teachers can make. He and co-editor Kate Sjostrom gathered numerous examples for their 2019 book, Unsettling Education: Searching for Ethical Footing in a Time of Reform, a collection of essays in which teachers share their efforts to resist standardization and reimagine their approach to education.

“These individuals work in a host of settings from middle schools to universities, and they’re pushing back on the prevailing orthodoxies that have emerged from the last three decades of reform, this idea that ‘what’s valuable is what we can measure,’” says Charest. “Instead, they approach education in a way that puts students at the center of the experience and humanizes what they do.”

Charest is doing his part to humanize the learning experience for Redlands students as well. Last fall, he offered a course called Critical Perspectives on Education and Inequality in America—the first of its kind in the University’s School of Education.

Students in the course visited a juvenile detention center in San Bernardino to conduct a series of face-to-face discussions with the youth incarcerated there, addressing issues such as the purpose of public education in society and the intersections of race, class, gender, and discipline in schools.

“The course is part of an international initiative called the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, and a powerful experience for all the students,” says Charest. “The incarcerated students get to take a college-level course for which they get credit, and they become more aware of the possibilities for getting an education. And my students get to have what I believe is a transformative experience.”

Charest says bringing people together across profound social barriers is invaluable in helping students realize how circumstances shape outcomes. “For example, if you're a Redlands student, how did you end up in that seat? How did this other person end up in the San Bernardino Juvenile Hall? Our students get a better sense of what's at stake.”

Charest appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the ongoing conversation through research and teaching. “I’m grateful for the collegiality and support that I’ve received from my colleagues here at Redlands and inspired by my students’ desire to give back to their communities,” he says. And he is confident his students will carry these experiences with them beyond graduation.

“Across the board, Redlands students are creative and interested in issues of justice and equity,” he says. “They’re receptive to expanding their roles as educators—they see themselves not only as teachers, but also as individuals who can work within their communities to effect change.”

Learn more about the School of Education.