New Faculty
Kevin Gee Lecturer in Public Policy Credit: Mike Cohea/Brown University

Kevin Gee
Lecturer in Public Policy

By Richard C. Lewis  |  September 1, 2010  |  Email to a friend

Kevin Gee grew up the stereotypical American kid. His family lived in the suburbs. His mother and father held white-collar jobs. As a boy, Gee worked a newspaper route.

Yet along the way, Gee, lecturer in public policy at the A. Alfred Taubman Center for Public Policy and American Institutions, veered from the standard trajectory. He took note of his mother, a public school elementary teacher. He took an active interest in his ancestral ties to China and why his family, like so many other immigrant clans, pinned their hopes on success in America and their dreams of giving their children a better lot in life.

“I think I was born with a lot of privileges,” Gee said. “My parents were first-generation immigrants. I felt like I should complete the circle, that I should give back.”

The circle began to close in 1998, when Gee enrolled in an organization called “In Search of Roots.” The program involves a year-long commitment to researching one’s Chinese American family history and genealogy. As part of the experience, Gee visited the villages where his mother was born and where his father’s parents had lived. “I had never thought of the Chinese part of who I am,” Gee said. “It had a profound impact on my own identity.”

Gee taught English for two years at a university in southern China. Back in the United States, he taught an after-school program for immigrant children who were struggling in school, students who “weren’t understanding a word of what they were hearing” in the classroom, he recalled.

He later migrated into education policy, earning an Ed.D. from Harvard University this year. Gee cites a need to understand what students are learning and whether they’re being taught effectively. “We don’t know what’s going on in schools, what’s happening in classrooms every day,” he said.

Gee’s research in education policy has taken him to Egypt and most recently to Hawaii and the U.S. Pacific territory American Samoa. For five months ending in May, Gee sat in on fourth- and fifth-grade classes in dozens of schools and got a first-hand view of how these students were being taught and what they were learning. What he found was a lack of “culturally relevant” materials. “Kids in American Samoa use the same textbooks as American kids,” he said. “How do you bring some (local) culture into that? They’ll be more interested and engaged.”

In a way, Gee is returning to Brown. He was an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Education two years ago, where he taught the economics of education, including how to incentivize parents in developing countries to send their children to school. He will teach two classes this fall.