I came across an exercise in some popular education materials that really resonated with me. I’ve never been much into the long-term career planning: “where do you want to be 3, 5, 10 years from now?”, probably because I want to be wherever the big fight/action/fun is, and I don’t forecast well enough to know where that’s going to be. Honestly, I’ve never really had a career plan at all; I find work that is challenging and interesting (and, okay, try to avoid big bureaucracies as much as possible; I’m not super-big on rule-following!) and do that.
But this exercise is different. The authors asked participants to write an imaginary newspaper heading of their work 5 years from now (not their job, but their organization/community’s activism), and then to start thinking about what it would take along the way (those interim benchmarks again!) to get there.
And that got me thinking about all of the times that I’ve mentally rewritten headlines for articles featuring my organizing or advocacy work (because I’m almost never happy with the ones I get), or optimistically labeled my press releases with the headline I’d really like to see the next morning. It’s a good exercise, really–how do you want others to be talking about your work in 5 years, and what kinds of assumptions are you making, then, about where you’ll be at that point?
Please post your headlines and/or your reflection on whether this is a helpful exercise for you/your colleagues/your grassroots leaders. And it’s okay if you have more than one headline–maybe one that would run locally and one in a national paper? One for your work on each issue area?
In some reading that I’ve been doing on the integration of social services and community organizing, I’ve come across several references to popular education and its utility as a consciousness-raising strategy that can help people to think critically about the challenges they face and their structural causes, as well as to build relationships with others. That started me thinking about how seldom I’ve found social workers relying on similar methods, or, at least, being intentional about popular education as a part of their liberation work with clients.
I have participated in many popular education workshops as as participant, related to the global economy, women’s political power, labor organizing, and immigrant rights. I’ve also facilitated some popular education work, primarily for immigrant youth and adults, related to workers’ rights, U.S. immigration policy, and economic justice. Some of the most memorable sessions were:
Immigrant youth analyzing political cartoons about immigrants from generations past, and discussing the role of race in shaping anti-immigrant attitudes and policies
Adult students preparing for the U.S. citizenship exam rewriting the U.S. Constitution to reflect their most important values, and discussing what they left unchanged and what they felt was missing
Several poverty simulations, where people who don’t live in poverty struggle to survive on real poverty wages and then, in one case, sit down with people who are poor to discuss anti-poverty policy reforms
In some cases, I think that social workers are doing popular education, but perhaps not fully connecting it to an organizing agenda nor fully exploiting the available resources for popular educators. Examples that come to mind are domestic violence advocates who use street theater to raise awareness about the cycle of violence or mental health centers that use memoirs and other writings of survivors with mental illness to explore the barriers facing those with various mental diagnoses.
But I’m sure that there are others of us who are missing opportunities to integrate informal/popular education into our work–English-as-a-Second-Language classes that can teach anti-racism; consumer support groups that can dismantle stereotypes; parent education classes that can introduce non-violence. Done well, popular education weaves politics into pedagogy and removes the trappings of the educational process that can keep some from interfacing with learning.
I’ve linked to some of my favorite resources on popular education, both some of the excellent organizations dedicated to this work and some specific curricula/programmatic resources that can be integrated into other organizations’ work. Whatever you call it, popular education is accessible, radical, and potentially transformational. It accomplishes what traditional knowledge-dissemination often does not: it moves people to ACT on the issues about which they learn. And, really, it’s a lot of fun. Check out some of these links, and please let me know what you’re doing, as a social worker or one of our allies committed to social justice, to incorporate popular education into your work. What are your favorite resources? What have been some of your greatest challenges and best successes in this work?
Highlander Research and Education Center
Bibliography on Popular Education
The Popular Education News