Participatory Action Research and City Youth: Methodological Insights from the Council of Youth Research by Mark A. Bautista, Melanie Bertrand, Ernest Morrell, D’Artagnan Scorza & Corey Matthews
Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 10,2013, p.1-23 http://www.tcrecord.org/library ID Number 17142,Date Accessed 6/3/2014
Traditionally researchers are known as academic scholars; distanced outsiders that theorize, observe, critique, and document findings to be read by others in field of academia. Many findings are laden and obscured by the researchers’ personal bias. In this study research is taken to a new level and redefined by its young participants, methods, and multivocality and multimodality presentation of research outcomes. The role of the researcher is both participant and knowledge seeker. “This study is as much about the methodological approaches to educational research as it is about the youth who use these tools to tell their story.” (p. 5).
The authors of this study deliberately morph from all-knowing researchers into facilitators and onlookers for a group of high school students that attend five, underachieving and poverty ridden urban high schools in East and South Los Angeles. “The students, who traditionally would be the objects of research, become the researchers themselves.”(p. 15). The most powerful part of this study is how through active research, students labeled as disadvantaged minorities, come to understand the power of their voice and ability to initiate change. Students are no longer passive learners or victims of an inadequate inequitable educational system. “Students’ experiences can help reframe problems and solutions in education while simultaneously producing knowledge that is student-centered and action-driven.” (p.4). Through participation in action research, students take charge of their learning in an authentic and engaging process.
The research mission was “to find out to what degree California students receive an “adequate” education and whether it meets their academic needs.”(p. 8). After exposure to critical sociological texts and learning about research methods, students took their research out to the field. The student research included both quantitative and qualitative methods. They conducted surveys and interviews with students, teachers, administrators, and elected officials. They researched data and collected statistics from the internet. Student researchers’ advantage was that they were insiders. They lived in the neighborhoods and attended the schools. Their peers and teachers were more comfortable and honest in sharing information and feelings with the students, than they may have been with outside researchers.
The critical finding for some students was learning what education looked like outside their background knowledge and experiences. Students visited schools in more affluent areas of Los Angeles that clearly had better resources and facilities than their urban schools. Data from research informed students of the disparities in quality of education between the poor urban and affluent schools. “The student-researchers honed their critical analysis to understand schooling in urban areas, making a strong case that their projects epitomize the concept of grounded research.”(p. 12). It became disturbingly evident to the student-researchers that California did not offer an adequate education to all citizens.
The most compelling and innovative part of the study were the modalities in which the student-researchers revealed their findings to their peers, community members, teachers, administrators, and community leaders. Traditionally research is shared through books, journals, reports, or thesis meant to be read by peers of the scholarly researcher. The student-researchers were given free rein of ways to present their research. Students collaborated on media projects such as Power Points and documentaries. “The PowerPoint presentations and documentaries highlight and validate a range of voices and speakers while explicitly critiquing systematic racism and classism in education and calling for change.” (p. 15). Authentic student voice and languages were used in the crafting of the documentaries and Power Points. This in return made the students’ finding comprehensible to their peers and communities. This is essential if the communities the communities with such a profound disparity in adequate educational resources are to advocate for themselves. “Until we make the power of research accessible to young people and other marginalized communities, educational research will be limited in its scope and impact.”(p. 2)
This study changed my perspective of what it meant to be a researcher and how research can be used as a tool to proactively impact communities. The student-researchers left behind their labels of underprivileged victims of society to advocates for themselves and their communities. In my future research, I will look for ways to be inclusive of the people I am studying. Not only is it an eye opening, it is ultimately an empowering experience for all involved in the process. It may be the only way to impact measurable change.
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and feed him for a lifetime.” (Chinese Proverb)