Dr. Harper B. Keenan is currently the Robert Quartermain Assistant Professor of Gender & Sexuality Research in Education at the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia. His work has been accepted at peer-reviewed academic journals like the Harvard Educational Review, Teachers College Record, Theory & Research in Social Education, and Gender & Education.
For more than a decade, Harper has worked with programs in early childhood, elementary, and secondary teacher education. He has designed courses on history and social science education, curriculum theory and development, equity and schooling, transformative justice, dis/ability and access in the classroom, collaboration with families and service providers, and building classroom communities.
Harper’s scholarship analyzes what schooling, curriculum, and pedagogy teach children about how society is organized. Much of his work investigates the management - or scripting - of children and childhood, and ways that educators and their students might work together to interrupt that process and imagine something different.
These interests emerge directly from Harper's experiences as a teacher. After studying social and historical inquiry in an interdisciplinary program at The New School, Harper became an elementary school teacher in Brooklyn, where he quickly began to learn about the complexities of talking about human history and contemporary social life with young children. Today, Harper is working on projects in two major arenas: the treatment of violence in elementary school history education, and the role of gender in schooling.
How do schools give meaning to gender?
In addition to his work on history and social science education, Harper explores what the experiences of trans and gender non-conforming youth and teachers reveal about how gender functions within public systems, and how gender interacts with race & colonialism. His article, Unscripting Curriculum: Toward a Critical Trans Pedagogy, was published in the Winter 2017 edition of the Harvard Educational Review, and was the journal's first publication focused on trans studies in K-12 education. Harper also worked on an international comparative study of trans-affirming school policy and practice with scholars at the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of Western Ontario in Canada, and Murdoch University in Australia. Harper has written articles for the popular press about issues facing trans people in schools, including Slate, The Huffington Post, and The Feminist Wire.
The Trans Educators Network
In 2015, Harper founded the Trans Educators Network (TEN), an organization for connection and support among trans-spectrum educators. TEN now has active chapters in five cities across the United States, a critical pedagogy study group for educators in the San Francisco Bay Area, and includes more than 450 members around the globe. Built through a grassroots framework, TEN is organized by a smaller member-led leadership collective of TGNC educators with community organizing experience at the nexus of trans & racial justice across North America. The leadership collective maintains a majority of people of color. In addition to providing valuable support and professional networking for trans-spectrum educators, the group serves as a springboard for advocacy efforts. TEN has been featured on NBC National News, The Huffington Post and NPR.
How do adults teach children about violent histories?
Harper's current research focuses on the teaching of colonial history in elementary schools. By analyzing textbooks, classroom instruction, and field trips to historic sites, his project examines how young children are taught about the violent and conflicted past of the United States. Using mixed methods, Harper’s work presents evidence of specific ways that curricular tools manage to avoid the violence of colonialism in the process of scripting history for children, and ways that educators and children sometimes resist that process of scripting. Articles from this study have been published in Teachers College Record, Theory & Research in Social Education, and as a chapter in an edited volume on teaching difficult histories (see writing page for details). In the future, he is interested in more deeply examining the role of emotion in history education, and international and comparative research that addresses teaching about violent histories beyond the United States.
Harper is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he is a guest on the traditional, ancestral, and unceded lands of the xʷməθkwəy̓əm (Musqueam), Skwxwú7mesh (Squamish), and sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-waututh) peoples. Although he has spent most of his adult life in big cities, Harper grew up in a rural community in Western Maryland (USA). He moved to New York City to attend college, where he earned a B.A. in Social and Historical Inquiry from Eugene Lang College at The New School, and a dual M.S. in Childhood General and Special Education from Bank Street College. As an elementary school teacher, Harper taught kindergarten, first, and fourth grades in special education inclusion classrooms in New York City, including at Community Roots in Brooklyn. He loves eating delicious food, spending time outside, and watching films, theater, and performance art.