What Happens When YPAR Moves into the Classroom? A Study of Teachers’ Understanding of the Epistemology of Youth Participatory Action Research
Buttimer, Christopher John
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AbstractYouth Participatory Action Research (YPAR) is an epistemological stance premised on the belief that young people can and should participate as researchers in an inquiry-based process designed to critique and take action against oppression. Over the past two decades, university-based researchers working largely outside of school settings have documented inspiring YPAR work. As a result, YPAR is gaining the attention of U.S. public school teachers, an increasing number of whom are implementing YPAR in core academic subjects with students. To date, however, few studies have examined the beliefs and experiences of teachers who implement YPAR as pedagogy with students in classrooms, and no study has done so across a wide range of contexts.
In my study, I interviewed 28 current or former U.S. public school teachers who have experience implementing YPAR with students in core academic classes in order to determine how they think about the work. The teachers taught in grade levels ranging from fourth to twelfth grade, across multiple subjects (e.g., English, history, science), and in 24 different schools located in nine large urban districts across the United States. In my analysis, I examined how the teachers converged with and diverged from each other in their understanding and enactment of the epistemology of YPAR. Further, I compared teachers’ beliefs and experiences to what leading university-based researchers have written about the epistemology of YPAR in academic texts.
Most teachers in my study, like virtually all university researchers, believe that YPAR must be critical in nature, centering issues of power and oppression in the work. Additionally, the teachers believe that action is an epistemological requirement of YPAR; however, they diverge on the nature and priority of action, similar to university researchers. Further, the teachers gave substantially more control and choice to students in setting the research agenda and driving the process than university researchers. Finally, a third of teachers asked students to engage in individual YPAR projects – an approach which has yet to be captured in the academic literature. The findings from my study provide insight to adults engaging youth in YPAR inside and outside of classroom settings.
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