Hearing the voiceless

a friend of mine is starting a Participatory Action Research (PAR) project inquiring into an entreprenurial curriculum that has both enabled and disabled students in her classroom. From an email, she said:

I met with the students who are disabled, and we had a discussion on their feelings toward working with their counterparts who are not disabled. Then I explained to them that they were going to be participating in an action research study on building team cohesiveness.

I told them I would be recording their conversations throughout the research and using the video camera to record their interaction in groups. In addition, I informed the participants that the research would be available to the public; therefore, various teachers and organizations will have access to the study to improve their strategies in building team cohesiveness in their inclusionary classrooms. 

To my knowledge, no other researcher has focused on inclusionary entrepreneurship classrooms. I also know of no curriculum that is applicable for both students who are disabled and those who are not. As a result, this research will raise some interest in our community and throughout the world.

After I explained the action research to the students who are disabled, they were flabbergasted! Finally, our voices will be heard and others will see how we feel. Our discussion will lead with the following question: What difficulties do students who are disabled and those who are not face when working together?

The disabled students indicated that the students who are not disabled were judging and making fun of the students who are disabled. The students who are not disabled seem to enjoy “tormenting us,” one said, “and making us feel like we do not have anything to contribute or like our suggestions are frivolous and useless.”

The students who are not disabled have no idea how it feels to be disabled. They may not be able to imagine the daily challenges as well as negative stereotypes and other barriers students who are disabled face. One student who is disabled said, “ When I work in my group, the non-disabled students do not listen to my ideas. They just want to implement theirs.” She also explained how uncomfortable she feels working in groups with students who are not disabled. She told me, “I do not like depending on them. I have my own ideas and opinions, but it takes me longer to express what I have to say because of my medication and anxiety I have working with non-disabled students.”

Other students who are disabled echoed the same sentiment. They all seemed to agree that the students who are not disabled did not listen well when they offered ideas or suggestions. The students who are disabled perceived that the students who are not disabled tend to want to impatiently take over and rush through tasks. “They are not sensitive to our disabilities, so they get irate with us and twist our ideas,” one student explained.

Disabled students stated that they enjoyed working with their own peers of similar abilities because they understand one another and are more comfortable. However, the students who are disabled know that schools are moving toward integrated classrooms, and educational institutions are going to start enforcing integration. Therefore, the students who are disabled want to conquer their fears of working side by side with students who are not disabled. They want to challenge themselves to grow and gain more confidence in their abilities. N

evertheless, the students who are disabled still want students who are not disabled to understand how it feels to be disabled. If the students who are not disabled could switch places for one day with someone who is disabled, they would gain a deeper appreciation for the challenges that students who are disabled face on a regular basis. This study will be educational for both groups as they learn to appreciate the struggles and abilities of each group.

what a brave venture! I admire her tackliing such an emotion laden topic.

“giving voice to the voice-less ”

i think an essential question for the enabled students might be: “What can (should?) non-disabled students learn from disabled students?” or “What gets in the way of you learning from your disabled peers?” the disabled students could be asked: “What if people don’t agree with your ideas after careful consideration?  What’s more important: to be agreed with or to be listened to?”

The world of complex problems needs people who dont rush to judgment, but rather, make the time to truly listen, and solicit the opinions, perspectives and voices of others, especially those who have traditionally not had a voice. at the same time we want to be able to judge ideas on their merits.

this occurred to me as i was thinking about the double-blind peer review process for the Academy of Management papers (i just received 2 to evaluate). makes me wonder what might result from an experiment where students evaluated suggestions from a mixed group of enabled & disabled students, without knowing who was the originator? talk about opening can of worms!

 it seems to me that we all want to be respected as members of the class/group/tribe/society, and that we want our ideas fairly and impartically judged, no pandering. that’s why orchestras audition behind curtains, so that only the music comes thru to be judged.

that might lead to an inquiry of “How do we demonstrate respect and integrity in our classrooms and in our life? How do we deal with our differences when we dont have a double-blind curtain to eliminate our bias? How do we see each other?”

The Handbook of Action Research chapter 39, has an exemplar on children of terminally ill parents getting the opportunity to tell their own story, in their own voice, in writing, on film and in person, which demonstrates the power of presentational knowledge (Chowns, 2008).

It was interesting how the AR researcher’s expectations changed as the experience went along; Her 1st person AR was to discover, reflect and journal about her own changes as a result of the project. It reminded me of what she isabout to embark on: giving voice to the voiceless, fearlessly.

Chowns, G. (2008). No- you don’t know how we feel. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. (pp 562-572). London, Sage Publications, Ltd.

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