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Hearing the Voiceless- Part 2

In the ongoing conversation re: Action research into an entreprenurial curriculum for middle school and high school age students, one of our fellow students offered a detailed set of interventions based on the initial readout from the first exploratory meeting, a reported by the “insider”.  While the ideas were excellent and interesting, I felt moved to observe the following, having so recently been down the same path myself, of offering solutions when what was needed was a group research involving the students themselves as co-researchers. I replied to the group as follows:

[Name] has some great ideas for what could be powerful interventions at some point. Let me share 2 discoveries about AR and PAR: (1)the importance and power of treating the people in the AR as co-researchers and (2) the power of 1st person AR to inquire into what you, the AR insider, are bringing into the situation from the outside and how you are growing through reflection.

If I said “[Names’s] ideas sound as if he has already diagnosed the situation and designed an intervention that will be applied to these humans, so that they will “get the insight” that he has in mind for them, and so that they will amend their beliefs, values, perceptions and insights and behave in the correct eay in the future.” then I am pretty sure I will have misstated his position, since I diagnosed what I thought he was saying without checking in with him. It is a tendency of mine to jump to conclusions. In fact, it is a tendency of our brains, the ultimate pattern-makers, to jump to conclusions on limited data, because this is a good survival habit we have inherited from the Era of Evolutionary Adaptation. But it may not be a very good habit for research-quality inquiry

I have no doubt whatsoever that the proposed interventions and situations could be very powerful. However, I think we’d run the risk of by-passing our co-researchers and their insights if we jumped right to intervention technique without consulting with our co-researchers, the students themselves. In fact we might not be treating them as co-researchers at all, but rather as objects at a distance. The interventions might be working on a cognitive level if they make the connections we’d want them to make, and if they werent making the connections, we might feel a need to insist that they “see” the wisdom we were issuing to them. We’d keep giving them the lesson we want them to get until they yielded and “saw it our way”.

At a fundamental level how powerful could it be for them to self-diagnose, and decide if there were a problem in the way they were treating each other as “members of groups” rather than as people with needs? We have some powerful evidence already that the disasbled students are experiencing significant negative emotional reactions at a root level. They say its because they are being treated in a certain way and have concluded that the able students see them in a certain way. Well, we know the emotions they are feeling are real, but have we assumed their conclusions are true with respect to the enabled students? Are we really ready to proceed with an external diagnosis and intervention? Do the enabled kids get a chance to say anything before we proceed to the intervention we have designed?

In a very gentle way I want to observe that going into an AR with the intent of valuing the insights, values and states of being of the co-researchers is an uncertain and risky business because they get to vote on problem finding and problem solving and design of their own action steps and interventions. It really is open-ended.

I would not be surprised if a group of kids in an entreprenurial curriculum came up with their own innovative way of working together to improve their perceptions and treatments of each other once they had agreed on what, if any, problems they were experiencing in the classroom. especially kids, who are more flexible and open than old fogeys like myself who must be tricked into situations to make us see the truth etc.

The urge to intervene is one I experience a lot, especially when i am in an area i have some expertise in, and where i have had success in the past with results. I am trying to learn to identify my own beliefs and values and trust that the AR process will let me contribute my learnings when its my turn to talk, but to trust in an open, democratic group process to find its own level as well.

Chapter 31 in the Handbook describes an AR team’s experience with how their assumptions and beliefs and experiences at the start of an AR project in a company nearly sabotaged the outcomes because they were certain about what was going on, when in fact their interpretation had missed some important cultural aspects of the organization they were working with. Their 1st person learning, and sensitivity to the moment enabled them to detect the problem, and through communication were able to put it on the table with their co-researchers.

Kristiansen, M. & Bloch-Poulson, J. (2008). Working with “Not Knowing”, amid power dynamics among managers. In P. Reason & H. Bradbury (Eds) The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. (pp 463-472). London, Sage Publications, Ltd.

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