Activist education is conducted by and with activists, is openly interested in the processes of change-making, and utilises education methods that effect justice-oriented social change. We use the expression ‘activist education’ to describe our work. This has implications not just for what we consider important for community organisers to learn, but how we believe adults learn most effectively. We’ve facilitated discussions and workshops with other social movement trainers and facilitators to explore just what might be involved in working as activist educators. The educational principles and practices (or pedagogy) that guide our work include:
- experiential and empowered learning
- listening and reflection
- questioning, not telling
- exercises linked to real and contemporary change work
- building a ‘container’ or learning environment characterised
- by trust, openness, honesty, self-critique, mutual respect and support.
We avoid the ‘talking head’ approach to adult education, the facilitator as expert; and treating participants as empty vessels. Our pedagogy is influenced by the Rant Collective who describe their approach as “empowered learning”. Like us, the Rant Collective, draw inspiration from Paulo Freire’s popular education work in Brazil. Empowered learning involves respecting participants, reflecting on and sharing life experience, and developing tools, skills and confidence. Their workshops, like ours, are active (not lectured) and involve exercises, role plays and discussion. We are guided by the ‘spiral model’ of learning that was developed and practiced by the Doris Marshal Institute in Toronto. The spiral model emphasises reflecting on experience and incorporating new information in action.
We’ve also been influenced by Training for Change. Based in Philadelphia, Training for Change is one of the United States’ best-known activist education and training organisation. They refer to their approach as direct education, a pedagogy based on:
- actions that directly confront and challenge the current system of injustice;
- education that directly confronts and challenges the current system of injustice (including how people are taught)
- respecting the expertise of the people themselves, rather than looking for expertise in textbooks and teachers and
- the influence of experiential and popular education.
some of our favourite activist education resources
great activist education tools and thoughts from TfC
Models of education
We have collected some popular educators thoughts and insights into models of activist education.
A supportive and respectful community of practice
During the 2006 Nonviolence Trainers gathering, several Australian activist educators developed a set of principles for how we hope to work together. We resolved that activist educators in a supportive and respectful community of practice would:
Activist educators’ skillshare
In June 2007 we convened an Activist Educators’ skillshare to strengthen our community of practice. The 17 participants work with a range of social movements in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) as educators, facilitators and trainers. If you are an activist educator and would like to be part of the group’s ongoing dialogue and sharing, let us know.
Environmental advocacy course
Between 2003 and 2006, James convened the Environmental Advocacy Elective at Griffith University, Brisbane.