JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT Name: Taylor Casarez Project Criteria Why you chose the research

topic and how the focus might have changed

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Topic: Increasing Student Empathy through Activists’ Biographies Fill in here and submit to EE It’s in there

Michael Beats Malcolm at the Battle of the Board The idea for my action research came from a warm-up activity in the 3rd hour Research and Technology course. I asked students, “Who are some people who help their community?” I had imagined that they would mention well-known civil rights figures like Martin Luther King and Malcolm X. Instead, several students excitedly shouted out the names of rappers and athletes like Wiz Khalifa and Michael Jordan. One student even listed Drake, a rapper whose hit “The Motto” said that life was about living for you and enjoying all the money, sex and drugs you could. These were not the heroes I wanted for my future leaders. I decided that I would attempt to change who they viewed as a hero through a series of biographies that detailed how people, working with

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

others in their community, supported the rights of others. The only other rules I held for myself were that the activists should, where possible, be contemporaries of the students and be people of color. The reason for these stipulations is that research into possible selves has shown that stories are more powerful when we believe that are about “people like us (Lawrence-Lightfoot, 45).” Students can better identify with young leaders who look like them because they could conceivably BE them in a few years. I had two hypotheses as I began the work. The first one was that I could convince students to view those who served their community as heroes if we focused on the consequences of their actions versus those of their previous heroes. The second one was that students who studied the lives of activists would be

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Secondary Research (at least 3 sources)-cut and paste what you found before-and/or add additional sources

more likely to help their own communities. This second assumption will require a longitudinal study that was not yet possible. “Being an Upstander is when an individual or a group chooses to take a positive stand and act on behalf of themselves and others.” Dr. J. Cynthia McDermott, Antioch University Los Angeles. (Horace Mann Upstander Award) This means that minority students rarely see “people like them” in positions of authority and importance while at school. LawrenceLightfoot (2003) argues that the stories we tell about “people like us” have an influence on us as we grow older, often shaping our relationships with others in positive (or negative) ways (p. 4-5). (My Undergrad Thesis, quoting Sara LawrenceLightfoot’s “The Essential Conversation”) Beverly Daniel Tatum, a

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

recognized expert in the field of multicultural education and current President of Spelman College, argues that our identity is important for how we learn and interact with others in school (Tatum, 2007, p. 32). Our identities, according to Tatum (2007), are the stories we tell about ourselves based on the “feedback we’ve received” from others (p. 24). (My Undergrad Thesis, quoting Beverly Tatum’s “Can We Talk about Race?”

Summary of data from students (including key quotes)

Over the course of the first month, students read about many leaders who had attempted to improve their community. Some were artists like Brandan Odums, a young man from New Orleans who encourages teens to stay in school using rap parody videos on

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Youtube. Others were scientists like Donya Douglas, who shares her love of science with young women of color as part of a NASA outreach program. And still others were famous community organizers like Cesar Chavez, Lech Walesa and Alice Paul who the students had never discussed in their previous classes. Over and over again, the students wanted to know if these people were still alive and how these problems were being resolved today. By March 12, I noted in an email that ““their papers are increasingly talking about the power of group action and the importance of people standing up for the rights of others.” When asked who should have a state holiday in their honor, all of the students chose people who were part of a larger

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

movement. For example, Reggie wrote: “I believe that Medger Evers should have his own holiday because he did everything to provide for the civil rights movement [sic] and wasn’t acknowledged for it…” Chavez, one of the students who was least engaged at the beginning of the class, wrote “Cesar Chavez [should receive the holiday] because he fought for farmers’ rights using peace [sic] methods like strikes and marches.” Even at that early stage, many of the students were starting to list people who had left a legacy for other people. Cesar Chavez and Alice Paul, who was frequently mentioned by the female students, were both biographies we had discussed in class. As the class progressed, most students went beyond

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

just talking about activism; they started to practice it in the halls. JayJuan started a petition to create the first ever JRLA dance on Valentine’s Day. Jaslyn decided to create a poster describing the plight of Mexican American farm workers after reading about them at my suggestion. He poster used the words of migrant children to describe the combined pressures of drugs, alcoholism and poverty. When I asked her why she had created the poster, she said that it was “something people here should know about” and that it “might encourage people to make changes in their own lives.” After an incident in which he had drawn on a desk in marker, Marquez apologized for his actions and carefully scrubbed the tables for two days to

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

make sure the room was good enough for the class after him. DeTwaine, who had tried to avoid work at the beginning of the class, boldly told his fellow students “I don’t play no more” and sat for days making his assignments perfect. This was the same DeTwaine who had narrowly missed failing my History class the previous semester by handing in piles of assignments at the last second. By the middle of the class, DeTwaine was not only able to tell us that hard work paid off but could actually point to examples we’d studied to show why he couldn’t afford to play. Perhaps the biggest change was seen in Jhalah. She was one of the students who least liked the biographies. It was hard for me to get her to even listen to other students during our

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class discussions. She even bluntly told us that she didn’t “care about other people’s opinions.” She declared that it was boring and she didn’t care. In the final weeks of the course, Jhalah had an interesting exchange with me. A transcript appears below: Casarez: What if I don’t care about human rights in other countries? How would you convince me? Jhalah: I don’t care if you don’t care…I care! And you should, too. Casarez: Why? I have my rights. What do I care if they don’t have them over there? Jhalah: They’re still human beings. Casarez: So? Why should I care? I’m not related to them. Jhalah: Because you’re human and so are they. And… humans have rights

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

as humans!! Jhalah was berating me for not caring about the rights of people in Myanmar, a small Southeast Asian dictatorship she had never studied nor visited. Her massive poster declared “We want our rights.” That Jhalah could consider herself part of an international “we” that stood up for human rights is a testament to the power of our biographies. Her partner Telea added that people who didn’t care about others were the reason that “tragedies” occurred including slavery and (Jhalah added) human trafficking.

Summary of data from parents (including key quotes)

Data was not collected from students’ parents as the primary source of the data was the students’ written work and their comments in class.

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Summary of data from educators (including key quotes)

Primary source data (key quotes)

Informally, Marquez’s mother mentioned that she had seen improvement in his grades since the last report card, which was when he started to seriously study the biographies in my class. DeTwaine’s mother also noted that his grades were better across his classes than they had been the previous semester. Whether these two turnarounds are connected to the biographies is uncertain, as it might be caused by the consequences of failing their classes previously. As the focus of the study was primarily on the mindset of students, little formal data was collected from other educators. Both Ms. Reed (Math) and Ms. White (English) stated that students would benefit from nonfiction texts like the biographies I was creating and that I should, in Ms. White’s words, “keep ‘em coming.” Field Notes March 2012

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Michael Jordan got points for drive, but (as Jhalah put it) "selling $200 shoes doesn't count as helping your community." Field Notes Apr 20, 2012 Casarez: “What’s the point of reading all of these articles about people who made a difference?” Marquez: “Because someday we might need to help our people and our neighborhood…or even the country and world, to be honest…” Field Notes: April 24, 2012 Casarez: What if I don’t care about human rights in other countries? How would you convince me? Jhalah: I don’t care if you don’t care…I care! And you should, too. Casarez: Why? I have my rights. What do I care if they don’t have them

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

over there? Jhalah: They’re still human beings. Casarez: So? Why should I care? I’m not related to them. Jhalah: Because you’re human and so are they. And… humans have rights as humans!! Field Notes April 24, 2012 Casarez: Why do you think it’s important for people in America to know about people’s rights in other countries? Telea: Because if we didn’t there would be more tragedies in the world. Like slavery…. Jhalah: and forced prostitution of young girls April 2012 Field Note Marquez wrote on one of the tables today in Sharpie marker. I talked to him and he said he would clean it up at

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lunch. He apologized and then proceeded to clean every last desk in the room. He “wanted it to look good for you, Mr. Casarez.” He agreed that 4th hour deserved the clean classroom I gave him. Jaslyn’s Poster: Jaslyn read a small book about the lives of Mexican American farmworkers in the Southwest outside of class. She spent 3 straight days creating a poster about it to inform other students about what was going on. The poster details common struggles in the migrant worker community, including teen pregnancy, drug use and gang violence.
Findings

Providing students with daily biographical readings about activists and Upstanders who made a difference has shown positive results for nearly all of the students in my Research and Technology course. Several students have shown increased concern

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

Limits of research

Recommendations

for others in their written work. Several have also shown prosocial behaviors like creating public awareness campaigns and working harder in school. Studies of the longer term effects would require a longitudinal study, preferably over the next 8 years. As the school is just beginning, it is impossible to tell whether or not the changes I’m seeing will continue. Survey data should continue to be collected from the sample over the course of the next 4 years (at least) and compared against that of JRLA students outside of the sample. The survey would ask students how often they do community minded activities like helping the elderly and sharing important issues through social media. My hypothesis is that students from my R&T class will report these activities as occurring more often than their contemporaries because

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

they know it is possible and valuable to serve one’s community. As reading the biographies has been a tremendous help to certain at-risk students (Marquez and DeTwaine), it might be valuable to integrate the study of biographies into the school’s disciplinary framework. Often, students who are disruptive and destructive do so because these are the models they see at home or on the street. Showing them people who look like them that reject these destructive choices in favor of serving others may inspire them to do the same. The cost of creating the short biographies is relatively low and might encourage students to act in a more mature manner. Would integrating biographies about prominent African American scientists into Biology encourage more students at JRLA to become scientists?

New questions for future research

JRLA ACTION RESEARCH COMPLETED PROJECT

From: JRLA Staff Handbook p.103

What accounts for the small number of students who don’t seem to exhibit the same change in behavior? Is it a factor of their social development or could it perhaps be the environment in their home?