(BEING CONTINUED FROM 20/01/17)
C. Methods and Data Collection
Data-generation involved observations of classrooms within the school to learn about the
direct implications of social ecology for curriculum and instruction. I collected and analyzed
historical and archival materials (i.e. brochures, newspaper articles, curricular documents, course syllabi, etc.) to learn more about the development of the school’s philosophical vision, funding and accreditation, and operation within institutional and community-based contexts and their relationship to social ecology. I also documented students’ work and the school environment through photographs and audio recordings. Finally, I conducted informal, semi-structured interviews with one of the school’s founders, the school principal and teachers, and students regarding the conceptualization, implementation, and outcomes (i.e. students’ experiences and understanding) of social ecology as a curricular centerpiece. I audio recorded each of the nine interviews I conducted and transcribed each for analysis.
I spent approximately four months visiting the school on a bi-weekly basis. During each
of my visits, I sat in and observed classes in nearly all of the subject areas and took field notes on topics discussed, teachers’ pedagogical methods, classroom settings, and student interaction.
Each of the teachers I observed was comfortable not only with having me in the classroom as an observer but also with inviting me to participate in classroom discussions and activities and to ask questions of students. In addition to observing in classrooms, I attended meetings of the entire staff that occurred on a weekly basis as well as meetings of staff subcommittees such as those of the social-emotional learning team and curriculum and instruction team. Each week, the entire school community (teachers, students, administrators, and support staff) came together for what they call Large Group Unity. This time was utilized for discussion of important issues to the school community such as upcoming community events in which the school was involved or issues of concern to staff or students within the school itself (i.e. disruptive behavior or lack of clarity on policy issues); to recognize students for individual achievement; and for student performance and self-expression. At Large Group Unity, I observed cultural traditions such as the singing of the traditional Puerto Rican national anthem and students’ performance of spoken word poetry, hip-hop, and dance.1 Finally, over the course of my time at the school, I had the
opportunity to attend a city-wide spoken word competition at Columbia College in which a team of PACHS students participated and the opening of a new art exhibit at the Institute for PuertoRican Arts and Culture (IPRAC) attended by various members of the Humboldt Park community. In short, I was able to involve myself and directly participate in both life inside the school and within the broader community in which it is situated.
Due to PACHS strong emphasis upon student involvement in local community
organizations and the intentional overlapping of school-based learning and community
development, I provide overviews of the community organizations with which PACHS is
directly involved. In doing so, I offer a description of the organization, the interaction between students/faculty and the organization, and the relationship between involvement with the organization and the theory of social ecology. These organizations include an HIV/AIDS awareness project, a diabetes screening and prevention agency, and a year-round storefront farmer’s market in which produce grown by students is sold back into the community.
Overall, I collected data and conducted observations at the research site on a bi-weekly basis over the course of the second semester of the 2011-2012 school year (10 visits over the course of a 20-week semester). After completing my scheduled visits, I devoted my time primarily to data transcription and analysis, write-up of the results, and member checking.
According to the schools Mission and Vision statement,Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School’s mission is to provide a quality educational experience needed to empower students to engage in critical thinking and social transformation, from the classroom to the Puerto Rican community, based on the philosophical foundation of self-determination, a methodology of self-actualization, and an ethics of self-reliance.
It is specifically this Mission and Vision Statement upon which my interviews with
PACHS faculty, students, and community members were focused. In other words, I sought to glean a representative understanding of how faculty make sense of what is necessary for
empowering “students to engage in critical thinking and social transformation” (PACH Mission and Vision Statement). I wanted to understand both how faculty make meaning of this mission and vision and how they attempt to realize or manifest this meaning with students through their classroom practice, choice of materials, choice of activities, and pedagogy. Additionally, I sought to develop a definition of the ideal of citizenship held by the faculty of school, whether or not and to what degree this ideal was aligned with that put forward within the theory of social ecology, and how faculty went about pursuing the realization of this ideal with students.
After three initial observations at the school and in classrooms across subject areas, I
identified three teachers with which to conduct individual interviews. There are approximately 11 total classroom teachers at the school, 8 support faculty (assistant principal, dean of student affairs, student mentors, urban agriculture coordinator). The teachers I interviewed taught Urban Agriculture, Integrated Science, and Social Studies, respectively. Additionally, I had the opportunity to interview one of the school’s founders who is still actively engaged in the school and the surrounding community. Finally, throughout my time at PACHS I had frequent and informal conversations as well as more structured interviews with the school principal that were indispensable to developing an thorough understanding of the schools history, development,mission and vision, and current organization and practice.2
As my broader dissertation project aimed to provide a comprehensive examination of the
philosophy of social ecology and its implications for educating toward and through direct
democracy and ecological sustainability, the empirical research study provided a bridge between what is primarily theoretical and the concrete, empirical reality within a school. The study also provided insight into the obstacles to and possibilities for nurturing strong school-community connections, methods for teaching critical thought regarding social and ecological interrelationship, and students’ academic and self-development through the marrying of social ecology to alternative secondary education. Finally, I gained an in-depth understanding of how the faculty and staff of PACHS have come to understand social ecology and how they have worked to incorporate it as the centerpiece of their curriculum. Ultimately, I believe the philosophy has the potential to act as a foundation for similar experiments in small, alternative schools committed to preparing critical, engaged, and participatory citizens and this study will benefit pre-service and practicing teachers and teacher educators focused on alternative urban education and urban educational reform.
We live in a time of deep economic insecurity, growing disparities in wealth and privilege, and increasingly dire ecological crises. Americans’ distrust of government is at its
highest level ever (New York Times, October 26, 2011). As Eirik Eiglad (2007) describes our current situation,We are standing at a crucial crossroads. Not only does the age-old “social question” concerning the exploitation of human labor remain unresolved, but also the plundering of natural resources has reached a point where humanity is also
forced to politically deal with an “ecological question.” Today, we have to make
conscious choices about what direction society should take to properly meet these
challenges. At the same time, we see that our ability to make the necessary
choices is being undermined by an incessant centralization of economic and political power.(7)
Deeply connected to these broad social, ecological, and political issues are the ways in
which we educate our young. Taken with the fact that many individuals and communities feel the educational system is unable to meet their personal and collective needs, it seems high time that we go beyond thinking within existing power relations and social, political, and economic coordinates and move toward changing “the very coordinates of our choices” (Žižek, 2011, 358).
Since its inception, public education has been viewed as essential to preserving and advancing a democratic society. In reassessing that aim and the means we have devised to accomplish it, it is vital that we examine and question not only the edifice we have built but also the foundation upon which we have built it. Social ecology and libertarian municipalism, representing an effort to work from the latent or incipient democratic possibilities [within the social realm] toward a radically new configuration of society itself – a communitarian society oriented toward meeting human needs, responding to
ecological imperatives, and developing a new ethics based on sharing and
cooperation (Bookchin, 2007, 108)hold great promise for assisting us not only in that reassessment, but also in the more important work of reconstruction.
(TO BE CONTINUED)
By Kevin J. Holohan
A DISSERTATION (EDUCATING TOWARD DIRECT DEMOCRACY AND ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY: THEORY OF SOCIAL ECOLOGY AS A FRAMEWORK FOR CRITICAL, DEMOCRATIC, AND COMMUNITY-BASED EDUCATION)
Michigan State University
in partial fulfillment of the requirements
for the degree of
DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY
1 See Part VI of Chapter 5 for further description of Large Group Unity.
2 I provide a more detailed description of my methods for data analysis in Chapter Five which focuses exclusively on the study I conducted at the school.