Teaching to Change LA > Youth Voices > Vol. 5, Issue 1 > Electoral Politics
Electoral Politics > Features > Student Work

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On Being a Critical Researcher

Henry Espinoza is a senior at San Fernando High School.

A critical researcher is a person who searches for information that is beyond the obvious. He or she is on top of every issue that involves the subject that is being researched. A critical researcher looks for different opinions from people with different backgrounds. Critical researchers also use different tools to gather information, for example, the Internet, surveys, interviews, and observations. Every piece of information is used, or at least considered, because it’s important to know what everyone thinks. A critical researcher knows how to spread information to the people and government officials in a unique fashion that attracts and moves the public.

A critical researcher is someone who does not conform. You must be able to look deeper into the information given and view it in different ways. A critical researcher needs a positive and questioning attitude towards knowledge. A positive attitude encourages people to become more questioning and not be narrow minded. The information given must be used in a productive manner, which is legal, but also powerful enough to make people think and be aware. To be a critical researcher, you need tools that will enhance your research which will give you support towards your theory.

The final tool, and maybe the most important, is organization. Great leaders like Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Black Panthers used this tool to gain power.

Tools such as the Internet, surveys, interviews, public speaking, people skills, and organization help give research more power. The Internet, for example, helps you find information much quicker than any other resource because it gives easy access. Surveys help a researcher because they give information on the people you’re interested in. It also allows the researcher to know information that may not be released in public. Surveys also show the problems that many people have and that are affecting them everyday and it can prove your theory and make it stronger. Therefore, the survey is the first step in finding out what the problem is. As stated by a United Students member “the survey is our first step on finding the problem.” United Students are using the survey as their main tool to figure out the problem from as many people as they can. These surveys allow it to be easier because you can’t ask over five thousand students. Public speaking is something that is feared by many, but used powerfully by others. Students can have a bold voice that is not intimidated and scared of speaking out on the true issues. This skill gives leaders and students from many different organizations a voice that addresses concerns in a proper and powerful manner.

People skills allow a student to connect with someone in a genuine way while addressing the issues. This skill is important because it grabs the attention, not just in a business manner, but also as a concerned citizen making the person feel comfortable. This skill can also be used to meet different people and receive important information. Making the interview comfortable can enable him or her to express her opinion more openly.

The final tool, and maybe the most important, is organization. Great leaders like Cesar Chavez, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, and the Black Panthers used this tool to gain power. Organization is usually practiced by youth by joining clubs in schools and other organizations outside the school. Such clubs in schools like United Students, Mecha, and Latino/a United can be found in East High. However, like with the surveys, students aren’t learning this tool. More significantly the survey shows that students want to learn this tool. Organizations like Inner City Struggle and MALDEF focus on helping youth become organized legally and in different strategic actions. These clubs and organizations help youth become aware and put their ideas out in powerful ways that impact the law.

As a teen myself entering my senior year in high schools I believed in using critical research as a tool to fight educational justice. Critical research may be the most important tool because it allows students the ability to become knowledgeable about the issues that are occurring in schools. It also allows students to become critical and to question what is given to them by not conforming. On the other side, schools are teaching the opposite and actually producing citizens who conform. As Bowles and Gintis explain “schools train the wealthy to take up places at the top of the economy while conditioning the poor to accept their lowly status in the class structure.” This quote argues that schools influence student to conform to their low position in the work force.

It is a great influence for a student to have a grown up by their side to give them advice and help them fight for what’s right.

Being a critical researcher allows you to diagnose the problem, which is the first step to fixing it. For example, I’m a critical researcher and I have researched the conditions of my school and I have proposed ideas on changing the tardy policy. This skill of critical research can be used to change the smallest thing to larger issues in education. Just being able to use critical research gives you a voice, a voice that is well informed and knows what steps to take.

As a critical researcher and a high school teen, I can tell students that they need to be critical, meaning that they need to question everything around them and given to them. Students also can’t expect change to happen if no action is taken. Therefore, my next advice is to take action by joining organizations like Inner City Struggle and United Students. This step is important because it shows how to use organization and public speaking to provoke change. Organizations like these can be found in schools or out of schools. My other advice would be that students need to support political action and not be part of the problem. Students must put in the effort to finding one of these organizations by using tools such as Internet, and asking teachers or counselors.

Teachers must teach students to become critical and teach them values that they themselves never got in their learning process. My next advice would be quoted from Freire (1997) that states, “ There is no teaching without learning, and by that I mean more than that the act of teaching demands the existence of those who teach and those who learn.” In order to become a productive teacher you must constantly learn from your pupils and your experiences. Using this will make your teaching experience more enjoyable rather than repeating the same thing over and over. My next advice would be that teachers must be constantly learning from their mistakes and students' mistakes. A teacher is never done learning. He or she should not ignore their own mistakes because those are the most important to correct. The student is always aware of what the teacher is doing and knowing that you can learn from their mistakes is a positive value. The teacher must be organized and update their teaching materials because a student can tell the teachers’ interest and teaching skills. Teachers must also inform the parents of their kid’s progress because it applies pressure to a student to perform at a certain level.

An influential role model is the parents and how they support their kids or other students through their toughest school years. I would encourage parents to attend school meetings and discuss school issues. It is a great influence for a student to have a grown-up by their side to give them advice and help them fight for what’s right. For example, when the organization Inner City Struggle fought for new schools in East Los Angeles, parents helped organize. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a parent with a high education. It can be any parent, it’s just the simple fact that a parent is concerned that makes a magnificent impact.


Teaching to Change LA is an online journal of IDEA, UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, & Access