Popular Education Resources

What is popular education?

Popular education is an approach to experiential learning that roots the content of a course or workshop in the concrete struggles and concerns of ordinary people. The learning process is collaborative and participatory, meaning that learners take part in all aspects of teaching and learning, from developing the curriculum, to teaching, to analysis and evaluation to action. Moreover, popular educators tend to focus their work with groups of people who are economically poor, socially oppressed and politically marginalized from the dominant society. However, because each community and social context is unique popular education must adapt its approach to each group and context with which it is involved. The emphasis in popular education is on collective rather than individual learning, and the use of an action-reflection-action approach to learning commonly referred to as praxis. Also popular educators do not lecture, but rather use dialogue as their primary pedagogical method with the idea that all people in a learning circle are both teachers and learners. Popular educators tend to be overtly critical of the social, cultural and political status quo, and see the ultimate objective as bringing about social and political change through education. Thus, popular educators typically encourage learners to analyze their experiences and concerns in the context of wider political, social and cultural systems that influence them. Ultimately the goal of popular education is to equip and empower communities to bring about fundamental social and community change.

Popular education is practiced in many ways and places around the world, and is not easily categorized. I have found that given the context and the people involved popular education can take many forms. The term popular education (from the Portuguese “educacion popular”) originated with Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who developed an innovative approach to literacy training he called “reading the word and reading the world.” In the United States popular education was refined by Myles Horton and the Highlander Research and Education Center. In Canada, Fr. Moses Coady applied his popular education principles to the farmers and fisherfolk of Nova Scotia. Since then there have been many expressions of popular education

Popular Education Resources

Here are some helpful resources to aid you in your understanding of popular education.

Under the Radar: Popular education in North America – This is a study conducted in 2011 of 25 popular educators across the United States and Canada which provides an overview of the variety of ways popular education is currently being practiced.

Pedagogy and Theater of the Oppressed: http://ptoweb.org/aboutpto/ : PTO in an international organization that brings together artists, educators and social activists on an annual basis to share ideas and refine skills.

Highlander Research and Education Center: http://highlandercenter.org/ : Highlander was founded by Myles Horton in 1932 as a center to help Appalachian people come together to address common issues in their communities. Over its history, Highlander has been a central player in the labor movement, Civil Rights, environmental concerns and the needs of immigrant communities located in the South.

Cobscook Community Learning Center: http://www.cclc.me/: Located in Lebec, Maine, Cobscook brings together people for cultural  and educational events and has been able to help start self-sustaining businesses to replace and augment the fishing industry

Catalyst Centre:  http://www.catalystcentre.ca/: This collaborative of popular educators trains and supports popular educators in the Toronto, Ontario area.