Who are sources of knowledge in our community?
What do researchers neglect when performing dominant research approaches?
How do anti-racist research practices give insight into new knowledge?
Content: Dominant Secondary Education Research Methods
The instruction of traditional academic methods of research in secondary English curriculum seeks to introduce students to the basics of obtaining, synthesizing, and implementing knowledge, information, and data. Current practice primarily centers around the ability to access and navigate peer reviewed databases and analyze credible authority. Students are taught technology research methods such as the “C.R.A.P. Test” to evaluate credibility, reliability, authority, and purpose (Beestrum & Orenic, 31). These skills are helpful to ascertaining the relevance and value of a source to one’s research. However, with heavy emphasis on published and academic sources, teachers lead students into a dominant belief that other sources of knowledge are not credible or worthy. In addition, “research is also regarded as being the domain of experts who have advanced educational qualifications and have access to highly specialized language and skills. Communities carrying out what they may regard as a very humble little project are reluctant to name it as such research in case it provokes the scorn and outrage of ‘real’ researchers…” (Sefa, 137). Questions such as what makes a source credible or what qualifications an author must hold to claim authority on a subject are not always addressed and further the notion that community research is invalid.
Research also operates within the supposed context of objectivity. This is commonly practiced when identifying bias with the ultimate goal of reaching a neutral or non-defiant position on a topic. Knowledge production becomes hierarchical with formal knowledge sanctioned by academic researchers as most valuable and viewed as ‘objective’ whereas other sources are viewed as biased and invalid. It is commonly noted, “Most research methodologies assume that the researcher is an outsider able to observe without being implicated in the scene. This is related to positivism and the notions of objectivity and neutrality” (Sefa, 137). Academic research implies that only those who are unbiased and unaffiliated with a subject may truly reach the notion of objectivity can carry true authority. The concept fails to acknowledge the colorblind history of academia and furthermore places emphasis on the technical approach. In doing so, “formal education bears a large part of the responsibility for our present [environmental, economic, and public health] crisis because it produces morally sterile technicians who have more know-how than know-why” (Boggs, 148). This is further perpetuated in a traditional secondary education model that relies heavily on a top down approach to knowledge acquisition. As researcher Grace Lee Boggs notes, “The factory-type school is based on the profoundly antidemocratic belief that only experts are capable of creating knowledge, which teachers then deliver in the form of information and students give back tests” (142). The traditional school system disenfranchises students from engaging in research that is real, meaningful, and actionable as it intentionally upholds a hierarchy that directly undermines student insight, creativity, and research.
Historically, western academic research methods were derived using models that upheld white supremacist values. And these traditions of formal research “have been trained and socialized into ways of thinking, of defining and of making sense of known and unknown” (Sefa, 124). The legacy of these traditions is most apparent in the continuing promotion of the fallacy of colorblindedness and a neutralness of objectivity. Traditional academic methods of research in secondary English curriculum are implicitly racist because they rely upon the basics of a colorblind viewpoint as well as practices that historically originated in white supremacy. When upholding traditional research methods, educators create an environment that blindly upholds the biases of white supremacy and undervalues the experiences and knowledge community contributes to the understanding of social justice topics.
Content: Anti-Racist Research Models and Methods
Anti-racist research seeks to provide counter methodologies of research that have been part of knowledge acquisition practices in traditional and local communities that are distinct from the university. In anti-racist research, researchers play an active role in situating themselves in relation to topics of study and are invited to pull upon their own experiences and culture to inform their understanding. As Sefa states, “Anti-racist research is not about becoming located or situated in another’s lived experiences but is rather an opportunity for the researcher to critically engage his or her own experience as part of the knowledge search” (Sefa, 4). Instead of the researcher playing a detached role, those seeking to obtain new insights must first acknowledge their relationship and standpoint of inquiry. Anti-racist research according to Sefa also requires “recognition of the contributions of the subjects of study to shaping theory, practice, and knowledge” (Sefa, 6). In doing so, subjects of study take ownership of their history and contributions to knowledge production. Local subjects are seeking to have a real and legitimate voice in the interpretation and interpretive process of social research. They are not simply the sources of raw data. They want to be able to create, tell, analyze, and interpret their own stories and experiences, and not simply have researchers assume the ethnographic, interpretive, and discursive authority (Sefa, 7).
Community Cultural Wealth
Ant-racist research empowers underrepresented communities that have been historically mistreated, misrepresented, and at times erased by academic research by identifying and highlighting the sources of knowledge and power within these communities. Modeled after the work of Paulo Friere’s pedagogy of teaching problem posing approach, where students and educators share in the co-creation of knowledge production, Tara Yosso along with parents of chicano students developed the framework of community cultural wealth to identify sources of knowledge and power within in their socioeconomically disadvantaged community (Yosso, 50). Working together, Yosso and families adapted Frieire’s methodology of 1) Naming and identifying a problem, 2) Analyzing causes of problem, 3) Finding solutions to the problem, and 4) Reflecting on the process to develop their framework. The premise follows the concept of economic capital (income, wages, salary) that equates to wealth (accumulated assets, resources) but acknowledges that communities have sources of capital beyond that of economic power.
Community Cultural Wealth comprises six main subjections in which communities find power and mobility.
- Aspirational capital is the ability to maintain hopes and dreams for the future even when facing barriers.
- Linguistic capital is the intellectual and social skills learned through communication experiences in more than one language or style.
- Navigational capital is the skill of maneuvering through social institutions.
- Social capital includes the networks of people and community resources.
- Familial capital is the cultural knowledges nurtured among familia (kin) that carry a sense of community history, memory, and cultural intuition.
- Resistant capital is the knowledges and skills cultivated through behavior that challenges equality.
Community cultural wealth identifies sources of knowledge and skill sets that are derived directly from insider knowledge. When applied to the practice of anti-racist research, community cultural wealth identifies ways in which subjects of study are able to identify and wield power that is unique to their individual community. Understanding the strength of knowledge within the community allows for community members to control their narrative and have an understanding of self-knowledge when confronted by dominant narratives or understandings.
In disrupting traditional methods of research, it is necessary to acknowledge the methods of knowing, documenting, and observing the world that were historically invalided and dehumanized by western academics. The legacy of the development of academic research in fields such as social sciences is in many ways directly tied to the impact of colonization on Indigenous peoples globally. In Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples, scholar, professor, and leader in Indigenous education, Linda Tuhiwai Smith details the first encounters of Europeans with Maori people as “ones in which Indigenous people were observed as research objects'' (81). Early documentation range from travel journals that document the otherness of Indigenous life to researchers whose “interest was of a more ‘scientific’ nature could be regarded as far more dangerous in that they had theories to prove, evidence and data to gather and specific languages by which they could classify and describe the Indigenous world” (82). Accounts of such studies include measuring skulls to prove inferior intelligence, ‘discovering’ and extracting precious ‘artifacts’, and dismantling houses to ship to Europe (83). Even researchers who engaged in developing relationships with the Indigenous communities that facilitated research were still situated as an observer. They implicitly imposed perspective in their accounts, were unable to fully understand Indigenous knowledge that existed within a much wider cultural framework, and took part in a colonial system that urged to civilize and assimilate Indigenous people. Though the legacies of those who reached ‘scientific developments’ live on the names of informants and the rest of their knowledge often continue to remain unacknowledged and erased in dominant historical narratives (85).
Despite the dominant narrative of academic research, Indigenous communities have methods of documentation, preservation, and research that embrace the relationship of researcher to community in effort to reclaim the narrative and to empower community. According to Tuhiwai Smith, Indigenous communities act as part of the self-determination agenda. She states, Self-determination in a research agenda becomes something more than a political goal. It becomes a goal of social justice which is expressed through and across a wide range of psychological, social, cultural and economic terrains. It necessarily involves the processes of transformation, of decolonization, of healing and of mobilization as peoples'' (116). Indigenous research includes the practice of deliberately naming the world according to an Indigenous worldview, by bridging to the center and privileging Indigenous values, attitudes and practices rather than disguising them within Westernized labels (125). Practices also include community action projects and work performed within spaces gained within institutions by Indigenous research centers, which intersect and inform each other. While practices of preserving culture have endured long before a recent movement in the 1960s and that continues to today focus on the reclamation of Indigenous identity through research.
In contrast to Eurocentric practices, Indigenous research methods draw upon connection to communal identity. Community action research is a collaborative approach to inquiry or investigation that provides people with the means to make systemic action to resolve specific problems. Working within this context people can reflect on their own lives, have questions and priorities of their own, have skills and sensitivities which can enhance (or undermine) any community-based projects (227). In many projects the process is far more important than the outcome. Processes are expected to be respectful, to enable people, to heal and to educate: lead one small step toward self-determination (228). Examples of Community Action Projects (143) include: Claiming, Testimonials, Storytelling, Connection, Envisioning, and more that emphasizes present and past communal connections.
Insider researchers need to build particular sorts of research-based support systems and relationships with their communities. They need to be skilled at defining clear research goals and ‘lines of relating’ which are specific to the project and somewhat different from their own family networks. This can be problematic as they may arrive at an issue believing they fully understand nuances if they lived it they know it, and believe the outcome should validate their experience. Tuhiwai Smith warns that researchers who assume that their own experience is all that is required is dangerous and may lead to unsettling one’s beliefs, values, relationships and the knowledge of different histories (139). This is an important concept to explore with youth as they learn to connect with as well as expand their understanding of their personal and communal identities and the social justice issues they face.
Activities to Interrogate the Dominant Research and Empower Community Knowledge
Activity: Critical review of the C.R.A.P. Test
In this activity, students will each be given a copy of the C.R.A.P. Test (Beestrum & Orenic, 2008). As a class we will go over each section of the test, taking pause to use a color marker to annotate. First annotations should take note of key terms and questions. We will discuss each section of the test to highlight main points and address areas of confusion. Before our second read through, I will ask students to consider what assumptions the test is making and what type of knowledge the test does not account for. We will then read through each section, using our second marker to identify areas where the test is confining, limiting, or shuts out certain voices and sources of knowledge. At the end we will brainstorm a list of types of research sources the test would be helpful for and a list of sources that could also be helpful to our research but is not represented in the C.R.A.P. Test.
Activity: Interview a source from your communal cultural wealth
Community Cultural Wealth includes the sources of power and knowledge that each individual has access to through proximity to their family, culture, community, and beyond. In this activity, students will first view the six main subjections: Aspirational capital, Linguistic capital, Navigational capital, Social capital, Familial capital, and Resistant capital. Students will read through examples of each capital, circling the examples that are most present in their lives. Students will be asked to consider an individual who they note as someone who is part of their community cultural wealth. Students will develop interview questions for this individual in relationship to the social justice topic that they are wishing to research. Before conducting and sharing interviews, students will notify their interviewees about the purpose and audience of the interview. Students will record, either by device or in writing, a 3 minute or longer interview. Interviews will first be shared in small groups with classmates with similar topics allowing for groups to make connections or discuss different perspectives. With consent, interviews may be added to our class website.
Activity: Write a Personal Narrative
Indigenous researchers acknowledge and place priority on the testimonials and storytelling that is imbedded into their culture and community. In this activity, students will be asked to write a personal narrative that tells a story or reflects on a moment in which they experienced or witnessed the social injustice they are researching. Students will be asked to record their narrative through writing but may incorporate other methods of documentation such as photography, art, or video. The objective of the activity is to have students acknowledge their own experiences as sources of knowledge and possible research material. It is important that students are aware that they will be sharing their work with the class, but can make omissions if needed. Work will be shared during a quiet gallery walk where students will leave sticky note comments. Narratives will also be read and shared in small groups related by topic. Personal narratives may also be shared on our collective website.