“The people whom the problem most affects need to be the one’s leading the movement to change it”

These words were told to me by a former High School student in Colorado last year.  The student along with a number of friends and fellow students had fought, through the use of student organizing, to stop the “zero tolerance” policy at their school.  In Colorado a school to prison pipeline had developed in High School and it was affecting students of color at a drastically larger rate than their white counterparts.  This man who was talking to me last year had been a pivotal piece of the student-led movement to enact some change.

This brings me to the article that most resonated with me over the weekend and then through the week as I begin to train new teachers to prepare them for taking a classroom in the fall.  The article begins with the purpose, stating that to truly understand the problem of educational inequity we need to get the student perspective driven by the student, and by this I mean the student must be doing the research!  The abstract ends in the conclusion, which really sums up all I need to hear, “Until we make the power of research accessible to young people and other marginalized communities, educational research will be limited in it’s scope and impact.”

The other quote rings in my head again “The people whom the problem most affects need to be the one’s leading the movement to change it”.

The study posits, in rather plain terms, that it is absolutely essential for students of color to gain a critical consciousness to understand their own identity in an oppressive system.  The researchers also go on to claim that the methods used by the Council’s in Los Angeles were highly effective in developing a critical consciousness in the youth that the Council’s served.

While I agree with all of the claims and the importance o putting the students at the front of the fight for educational equity, I do wonder how the researchers have chosen to operationally define “critical consciousness”.  This type of research is so interesting because it is so qualitative and by the natural meaning of the vocabulary the researchers use their idea of a “critical consciousness” could be in itself fairly objective.  While I would agree that their evidence demonstrates a critical consciousness in students I believe others could question the conclusion.

The researchers also spent a large amount of time speaking about how the students engaged in various forms of digital media to communicate their learning.  the researchers seem to believe at times that it is the “media” that is helping get students to these places of critical reflection and expression.  However I would argue that students are set up to do what they have done because of the mindsights of those leading the Council’s.

The researchers say it in passing but I believe that real power behind this study comes from one act, “Positioning Youth as Experts of Research and their Experiences”.

When we orient students as experts with already lived experience as opposed to novices who need to be “filled with knowledge”, we set ourselves up for much more powerful experiences and outcomes.  Our students come to the school with real experiences and they honestly are experts of their surroundings.  We need to leverage this experience to be effective, we need to leverage this experience to make a difference.