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

Jennifer Gonzalez is a senior at San Fernando High School in San Fernando, California.

This summer I joined a summer seminar and I didn’t know anything about it except through a video tape that was sent to my house. I only knew that it was going to be a good experience for me. When I first started I thought that it didn’t make any sense and that it didn’t even relate to me. When I was there for the first week I wanted to quit because I didn’t understand a lot of the terminology that was being used. As my teachers started pushing me to think critically of other communities and the media, I started to notice and realize some of the unequal conditions that other students and I face in our schools. From that moment on, I realized that my mentor was right; I was put into a program that was going to change my life. This is the opportunity that I have been waiting for, the opportunity that I needed. These IDEA individuals are wonderful people who have taught me to make a difference and make a change by being a critical researcher.

A critical researcher provides the community with information they haven't received before. The media wants to give you whatever benefits them and whatever is going to sell more. A critical researcher wants to give the truth, not only from his perspective but other points of views.

Being a critical researcher is not an easy job to accomplish. First you need to be able to think critically and ask critical questions in order to have valid research. You also need tools that are going to help you be an effective critical researcher, for example, surveys, interviews, observations, murals, media and environmental analysis. You have to think outside the box because you have the responsibility to find out what is meaningful to your community and self. Having the critical civic literacies (music, art, text, murals, T.V.) help the researcher find ways to express his/her message. A researcher is also someone who thinks beyond the obvious and analyzes every detail of information. A researcher also has to investigate and be counter narrative.

The types of attitude that you need towards the world is to see both sides of history and act on it. Seeing different perspectives will help you see the causes and the problems, and to find out who is being the oppressor. For example, when you don’t give students the supplies and resources they need they start to lose interest in the school and their education. By not having equal opportunities for students of color, schools create a lack of motivation. The attitude you need as a critical researcher towards knowledge is to be really cautious. Researchers need to be really careful of the words they use and the actions they take because it can affect people in a negative or positive way. A critical researcher needs to be open minded and be ready to work with other people that are facing the same problems that the community faces. Maybe the hardest thing for a researcher to do is to be unbiased.

A critical researcher provides the community with information they haven't received before. The media wants to give you whatever benefits them and whatever is going to sell more. A critical researcher wants to give the truth; not only from his perspective but other point of views, even if the oppressor is going to oppress him/her.

The researcher needs many tools in order to obtain critical data. It takes knowledge and practice in order to make change. They need these in order to think critically about our society and give back to their people. These tools give them power to be great. These tools include, reading, questioning critically, demanding answers, surveys, protests, interviews, public speaking, walk-outs, etc. A critical researcher could be anyone from adults, students, parents, activist, kids, CEOs. It doesn’t matter how old you are and where you come from, if you set your mind and want change, you can make a difference in your life and other people’s lives. For example, reading can’t help you understand the world. It helps you understand your research and gives you a different power than reading the world. But in order to understand the word you need to understand the world and what is going on around your community.

When students start asking questions and demanding answers they often run into trouble. Most administrators, teachers, and board members don’t want students to gain any power, especially students of color, because that means danger to them. For example, the school that I go to has had many controversies and has had a reputation of being a “bad school.” For the past few years they have been trying to make many improvements for the school and students, and have accomplished their goals. Recently, because of this summer seminar, I started to question and demand answers and it seemed like I was their enemy. They started reading my student history and so forth. Now when I speak to them, I receive a cold shoulder instead of a welcoming smile that I deserve as a good student and citizen.

I have many goals for my community and school and I hope to make positive change. I am taking the skills that the UCLA Summer Seminar has taught me so that I can work on the things that my school has been lacking.

I’m a good citizen because I participate politically, am involved with my community and school, and I use critical research in my participation. When students experience inequalities in their schools or are unhappy with social conditions, they can make surveys, organize walk-outs, petitions, and protests. They can communicate their ideas to the adults that believe that youth are “obnoxious” and don’t deserve to voice their opinions because they don’t matter. Youth deserve the chance to take risks and speak out and practice their first amendment right of freedom of speech. Youth in the past have made it happen and this generation can do it too. Youth cannot just go out there and start making change without one important tool, which is organization skills. You can’t have one without the other. Just knowing what you believe in and how to process it into something productive can make change without violence. Youth has the power to make change but they need to have the willingness to grab it and do something with it.

The advice that I will offer to others will be that they need to take things very seriously and that it is not too late to make change. There are so many organizations that are trying to make a difference for people. Now it's our responsibility to take and learn how to use it to follow what these organizations have worked so hard for. This Summer Seminar has opened my mind and expanded my critical thinking skills. I have been seeing and informing myself about things that I never was exposed to before. For example, the conditions that many schools are in affect the way students learn. Also, the lack of attention that students are receiving from the administration and board members affects students. That is the main reason that we need these protections because we are fighting against adults that don’t want to give away the power that they have come to have.

This is the end of my summer seminar project, but I believe that this is not the end but the beginning of my new transformed life. I have many goals for my community and school and I hope to make positive change. I am taking the skills that the UCLA Summer Seminar has taught me so that I can work on the things that my school has been lacking. For example, informing the community about students' rights, or the need for more AP and honors classes. I also want to create a group where people can go for support when it’s needed. Administrations have been ignoring the recent immigrant Spanish speaking only students that are enrolled in the ESL programs and are constantly retaliating against administration because they are tired of being left behind and not getting the education that the magnet and honors students receive. I want to get others involved and maybe motivate them just the way I was motivated so that we can have a better community and school. I want inequalities to be done and finished forever because I believe that we are all equal and we all deserve a good education. I will fight for social justice.


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