PAR (Participatory Action Research) locates itself “on the edge” (Hooks, 1984) of alternative approaches to social inquiry, rejecting many of the current and pervasive notions of “what works” in research about education and in society, and seeking to both confront and dismantle status quo systems of social inequity by redistributing the power that so often privileges historically dominant or hegemonic groups and individuals that take part in the research process.
Simply put, it is all about change.
The problem is, schools, in general, are not.
Of course there are schools here and there with administrators and teachers dedicated to disrupting the power class, race, or sex have in determining a student’s future, but overall, schools are spaces of rigid hierarchy and power structures, where students – especially girls and students of color – are at the bottom.
I wanted to put PAR, which is so focused on disrupting power hierarchies, to the test. I wondered, is PAR only useful or practical in spaces where hierarchies or power structures are minimized? How might PAR be used in a classroom/school environment, where hierarchy and power are so deeply embedded in the context of everyday life? Would a PAR project even be possible in a classroom? Would it be a superficial exercise in how to conduct research, or might it lead to deeper, more meaningful change?
At the same time I wondered how PAR might be “empowering” for individual members of a research collective, especially when those individuals are members of historically disempowered, disenfranchised, marginalized groups?
Of course being Latino was obvious, but what about being a student or being a teacher?
Those groups are so often silenced but have so much to say about their own lives (for a good discussion of teacher voice missing in educational decision and policy making, see Cohn and Kottkamp, 1993). Yet policies from local to global levels often do not take them into consideration. So how might PAR work to turn that around?
As I considered working on a PAR project for my dissertation, and then throughout the process and until now, these questions and many more have swirled around my head.