Arts Everywhere is pleased to republish the Radical Education Workbook (Other sections published thus far: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3). The PDF with the entire Radical Education Workbook as it originally appeared, is available here.
Using the Pedagogies of the Oppressed
Popular Education and Guerilla War (El Salvador)
Based on over one hundred interviews with base teachers, trainers, and campesinos, sociologist John L. Hammond’s Fight To Learn: Popular Education and Guerilla War in El Salvador provides a detailed survey of the role of popular education in liberation struggles of El Salvador through the 1970s and 1980s leading up to the peace settlement in 1992. Much of the practice of popular education during the civil war drew on the ideas of Paulo Freire.
However, the exigencies of rural poverty, mass displacement, genocide, and armed conflict had a specific impact on how those ideas were put into practice. Whereas Freire argued that critical literacy should occur in a pre-revolutionary moment, in El Salvador, popular education became synonymous with organizing communities in the midst of struggle. Popular education retained the pedagogical principles of universal access to learning, education as and towards service to one’s community, and literacy as a tool for the poor in their struggle for liberation. The notion that popular education might serve as a practice of political organizing became a prevailing feature in El Salvador.
The struggle against illiteracy was seen as one front in the fight for justice. Hammond underscores the importance of the base or popular teachers in this context. These men and women were nearly entirely volunteers with little more formal education than the campesinos they taught. The popular teachers often spoke of their teaching as a modest contribution to the community. Typically, the popular teachers were recruited because they had had some prior formal schooling. That experience often amounted to a few years of elementary education. After very basic training (training that would continue on a weekly basis), the base teachers entered into the classroom, teaching children by day and adults by night. Regardless of age, the method of education was basically the same.
Teachers would begin with a word that had a particular relevance to the people — ideally, a word that contained all five vowels. In settings monitored by the Salvadoran army, the base teachers had to carefully select words that could not be seen as a direct threat. Sometimes the teachers introduced the words through a drawing in a grammar book. Occasionally, the grammar book was itself the result of an extensive participatory process involving base teachers and communities. The participants would then discuss the relevance of the word for their lives. After extensive group dialogue, the teacher would then lead the pupils to recite all the phonetic possibilities building on the vowel sounds in the word – a practice developed from Freire’s literacy method.
Hammond provides detailed description of the numerous situations where popular education occurred: Honduran refugee camps, internal displacement camps in the cities, re-populated areas, guerrilla units and in the prisons. He also discusses the role of popular education in the training and organization of community health programs. But in all instances, the use of popular education remained the practice of very poor, barely educated and volunteer campesinos. While situated within a larger revolutionary moment, the base teachers remained the backbone of the massive literacy campaign. Late in the book, Hammond makes a passing observation that while the NGOs, clergy, and cadres described popular education in abstract concepts like participation, the base teachers themselves spoke about its practical aspects. Thus, terms such as ‘participation’ marked one’s distance from the concrete scene and experience of education in the base communities.
See John L Hammond, Fight To Learn: Popular Education and Guerilla War in El Salvador (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1998).
In the Theatre of the Oppressed created by Augusto Boal, The Image is a central tool. In the image, actors, those involved in collective acts of research, enquiry or learning about the world, construct a scenario from their lives that reflects an issue. The image is not simply symbolic or representative of that situation. It is a consolidation of meaning in which the lives of the performers are deeply implicated within the image that they produce. It is also a common object around which people can galvanise, by collectively unpacking and projecting the image through ‘multiple mirrors of the gaze of others’. The importance of the image is to link the topic or thematic with the affective, bodily presence of those engaged in the act of making it. The playing of oneself or of a scenario that is familiar re-casts the process of signification: the signifier and signified are not caught up in a representational logic, they are one and the same. At the same time, the act of playing oneself for others has the same ‘alienation effect’ described by Brecht – the seeing of oneself in the acts to which one is intricately connected.
Time: One afternoon, or one week.
- The group is engaged in the discussion of an issue. Notes are being taken.
- At a critical moment it is revealed that the discussion of the issue has become detached from the way in which those engaged in its central question are implicated.
- The group is asked to think of a scenario that relates to the terms of the conversation they have just had.
- They discuss several scenarios but home in on one.
- One or two people play the role of sculpting the image. They are instructed to use the bodies of the others to create this scenario, and to do so in the most exaggerated form possible.
- Others in the group are enlisted to be sculpted into the image.
- Two or more must stay behind to interpret the image (alternatively an image could be taken or members can alternate in and out).
- The image is interpreted with the question, what is happening in this image? A discussion ensues regarding what the image reveals about the issue and in general, how it could be altered for accuracy or to reflect other experiences, and finally how the bodies might be organized otherwise, towards a different or more ideal scenario.
One of the most poignant moments in which I used the image was at a camp for young organisers in Eastern Europe. In the camp we worked in teams to introduce practices of anti-fascist, queer and labour-based organising to students. Many of the students were from anti-fascist social centres and squats from across the region. Others were students of International Development Studies at universities. In a discussion surrounding Roma people in Eastern Europe, the latter in the group (students of International Development) attempted to contend with a contradiction in their experience pointed out by the former (anti-fascist organisers). The contradiction was as follows: they felt they were there to ‘help’ the Roma but direct requests from Roma people made them feel uncomfortable. They preferred the bureaucratic language of ‘solutions’ because it was more ‘neutral’. We learned of this contradiction through an activity in which everyone in the camp was asked to produce an image or gestural enactment of an issue they would like to work on using their bodies. The group of students decided this issue would be ‘the Roma’. In their image they stood very high upon a table, each carrying a clipboard, looking down at another group. Other students were positioned below them, kneeling on the floor, in a begging pose. Those of us viewing the image were struck by this, thinking it a clear critique of the power relations between researcher and subject or the helper and the helped, but for the group performing, this power was important to maintain: they felt that their identities as helpers, differentiated them from groups they thought to be corrupt. The group spent the entire week returning to this image each evening, taking turns looking at it. Conversations revealed the deep investments that members had in the distancing of themselves from the ‘subjects’ of their research: that they were afraid of them, that they, also from Romania, had been associated with them in their travels and called ‘Roma’ during racist attacks. There were also economic factors: they would not have a job if they did not hold this perception of their power in relation to the Roma. If they could not help they had no hope of employment in an NGO or civil society organisations. These reasons become much more significant than the original pretexts of ‘helping’ or ‘neutrality’. At the end of each conversation, we returned to the image and it began to change. We spoke about the possibilities of collaboration. Students from the anti-fascist organisations shared other ways of working from their experiences of collaboration with Roma organisers. Students who, in the context of language and discursive argument, refused to address the contradictions of charity came to another conclusion in the production of another image.
Power / Occupation
This workshop, based on the games of the Theatre of the Oppressed, was facilitated at the Camberwell College of Arts student occupation in London December 2010. During this period, students and professors across the United Kingdom were occupying universities against cuts to education resulting in increases in tuition fees of up to 300 per cent in a single year. Students and workers in colleges equally staged demonstrations against the withdrawal of the education maintenance allowance that enables students from poor backgrounds to attend further and higher education.
The Theatre of the Oppressed was initiated and developed by Augusto Boal. It originates from the time of dictatorship in Brazil in the 1960s. TOP emerges from the desire to make the communal moment that theatre offers into a moment of active reflection on current socio-political situations. It imagines the collective ownership of the space-time of performance as a ‘rehearsal for change’. In opposition to Aristotle’s idea that the purpose of theatre is for an audience to experience ‘catharsis’, i.e. to feel relieved from their own suffering through watching someone else’s, this method is based on the active involvement of the audience-participant in reflecting upon and reshaping their own conditions of oppression. The theatre becomes a space of resistance as people are asked to both collectively inhabit and detach themselves from their reality enough to imagine working against repressive forces in their lives. This theatre draws heavily from the work of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire. Where, in Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, it is the learning process that is described as a tool for the student’s emancipation, in the Theatre of the Oppressed it is the theatre that provides a tool and a context for the audience’s emancipation. This is seen most prominently in the way that Boal breaks down the spectator-actor division, by referring to the ‘spect-actors’, the audience and the performers who use the theatre to discuss relevant issues and experiences and to try out possible solutions. The arsenal of exercises and games of the Theatre of the Oppressed use the nature of playing as well as bodywork to set up spaces and situations for these discussions.
Setting up a participatory space for learning: We start with the circle – the learning content consists of the groups expressions brought into the circle – but then the space will be shaped by our movements throughout. (Everyone asked to form a circle)
Warm up: prepare the body to communicate and to laugh.
- With one hand, draw your name into the air. Easy, right*?
- Now, with the opposite foot, draw a circle into the air. Also potentially easy, right?
- Now try both at the same time! … Not so easy?
- Discuss: Even though there might not be a physical reason that would stop us from coordinating our hand and foot movement at the same time, we might not be used to do it, and therefore find it difficult… This might just be a matter of practicing, or ‘rehearsing’ it, for us to own this movement…
*Here the proposed tasks should not be difficult for the group, the individual tasks of this game can also be replaced by something that is in fact easier for the participants in order to achieve the same narrative outcome.
- Group / Expression / Trust
- The space we create right now: In a circle: Catch eye contact across the circle, introduce your name and cross the circle to the person you looked at. Before you arrive at that person, s/he has to make eye-contact with the next person and move towards them etc. – play it faster and various players at the same time.
- Now lets perform to each other, free our bodies, and find interest in each other: 123: in pairs, standing opposite, holding eye contact: count from 1-3, alternating and in a loop. Step by step replace each number with a sound and a gesture that forces you to move unhabitually and bigger than normal.
- Trust and sensibilisation: sound and blind: from pairs. One player closes their eyes, the other guides them through the room by making a previously agreed upon sound. At a certain point, ask them to switch.
- Great Game of Power
- Begins with a question: what is power? – terms (definition through inclusion and collective brainstorming)
- The exercise: the group forms a circle around 3 chairs and an empty water bottle: they are asked to build a sculpture from these 4 objects that represents power. How many different ideas do we have (one proposal by one)? What do we see in the proposed sculptures? Agree on one sculpture that represents our understanding of power here, in this room, today. Agree on one sculpture that represents our understanding of the demonstrations we have been on.
- Machine of an Occupation: The group is asked to make a machine. Each person is to form a part of the machine by making a repetitive sound and gesture, in response to the term ‘occupation’. All parts of the machine have to link to the others. The machine is built as each person moves into the circle to add one ‘part’ or function of the machine, after the other.
- The closure / beginning: in a circle, holding hands, eyes closed: pass the squeeze, (here the idea is always leave with open questions)
The workshop took place at the moment of student occupations from The Slade, Camberwell, Goldsmiths and UCL. This context gave us an experience of shared reflection on the moment we were in, and the ways in which we were embodying and performing relations of power. Many of us had just participated in a major student demonstration in which the police had been particularly brutal, the first of many in which thousands of people were kettled (surrounded by the police) in the cold for many hours. The images of power created in the above activity reflected images of power that were extremely polarised: where there were clearly those in power (more chairs) and those without (less chairs). This began a discussion about the discrepancy between what we knew about power (that it is negotiated between people, dispersed and not stable) and how we felt in that moment, as though power was fixed and held by those in authority. In reflecting on why we had made such an easy formulation of power, we began to complicate our understanding again. Student occupiers had learned about the power of very few students to close buildings and stage a critique, yet also felt this power to be extremely precarious without the support of the student body overall.
In the final exercise: the ‘occupation machine’ we were able to visualize what we had been through in the past weeks: a spontaneous eruption, a series of skills developed on the fly, the experience of developing a bodily vocabulary of being together in occupations and demonstrations. In the machine some people made things, some people slept, others made the affirmative hand gestures that we had all learned for consensus decision-making, others made a barricade. We thought about how different this image of a practised occupation was from the political texts we had written, which spoke about everything we did not want to happen and very infrequently about what we wanted to build.
The warm up and trust exercises gave space for people to relate to each other in a playful way, which introduced a needed break from the everyday challenges of running an occupation and patterns of (power) relations that form within that but also to reflect, regroup, and work across experiences to think about our next steps.
A Freirean Pedagogy for the ESOL Classroom
This is a great discovery, education is politics! When a teacher discovers that he or she is a politician, too, the teacher has to ask, What kind of politics am I am doing in the classroom? That is, in favour of whom am I being a teacher? The teacher works in favour of something and against something.
Paulo Freire, A Pedagogy for Liberation
Paulo Freire (1921-1997) was a Brazilian educator, initially working in secondary education teaching Portuguese, then going on to work with adults, with whom he developed a pedagogy which fused literacy development with the building of critical consciousness.
The post-colonial period saw the oppression of the Brazilian people by an elite who reflected the dominant values of a non-Brazilian culture, producing what Freire termed the ‘culture of silence of the dispossessed’. Many of the ‘dispossessed’ were not considered ‘literate’ (a category whose boundaries are determined by the elite). In mid-century Brazil, as now, literacy was a political issue. Only those who were deemed literate could vote in presidential elections.
Freire developed a particular methodology for the teaching of literacy. But this methodology was not, and indeed could not be, limited to the development of a set of technical skills. For Freire, education is never a neutral process. It is either designed to facilitate freedom or it is ‘education for domestication’, that is an essentially conservative process designed to facilitate the continuation of the status quo. In the latter process, people are prevented from seeing the world as something which can be changed.
Freire’s ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ aims to develop consciousness and lead to action to create change, through a process of dialogue and reflection. It is a pedagogy which must be forged with, and not for the oppressed. People do not go through the process of developing consciousness (‘conscientization’) by having things explained to them, but rather by engaging in dialogue about their lives and the lives of others. Learners are not receptacles to be filled, nor is knowledge a gift from those who have lots, to those who have none. Liberatory education consists in acts of cognition, rather than transference of information. In this process, the teacher-student relationship needs to be re-conceptualised. As Freire wrote, ‘I cannot proclaim my liberating dream and in the next day be authoritarian in my relationship with the students.’
In many cases the very existence of educational provision for certain groups is itself contested. This was the case with Freire’s work in developing literacy in Brazil, as it is in the UK today with English for Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL provision – that is English language classes for migrants ESOL is under threat as the result of severe government cuts, while existing provision is ever-increasingly affected by the demand that students pass exams. However, whilst we are so often hemmed in by institutional constraints, as ESOL teachers we still have scope to make choices about what is taught in our classrooms, how it is taught and who decides what is taught. These are political choices, and need to be recognised as such. Yet the idea that ESOL teaching is not political, that it can be neutral, is prevalent, and re-enforced by many teacher-training programmes.
Freire’s work was very much a product of the particular historical circumstances in which he was teaching and writing, and his methods for literacy development were based on the particular linguistic features of Portuguese. Freire’s work has to be reinvented, rather than transposed, for different contexts. Here is one way in which this has been done for working with adult ESOL learners:
- Listening: It is really important to allow sufficient time for the group to get to know each other. This is essential in order to build the familiarity and trust necessary for a sense of a ‘class community’, and to allow themes to arise from the group. This could take days, weeks or months. Activities in class should provide opportunities for students to share their experiences, ideas and opinions alongside developing their language skills. But listening is not restricted to class time itself, but is something that can happen before and after class, and in the break.
- Exploring the issue, developing language and literacy:
An issue that has come up during the listening stage is selected for further work in the classroom. In small groups, students discuss the issue, and work collectively towards producing a visual representation of it. Visual tools, developed through the Reflect project, can be used to explore issues in different ways:
The Iceberg – what is visible about a problem and what is less visible (or hidden)
The River – collective timelines, showing key events and feelings
The Tree – causes and effects, and possible solutions
This visual representation is a form of what Freire terms a ‘code’, defined by Nina Wallerstein as ‘a concrete physical representation of a particular critical issue that has come up in the listening stage’. Other possible codes include a role play scene, an image, an object or a text. The code is used to prompt deeper analysis of the issue, whilst also being the starting point for language and literacy development. The language and literacy development is focused on the language that the students need to express their ideas and opinions on the issue, or to take action on the issue.
- Action: Action on the issue is taken individually or by the group as a whole. This may be inside or outside of the classroom. The action might be something that is trying to affect change in society, for example organising a demonstration against cuts or re-writing a doctor’s surgery notice so it is more accessible to people who don’t have English as a first language. However, it might also be more personal changes, the students and/or teacher shifting ideas about an issue, or changes occurring in the way that people interact, for example, students asking questions of each other more, rather than seeing the teacher as the one with all the knowledge. This action is then evaluated by the group.
I have been using these techniques in my classes over the past two years. Over the last few months, I have been part of a practitioner-research group set up as part of the Reflect ESOL project. I have worked with a number of different groups in different institutions throughout this period, with considerable diversity between and within the groups.
Over the past two terms, the issue of the government’s cuts to ESOL provision has been a dominant one for ESOL teachers. Students were, and continue to be, incredibly worried about the uncertain future of their classes, and this was an obvious issue to use a Freirean approach to explore. With other colleagues, I shared the conviction that for students to play a key role in the struggle against the cuts, time in the classroom needed to be set aside. The issue was one that covered several lessons, and re-arose at various other points throughout the term, but some key events are described and reflected upon here.
Once we had shared information about the cuts and discussed them as a whole group, students used a visual tool as a way of sharing their ideas and experiences about ESOL and the cuts. In one class the tree was used as a way into exploring the causes and effects of cuts to ESOL provision. In another the iceberg was used as part of an examination of the obvious and less obvious reasons why ESOL is important. In both cases the tools allowed for a very thorough discussion of the issue, and as a space for learners to articulate their opinions and in one group in particular, to debate the reasons behind the cuts.
At this stage, language development focused on the language which learners had been trying to use in expressing their ideas. Discussion on action was the logical next step, and we shared ideas on what we could do against the cuts, with petitions, letters to MPs, protests and marches all being raised by the students. In the classroom, students worked on letters to local MPs, a process which involved developing personal testimonies of the importance of ESOL. This was also an opportunity for further language and literacy work, and a discussion on the use of formal language when writing texts such as these. In one class, learners chose to write a collaborative text. I suggested that as everyone fed in their ideas, one of the more confident writers scribed the text. After a few minutes, however, it became clear that this was not working effectively: she felt that she couldn’t share her ideas, the process was slow as she couldn’t write as quickly as they were speaking, and she had to keep re-reading what she had written in order to recap. At this point, the student scribing asked me ‘Could you help us?’, and they asked if I (who had until now stepped back) could scribe on the board so they could do it quicker and see what they had written and change things as they wished. This was an important moment in the process, as instead of being the teacher, I was being used by the learners as a tool in their own self-directed writing process.
Without a doubt, the lessons on ESOL cuts were very engaging for the learners, and at times during the process the classroom was really an exciting place to be. However, despite the letter writing, the petitions and the learners’ active participation in a local ESOL protest, I felt there to be distance between the learner’s’ action and the wider ESOL campaign in which I was active. Or rather, the learners’ actions fitted neatly into the teacher-led campaign: the students had been involved in ‘action’, but this was piecemeal rather than strategic. When I use the techniques, I consistently find the ‘action’ stage the most challenging. The first two phases flow into one another, but I have not found that action arises very smoothly from the process. On reflecting, it is important for me to remember that Freirean pedagogy is not a blueprint, not a set of instructions that can be followed with guaranteed success in every context. In the process of remaking a Freirean pedagogy for our particular context, we cannot escape the need to remain in dialogue with students and colleagues, and on the necessity of genuine ongoing critical reflection on our pedagogical practice.
- Elsa Auerbach, Making Meaning, Making Change (1997)
- Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970)
- Paulo Freire and Ira Shor, A Pedagogy for Liberation (1987)
- Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo, Literacy: Reading the Word and the World (1987)
- Rebecca Galbraith, ‘Act now for ESOL!’ Post-16 Educator 62 (March–April 2011)
- Nina Wallerstein, ‘Problem-Posing Education: Freire’s Method for Transformation’, in Ira Shor (ed.), Freire for the Classroom: A Sourcebook for Liberatory Teaching (1987)
- Reflect ESOL: www.reflect-action.org/reflectesol
- Action for ESOL: www.actionforesol.org
Using popular education methodologies to bring elements of collaboration and collective performance making into the classrooms.
Citizenship is the term we use to talk about the social organisation of human beings living together. How do we relate to each other respecting our rights and responsibilities? How can we talk through our bodies about ourselves and the differences of others? It is quite easy to forget the body when we theorise about the skills necessary to form social relationships. Our approach breaks the traditional way to develop skills, where the mind is split from the body, the individual removed from its surroundings. The games are invitations to play in a group, sharing experiences of collaboration, trust and responsibility.
Built on combining popular education methods from Brazil based on relational skills and collaborative games:
- Theatre of the Oppressed: is the game of dialogue: we play and learn together to rehearse social change (see workbook entries above).
- Soma: created in Brazil in the late 1960’s as an anarchist therapy to help people fighting against the military dictatorship. Soma seeks to challenge the regulation of life shaped by hierarchical rules and social conventions with playfulness and cooperative games (see http://somaexperiments.wordpress.com/soma/ )
- Capoeira: is a dance game, a body conversation (see http://somaexperiments.wordpress.com/capoeira)
After working with Soma and Theatre of the Oppressed with adults for many years, we would like to get them back to their roots: to be used as tools for social change, rather than in therapeutic or corporative settings. Further to bring the nature of play, i.e. energetic and explorative approaches to learning into a school setting means facilitating a space for young people to embody their own life experience and expertise, and value them. ‘Play is a way to rediscover the body as collaboration does with relationships.’
Learning stage 1: games
The balance exercise is a sequence of movements and games embodying a personal search for body balance, and investigates issues of risk, pleasure, safety, trust, confidence, fear; all of which can arise when we research the limits of body locomotion in space.
First, participants are invited to discover the maximum locomotion they are able to achieve, without losing their balance, without losing an erect body position. Moving forwards and backwards, left and right, until the limit of their balance.
This body movement in the upright position is the maximum point of freedom in the space of our body, without walking and without losing balance. After a while, participants are invited to go beyond their balance limit to the point of almost falling.
To enlarge these limits, for our bigger freedom and pleasure, you must take risks. We can only take this risk, we can only enlarge our freedom, if we look for association with other people, who will help us do this while also assuring mutual safety. The session continues, expanding the numbers of participants involved in the movements, with more possibilities of body locomotion in space. With 3 participants, one stands in the middle and can literally fall forwards and backwards because of the other two partners’ support.
In all these phases, the participants are challenged to work in self-organisation, taking responsibility for the safety and risk-taking of everybody, making clear that is the association/collaboration that brings more freedom and pleasure.
Learning stage 2: reflecting / talking / writing
After the games, a process of reflection, talking and writing will unpack the group’s perceptions and behaviour when playing together.
How did you feel when playing the games? (possibility of making a word map of feelings).
You know who you are – but do you know your body? What do you know about your body?
Comfort/ uncomfort – confidence/ able/unable/ disorientation? How does your body react?
Learning stage 3: framing the experience
We finish a session with the ‘image’; producing a theatrical freeze frame, whereby we are using our bodies to portray the shared experience of the session. We make a statue or body-machine representing the different elements that came up through the exercises. The ‘image’ helps to reflect creatively on what we have learnt, to be able to express our thoughts through our body as well as to physically look at them.
Learning stage 4: sharing the learning through a performative intervention
As a final performance we transport the freeze frames to a public space to share what we have learned about what it means to be a human.
Fun, catching, responsibility / care for another, trust
Am I too heavy? Am I giving too much for them? Wanting to relate to others
Fun, team, commitment, progress, consideration towards the physical weakness of the other person
Silly, curious, confused, uncoordinated, afraid, thrilled, open, amused, boxed, trusting
Mind based, security, coordination, awareness, trust, memory, scary, limits
When facilitating these exercises to radical educators, the question came up how to combine these radical pedagogies with the strict and outcome driven set-up within the school curriculum. In order to fit with a school environment we would have to announce the concrete outcomes of the session, what the student is expected to have learned by the end, preferably how to monitor the learning through an exam situation, and how this will fit the citizenship curriculum.
However, if we follow the essence of these radical pedagogies, it is essential to leave the ending, as well as the general interpretation of the exercises entirely up to the group, so the workshop can be owned by the group, and the methods become actual tools for reflection and exploration. As a facilitator, this demands complete trust in the learning process as a whole, as well as in the group’s contribution to the shared learning.
 More can be read in Augusto Boal, Games for Actors and Non-Actors. Second Edition. 2002: Routledge.
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