On research and social justice

Once upon a time I was an activist. I was inspired and shaped by a class I took when I was about 20 at the University of Massachusetts. The professor was Joy James, and the class was given in the women’s studies department. It was something about african- and native american women’s autobiographies. We read books, attended theatre performances, and basically concluded that if we wanted to be revolutionary, like the women whose autobiographies we were reading, we had to give up our privileged positions. My friends, or should I say comrades, and I graduated from university, and went on the live revolutionary lives of poor activists, for a while. For a while, my life revolved around anti-poverty, anti-racist organizing. I got a job as a community organizer for a communist organization of eastern european jews over 70, I was supposed to make tuna and egg salad sandwiches for their luncheons, while also mobilizing the younger generation to join the struggle. We had a blast, for a while. But then I become disillusioned, I wasn’t convinced that organizing demonstrations was actually changing the world, I thought I might have a better chance if I worked with even younger people. I went back to school, became a primary school teacher. I talked my students about their rights, about everyone’s rights, I taught them to be nice to each other (at least I tried), to stand up for themselves, to think critically, to question. I had less time to organize demonstrations, but I still attended, often, then less often. My partner and I had a baby, and then another one, and then I got a Masters degree. While I still believed fiercely in the same ideals of social justice and revolution, I couldn’t really call myself an activist anymore. When I graduated I got a job as the pedagogical consultant at a First Nations and Inuit childcare centre. It was my responsibility to provide pedagogical support to the educators, empower the parents to advocate for their kids once they got to primary school, and to be involved in community organizing efforts. I had fun, but the job only allowed 2 weeks vacation a year, and I had long ago abandoned my dedication to sacrifice my life to the cause – in fact, I felt like I was sacrificing my children’s time, so I quit, and eventually began my phD. Now I read about research methodologies that are dedicated to social justice, and while I find the idea tempting, I have a hard time reconciling the privileged academic position with struggles for social justice. Maybe Joy James was too good a teacher http://humanities.williams.edu/files/James-Activist-Scholars-or-Radical-Subjects.pdf or maybe I am just too jaded, but I watch stuff like this: http://www.submedia.tv/stimulator/2013/03/29/decolonize-this/ and I have a hard time believing that the critical narrative research I want to do with marginalized parents is going to “give voice” to their struggles or lead to less oppressive power relations between schools and under-appreciated families. But somehow, I can’t not try…What do you think readers, am I contributing to inequity or struggling for a better society? Or both?

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About joannelehrer

I am a PhD student attempting to critically engage with narrative research in early childhood education. My doctoral project focuses on family-educator and family-teacher relationships during the transition to kindergarten in marginalized communities. I created this blog to document the journey, and to reach out to others in the vague hope of creating an opportunity for exchange with other students or academics...kind of like a virtual message in a bottle.

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