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

On Being a Critical Researcher

Francisco Romo is a senior at San Fernando High School.

A critical researcher is one who gathers information from others to the full extent. A critical researcher is not just one who can gather one piece of data and accept it, but one who puts his or her best foot forward with a persistent mind. You have to read other people’s worlds and compare them with contradicting perspectives. A critical researcher is like a gold digger; if you want to make it big, you have to dig deep. A gold digger has to get rid of the dirt to move onto the rocks. The gold digger moves the rocks to get to the boulders. That is when the gold digger uses his or her tools to break the rocks to get even deeper and find the gold. A researcher has to scratch the surface with simple questions in order to see the mindset of the interviewee. If you start off with the tough questions, chances are you will intimidate the person and they will respond with what they think you would want to hear.

On my first days of researching, I had not yet developed the skills to call out people's emotions. When I viewed the tape of the people I had interviewed, I saw that they did not understand what I was trying to call to mind.

A researcher must ask questions that puts the interviewee at ease so he or she can answer more truthfully and feel calm about the whole situation. The researcher can then go deeper into the interview by asking in-depth questions to get at where the researcher really wants to go. For example, I asked questions that pertained to how youth are involved within their communities politically. From there, I got the interviewee to respond to the questions more passionately. If you do not get the interviewee to answer more passionately then the interview will sound like it has been played out and you will lose the interest of the viewers.

On my first days of researching, I had not yet developed the skills to call out people's emotions. When I viewed the tape of the people I had interviewed, I saw that they did not understand what I was trying to call to mind. On my last days of researching, I had already fully developed my passion provoking skill. When I viewed the tape, I saw that the people's comments were passionate and that the interviews that I had conducted went the way I had wanted them to go. A critical researcher has to have a critical mind. You have to act on the spot and come up with questions that will give you the information you want, and that ultimately leads to the bigger picture.

I did not prepare for my first field day and the consequences were that I spent most of my interviewing time fumbling with my papers and pausing after every phrase to come up with a proper question. I was not critical; I relied on my short list of questions that I had prepared the day before. As time went by, I worked on my weaknesses and prepared more and more each field day. On my last field day, my mindset was on task. I knew what I wanted to find out and I had written down three basic questions to ask the interviewees. I was very critical that day and I had a series of follow up questions that got the interviewees to reply truthfully and passionately.

A critical researcher does not start off being critical. Over the past month, I have seen how the individuals from the UCLA/IDEA Summer Seminar in Education, including myself, grew from being shy and quiet to becoming confident and critical speakers. Toward the world, a critical researcher must have a conscience mind and must be neutral towards the situation. You must have an open mind and you also must learn to stay calm in the event that the interviewee expresses views that you might not agree with. There will be a number of moments when you interview someone and their views will be different from what you believe. If you don’t keep your cool and choose a side in the interview, chances are that that person will answer the questions according to what you want to hear. That is why it is imperative that the interviewer accept the world the way it is when they conduct an interview with someone else.

We all have a voice, if we can stand together, then we can bring change into our communities.

Before going into the community, we decided to go around the UCLA campus and interview people. For our first interview, we interviewed a Caucasian male. His replies were moderately good at the beginning of the interview which consisted of simple surface questions. As we got deeper into the interview, he began to sound very nervous and his replies did not make sense when compared to what he said in the beginning of the interview. From what I noticed, the individual’s replies sounded like something we would want to hear. In the pursuit of knowledge one must gather information on every side of the issue. If someone believes that schools should get rid of all teachers who are poorly credentialed and states why, as a researcher you should look for someone who disagrees with that statement. In my research, I found some individuals who wanted to get rid of poorly credentialed teachers because they believed that they were not teaching the students properly. In contrast, others said there were poorly credentialed teachers who connected with the students in a meaningful way, which got the students to work at their highest potential. For the most controversial issues, you must look at both sides of the fence. If you only narrate one side of the story, it tells everyone else that you agree with the statement, which does not really solve as much as research that compares both sides of the story. A critical researcher must always be organized and prepared to conduct interviews with anyone at any time. A critical researcher must always be patient. If the interview is going nowhere, let it progress and, hopefully, it will get to where you want it to go.

When I conducted interviews at the Community Coalition, I felt like I was not making much progress because the replies I got were too succinct and not in depth. Right before I closed the interview, I asked the interviewees why schools did this and that. Surprisingly, that question evoked what I wanted it to evoke and I got the subjects to respond more passionately. They began to link what they were saying to other thoughts and ideas they had. A researcher must also know why they are interviewing people and must know what it is they are talking about and what they are trying to get out of it. Most importantly, a critical researcher must have superb listening skills.

Chances are that you engaged in a deep conversation with someone only to realize that you forgot what they were saying. To fight for educational justice, you can use your research skills to gather data from schools around your area where injustices are taking place. Many people involved with the issues are aware of the problems, but not many bring evidence of educational injustice.

In our research groups, we all planned out what we were going to do on our field days and we all had a different responsibility. For example, one small group was responsible for interviewing local adults of South Los Angeles, and another group for interviewing youth of South Los Angeles, and so on. As a critical researcher, you can gather data and evidence at schools with no educational justice and bring it to the public’s attention. Even if your hard work is turned down by high figures of authority, just know that you have left your mark. You have addressed the situation and brought the issues to the forefront. If they turn it down or discard it, as if to show that all your hard work means nothing to them, then you have passively tried to make change, which wasn’t effective. At that point, your only other option is to act aggressively. We all have a voice; if we can stand together then we can bring change into our communities.

It may appear difficult if you have that high school mentality of thinking in terms of “I” instead of “We.” But if you think in terms of ”We,” then it is "We" as a group who can effectively make changes within our communities. As a team, you feel confident, you feel that sense of hope. It is like a SWAT team; during their operations, they move in teams and are always together. They feel that they are guarded by each member of the team, and that there are no worries of getting shot in the back because they have your back. As a team, each researcher feels more calm and confident in contrast to being a lone researcher and having to conduct interviews on his own. From my experience, teams are good to some extent, but just because you have group solidarity does not mean that you will NOT be intimidating to others around you. When we went to San Fernando High school, we looked too strong as one universal research team, considering that we were a group of thirty people. In order to look friendlier, we decided to break into teams of two individuals, which was properly balanced with strength. To fight for school justice as a team, each member or small group can focus on one aspect of social inequality in a school. Rather than go after the same thing together, going after different issues as different teams is also effective.

Like war, you cover more ground when you split up and secure your area. It is most effective if each small team is assigned a different objective when they conduct research for school justice. I believe data will be collected more effectively if we do our objectives. There are a number of aspects to look at if you are preparing to fight for school justice. Each team can tackle a major issue on school grounds. Like I have stated earlier, when I hear the phrase critical researcher, the words that come to mind are “change,” and “persistence.”

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