20 for 2020 and Beyond

About the Project

History, as nearly no one seems to know, is not merely something to be read. And it does not refer merely, or even principally, to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it within us, are unconsciously controlled by it in many ways, and history is literally present in all that we do. It could scarcely be otherwise, since it is to history that we owe our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations. (Baldwin, 1965, p. 47)

In the summer of 2020, a group of scholars set out to mine the archives of ILA journals to identify articles with practical relevance for educators and researchers in a time plagued by two virulent epidemics (Lyiscott, 2020): racial inequality and COVID-19.

Imminent dangers and tremendous uncertainty required educators and researchers to confront and make new decisions about the very nature, location, impact, and intention of their work and lives.

Although each new issue of ILA journals provides multiple perspectives on new and refined understandings, as Baldwin (1965) reminded us, understanding what is new in research is never enough. Moreover, the months-long cycle of review and revision required by any rigorous peer-review process does not always allow for issue or article themes to flexibly respond to the moment.

For this curated collection, we looked to the past not for latent or forgotten wisdom but to initiate a clear-eyed view of "our frames of reference, our identities, and our aspirations" (Baldwin, 1965, p. 47), which we bring forward and hope to transform.

We undertook the project in multiple stages, with different analytic questions guiding each stage as we narrowed the corpus of articles from the first issues of both The Reading Teacher and Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy to the present.

We began with a discussion of the topics, themes, and ideas that seemed most relevant to the current time, including distance learning, parent engagement, critical literacy, race, activism, representation, and multilingual learners.

Additional search terms were identified in an effort to capture relevant research using terminology different from contemporary practice. These search terms included equity, diversity, intersectionality, differentiation, access, trauma, motivation, and reform.

After dividing up journals and decades across the team, we proceeded with a title and abstract review, noting that journals from the 1950s and 1960s often did not include abstracts with the articles and used a continuous print, newsletter-like format. The goal of the first round of review was to identify articles to download for closer reading based on their potential relation to any of the topics and themes generated by the group.

After downloading more than 800 articles to review, we divided into teams by journal and time period to read more closely for broad relevance to practitioners and researchers in this moment. As we did so, we noted patterns in what was being published, how, when, and by whom, as well as trends in the popularity of certain topics and formulations of topics over time.

To focus our search on articles that might have particular current relevance, we engaged in a second round of review, with articles organized by topic rather than year. In this second round, we rated articles based on what we perceived as their relative accessibility and clarity of writing, the presence of timely implications or uses of information presented, and an overall rating for relevance of the key messages.

We used our rating system to identify a set of nearly 100 articles that earned high ratings in every category, and had additional readers read, rate, and rank them over several rounds of review until we had eliminated 40% of that list before concluding with a final round of review.

Within this collection are articles that invite us to reframe how we think about education; to lift up our students as readers and writers; to center their identities; to use texts as windows and mirrors (Bishop, 1990); to guide students in critically reading the word and the world (Freire & Macedo, 1987/2005); to involve families; to push back against systems of oppression; to embrace the affordances of technology while staying cognizant of its constraints; to use assessment in authentic, validating, and meaningful ways; and to advocate for our students from myriad cultural, racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and linguistic backgrounds.

We hope this glimpse into the past offers clarity during these challenging times as we look toward the future.

The 20 for 2020 and Beyond Project Team


Baldwin, J. (1965, August). The white man's guilt. Ebony Magazine, pp. 47–48.

Bishop, R.S. (1990). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and Using Books for the Classroom, 6(3), ix–xi.

Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2005). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Routledge. (Original work published 1987)

Lyiscott, J. (2020, July). The racial politics of pandemic pedagogy. Talk presented at Reimagining Education 2020: Teaching, Learning and Leading for a Racially Just Society, an online institute of Teachers College, Columbia University. www.tc.columbia.edu/articles/2020/july/demanding-an-independent-autopsy-of-americas-schools/