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A Collective is Born

A Collective is Born

You may have noticed that the last blog entry was from last year. Like a seed laying dormant all winter - I've been dreaming and scheming and collectivizing with old and new colleagues, preparing to re-launch Practicing Freedom as the Practicing Freedom Collective. Check out the amazing team. We haven't launched fully yet - we will do so after finalizing our new curriculum and website, and finish some of the other current projects. There is so much to look forward to. While we are still officia...

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The Questions

A few nights ago, a small group of educators who really inspire me, from across the spectrums of schooling/unschooling and popular education/political education, met to share a little piece of our stories with each other. We ended up generating a fantastic list of big questions that we have been sitting with. Here is just a sampling I'd like to share:

  • What does a pedagogy for building social movements look like?
  • What projects currently exist that reflect transformative education?
  • What is education? Where are the edges? What is the learning ecology we are aspiring to?
  • What do we need to unlearn in order to support the diversification of our learning landscapes?
  • How do we promote systemic change/transformation? What are the vehicles or catalyzing forces? What is the role of schools?
  • What are examples of where mind/spirit/mind/body are effectively being engaged in the Bay?
  • What opportunities exist for intergenerational learning? Popular education? Community-based learning?
  • How do we transition schools from where they are to where we want and need for them to be?
  • Where do we want to be?
  • What are relevant skills to be learning in the 21st century? What are relevant competencies?
  • What’s the context we’re living in right now?
  • What other kinds of educational spaces are we aware of/envisioning?
  • What’s working?
  • What are our assumptions about what works and what doesn’t?
  • What’s the role of “degrees”? What are alternative pathways of learning/skill-building/credentialing?
  • What is at the intersections of economies and education?
  • What is the role of place (people, land, local economies) in developing an educational pedagogy?

Adventures at the Action Research Conference

San diegoLast week 6 of us from Heal the Streets flew down to San Diego for the 9th Annual Action Research Conference. We gave 2 presentations on our Youth-Led Theater-Based Participatory Action Research,  and I spoke on a panel about my impressions of the conference. It was a wonderful exchange of knowledge in a space created to disrupt ideas about 'who creates knowledge' 'how knowledge is generated' and 'what counts as legitimate knowledge'.

I learned that the field of Action Research is even broader than I thought. Using a metaphor I borrowed from Jean McNiff (who was in attendance) about this conference being a family reunion of Action Researchers, I said on the panel that I felt like we were distant second cousins twice removed. Most of the action researchers there were teachers in grad school who are researching their own methodologies in the classroom. Their research teams consisted of some peers - but the grad student defined the topic, question, sample and method themselves, with some consultation along the way. This confused me because in my understanding of action research, the stake-holders are involved in the whole process. In the context of a classroom, I think of the students as the stakeholders. Not involving them in the entire process to me seems like "that other kind of research". Really, it's a question of who is at the center of the research; Who are the subjects? Who are the researchers? Who is the "I" who is the "they" (borrowing another quote from McNiff from the conference).We tend towards the "we", in "participatory" action research. We also look at "action" a little differently, as a group committed to social change.

In our workshops, we shared the steps of our research process, and samples from our forum theater piece. It was, I think, affirming for all of us. We got overwhelmingly positive feedback, and some shout-outs from the main stage. Some of my highlights from our workshops; when Askari York led a room full of professors and grad students in chanting "YOLO - You Only Live Once", Ayana Best shared stories of how she came to this work and our research thus far, Tele'jon Quinn invited them to write a poem with the prompt "If your action research could talk..." and  Myeisha Williams got everyone to jump out of their skin with her Oscar worthy acting in our forum theater piece.

Along with comments like "you killed it" and "this is the best thing at the conference this year" there was a question from a participant that really bothered us. She asked, "What do the youth from Oakland, who aren't as privileged as you, think of this?" Embedded in that question is the (racist/ classist/adultist) idea that most Oakland youth couldn't do this (grrrr), that the HTS fellows are not researching their peers, but instead "others" who they think 'about' and 'for', instead of 'with', and that the forum theater piece is simply created out of speculation, not real life experiences. The question reinforced my feeling that at least for some, in practice action research is much closer to "that other kind of research" than it is to Participatory Action Research.

All in all though, we met phenomenal people and gained some insights into the various applications and processes used in action research. In one of my favorite workshops we attended, led by Mary McDonald and Elizabeth Castillo about non-profit leadership, we engaged in a World Cafe process to answer questions about action research, and then collectively developed some metaphors. Here are my notes in visual form. Action Research starts by getting your buttons pushed (getting angry, connecting with personal issues) then jumping outside the box to "become the research", to be an "I" and join with other "I"s (instead of "theys") and take a risk - jump off into the unknown to engage with the world in a spiraling process of action and reflection.




Healing the Streets Together

EBC_HTSFlyer0412_2For our project this year at Heal the Streets we created a Forum Theater piece about violence in Oakland - and we are tracking the interventions/ proposed solutions as our research.

Join us April 21 for this interactive workshop with the goal of building solutions within the hands of the community. You'll get to be a part of this process (no theatre experience needed), as well as learn from community leaders about youth-led activism.

If you can't make it out on the 21st, our crew can come to you (in general starting around 4 or 5) The dates we are available still are: April 16th, April 23rd, april 30th, May 2nd and maybe May 7th.

I heart Forum Theater

I heart Forum Theater

  I'm a die-hard Forum Theater fan. After 15 years of using it in a bunch of different contexts, I thought I couldn't love it anymore. Then last night, with the youth fellows of the Heal the Streets program of the Ella Baker Center - I found even more love - through their exuberant feedback after playing with it a little.  Forum Theater is a tool from the arsenal of Theater of the Oppressed with incredible transformative power and gazilions of uses. Primarily, Forum Theater is used to expl...

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The Poetry of Ecopedagogy

There's a global movement in education afoot, and its beautiful, relevant, dynamic and barely whispered about in English (aside from Richard Kahn), or in the United States. It has formed around the name "Ecopedagogia", and started the way one might start a bad joke... these 3 guys were sitting in a bar... One of these guys was Paulo Freire (who died right before he could write his book) another was my old boss at the Instituto Paulo Freire, Moacir Gadotti, and other was Francisco Gutierrez. Gutierrez wrote a book shortly after that meeting with Cruz Prado. It is Ecopedagogia y Ciudadania Planetaria (Ecopedagogy and Planetary Citizenship). You won't find it on amazon.com, or in English. Here is an excerpt of my favorite part that my friend Natalia Bernal and I translated together, and I love it. I think it is pedagogical poetry.

"1.You make the road by walking. If pedagogy is a process, then it is made daily. Pedagogy does not exist as a premeditated theory to learn, but as a course to personally discover and create. The steps taken to create the pedagogy are lasting, once taken. Pedagogy is an opening of new paths that are dynamic, unrepeatable, meaningful, and spiritual (38).

2. Walking with meaning. From the dynamic, creative and relative perception, we learn that education can only be a process of elaborating meaning. The beacon that guides us in this process is not a near or far goal, but an aspiration that we have to create inside of ourselves. Feelings, intuition, emotion, and understanding of our life experiences are these guides for creating a reality we want to live. Walking with meaning signifies giving meaning, sharing meaning, impregnating daily practices with meaning, and understanding the meaninglessness of other practices that people will try to impose upon us. Every step of the educative process has to hold personal meaning. (39)

3.Walking with the attitude of learning. One is in the attitude of learning when one is open, receptive, and searching for learning. In other words, when one is acting as a conscious subject of the process. Applying pedagogy requires the ability to; feel, intuit, vibrate emotionally, imagine, invent, create and recreate, relate and interconnect, organize self, inform self, communicate, express self, localize, process, and use the immense information of the planetary platform, search for causes, predict consequences, criticize, evaluate, systematize, make decisions, and think wholistically.

What does the development of the above capacities imply? It implies breaking stereotypes, and valuing the development of the human being and social transformation. It implies that the educator, without letting go of her or his role as “student”, concern her/himself with meaningful learning aimed towards the formation of environmental citizenship and a planetary society. It implies the formation of a consciousness that goes from the individual to the collective in order to create social transformation. (40-42)

4. Walking in dialogue with one’s surroundings. Education is a process of exchange and interactive communication between the educand, her/his surroundings and the educator.  Education is a process of communication, co-participation, co-production, and co-understanding with those involved in the education as well as with the environment the education is taking place in. At this level of sharing the educational process, one should be empathetic with their co-learners. (42)

5. In walking, intuition is the priority. Intuition,  (subjective life experience, feelings, emotional expressions, and imagination) plays an essential role in the learning process. Feelings motivate us much more than reason or logic. They give our lives significance. To learn is much more than comprehending or conceptualizing a subject. It is to care for, share, give feeling to, interpret, express, and live. Traditional education considers rational thought the most important form of knowledge. The “new education” needs to support (in addition to rational thought) other forms of perception and knowledge as being equally valid and productive. In experiential education, emotional intelligence (knowledge of intuition, feelings, emotions, and imagination) can balance the use of rational intelligence and should be valued and taught from childhood. (44-45)

6.Walking as a productive process. The educative process must have immediate and permanent results, derived from practice itself. Education is productive when the subject constructs knowledge and expresses it, re-elaborates information, experiments with it and applies it. One needs to be conscious of what “products” are being obtained. Therefore it is important to document the learning, to keep a written, graphic, or audiovisual testament of the daily process in which the search for more knowledge along the themes of study can continue. This documentation is not simply a collection of completed given exercises, but a daily account of the information found in the street, the newspapers, radio, television, and cultural, artistic, technical, and scientific manifestations (47).

7. Recreating the world as you walk. Expression is synonymous with education. In that sense, it is contrary to repression, depression, and suppression. From the moment in which the student becomes owner of their expression we can speak about education. Coercion and obedience are contrary to free personal expression and autonomy. Communication, expression, and the use of language that is “alive” can elevate the quality of education and liberate external controls. Creative expression enables the establishment of an environment that gives psychological security and helps to develop creative talent (47-49)."



“If I could tell you what it meant, I wouldn’t have to dance it.”—Martha Graham
In theory, brainstorming should be a great way for groups to arrive at an idea that is better than an idea that an individual could have come up with alone. The only problem: brainstorms often don’t actually do that. In a big group the ideas of a few people who feel confident enough to share their half-baked musings with everyone tend to drown out the rest. Yale researchers actually found that brainstorming can reduce a group’s creativity. So when collectively designing something, instead of brainstorming, try artstorming! “Artstorming” invites participants to jump directly into the unmediated experience of creation, engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence. Better ideas, and often amazing creations, result.

When artstorming, instead of a blank wall where people write up ideas from the group, everyone stands up and starts improvising together with all the tools at hand. Instead of theorizing about what would look or sound good, they try it out in the laboratory of the group. It starts with physical movement (proven to enhance creative output), then some form of improvisation (word association, or improv theater games) which prepare the brain to take risks.

Artstorming is really useful because it:

  • Makes space for multiple intelligences and fluencies: Artstorming creates space for the spatially, kinesthetically and musically gifted folks, who might be alienated from a verbal brainstorm.
  • Invites people’s full selves to be present: By engaging the full spectrum of our creative intelligence, artstorming taps into parts of ourselves that might be snoozing most of the time, and invites them into the room. They will be sorely needed in an arts action.
  • Supports creativity: In an artstorm, people’s honest expression of the feelings and ideas that brought the group together in the first place are safe to come out and play, so more expression happens.
  • Is counter-hegemonic: That’s right. Hakim Bey asserts that through the industrial revolution we have become increasingly alienated from our direct experiences with each other and with our art. Artstorming is an opportunity to reconnect ourselves, our art, and each other.

To design an arts based action using an art storm, begin with the simple question, “What art could we use to effectively tell X message to Y audience to achieve Z result?” (X,Y and Z are figured out prior). Use a brainstorm (not all brainstorms are bad) to list all of the different art media possible, including both visual and performance arts. Next, break up the room into groups that will artstorm using one to three media of their choice to develop their message. After ten minutes, have each group report back and give each other feedback so each can arrive at a focus for the next stage. At this time you can also allow people to switch groups if they’d like. Now the real artstorm begins, focusing on a single idea from the first round with a group of people who all want to make it happen. Invite each person to take a turn experimenting, with minimal verbal feedback. Eventually, groups will hit on an idea that works and morph into a group-led process of artistic co-creation.

Potential pitfalls: Some people may find an artstorm a truly terrifying experience. Don’t force people to do it or assume everyone in the room is comfortable working this way. Ask at the beginning. For those who declare a great discomfort with spontaneous creative work, give them a different role, say, offering verbal feedback to ensure that the groups are staying on-message.

A personal story about strawberries and climate justice

this is an excerpt from a chapter I wrote for the book "No Way Out Many Ways Forward" by the Global Youth Leadership Collaborative in 2010

I was raised next to strawberries in Watsonville. From my car seat each day I would watch people picking strawberries as I passed by. I could never understand how someone could spend so long bent over in the sun. When I started school, I had friends who picked strawberries, they would come and go with the strawberry season. They would always sit in the back of the classroom. The teachers would ignore them, the other students would ignore them. I was told to ignore them too. In the "progressive" county of Santa Cruz, CA, I was part of a segregated and racist caste system I thought only happened in the south or in other countries. In order to succeed in school, I thought it was necessary to become subservient to all of the social and institutional rules, and so I did, and so I succeeded. Sort of.

Like so many, I despised school and loved learning. I left school a year early to set out on my own and try to learn from the world. Finally I began to learn about how I had been trained to passively watch the world go by and participate in outrageous racial and economic injustices. I was trained to think that what needed to be changed most was the environmental destruction that I was told was created by individuals. I thought that by consuming a little less, or recycling a little more, or waiting for a leader to come and tell me what to do, I was playing my part. I learned how I had been trained to consider my white, US born, blond-haired blue-eyed self incredibly important and entitled to comforts, safety, employment and other niceties like strawberries, regardless if others have them or not, or how they were grown and picked. I finally learned that oppression is structural, systemic, historical and I'm either perpetuating or dismantling it - through collective, not just individual action.

Not an easy or pleasant process by any means, my beautiful untraining required my whole involvement (I speak here in past-tense only for grammer sake, I don't think untraining is ever really over). It required an shattering the glass between me and the rest of the world that engaged my heart, body mind and spirit and moved me to act.

I stopped ignoring people and got involved in activism, and eduction. I created participatory theatre projects with the families in Watsonville who pick strawberries, I worked with the United Nations Environment Program as their US youth advisor, and organized JAMs with YES! I then went on to organize and facilitate more conferences, events and actions. I desperately wanted more people to feel as inspired and ignited to take action, and so I created educational experiences outside of schools, and made giant puppets and created theatre projects as my piece in the larger movements for global economic justice, social and environmental justice, labor rights and immigrant rights, and peace.

And now, I think about the weather. A lot.

Each day I think about what I will wear, if it will be hot or cold. I think about the differences this time of year. I think about the record high’s and lows. I think about how hot and dry it has been in Acre, the Eastern Brazilian Amazon where  Laura and Tashka live. I think about Tashka’s cousin-in-law who recently showed me pictures of her well drying up – in the wettest place on earth. I think about the Alaskan glaciers melting, and the houses sinking into the tundra in Evon's community. Then I put on my boots or my sandals and go to work.

At work, another email in my inbox will read “climate worse than previously predicted”

Every day, some version of this email will arrive. Sometimes I read them, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I forward them on with the hope that someone who hasn’t looked up in a while or noticed the crazy weather will consider our planet’s climate.  I think about what it will take for this slowly growing movement for climate justice to yield enough power to  prevent people in coastal cities and Island Nations from becoming refugees, to prevent total ecological collapse, more wars over resources, or my family from moving when the long drought hits California. I am hanging on by a thread sometimes to my hope, but still I have it. I envision the global economy localizing, with green, union jobs for everyone who wants them. I envision bicycles and trollies replacing cars and an end to coal and oil mining. I envision urban gardens and free health clinics and media centers and the strawberry fields broken into smaller sections, becoming worker owned, detoxified and used to grow food for the community.

I envision a different kind of education.  I think about Paulo Freire’s anti-capitalist arts-based experiential critical eco-justice education that isn’t finished until action projects are completed. An education where the learner is at the center, his or her liberation from oppressive structures and conditioning is at the center, life is at the center. I live in Oakland now, where testing is at the center of education, where 50% of African American students don't graduate from high school. The systems of white supremacy and capitalism are rigorously maintained by our schools that track students from a young age to be either bound for college, the underground economy, or the pesticide laden, greenhouse gas emitting industrial strawberry fields.

I envision a movement for change with the people most impacted, disproportionately impacted by climate crisis and social and economic injustices at the forefront of these movements. I think the way these movements will be strengthened and will grow is in part through this kind of radical education where people unlearn some of the ridiculous notions we have been fed about power and change and relearn who we are.

So I turn to educational practices that encourage people to feel, to notice the world and their location and context in it, to notice the breeze on their face, and the people who live on their street. Practices that provide opportunities to rehearse what changes we want to see in ourselves, our communities and our world and then require that we act. Practices that spark our imaginations to enable us to envision and then in solidarity with many others, create a better world. I turn to Augusto Boal and bell hooks and Francisco Gutierrez and Ocean Robbins. I turn to theatre, to popular education, to participatory action research. I turn to puppets and music and dance.

I currently work with young people as a participatory action research coach - based on the principle that the people most impacted by an issue are the experts of it, and the ones who can create the most lasting change. We run projects that last about eight weeks to nine months in which young people explore things they want to be different about their communities, decide a research question, design the research methodology, collect data from their peers, analyze it, create a powerful artistic presentation of their findings and recommendations and from there, develop actions.

“If love is at the heart of the revolution, might imagination and the artistic fermentation of possibility be the soul of social justice work” Ananya Chatterjea

The Flower Of Praxis (a work in progress)

To see the picture I'm referring to, click on "continue reading" below

This is an image that I've been using in workshops lately to explain the process of both Participatory Action Research and Popular Education. Its a picture in progress. and I've gotten a lot of positive feedback on it as a rough drawing on poster pater, and promised workshop participants that I would create it in photoshop to be able to send around. I'm posting this draft version to get feedback from you. Does it make sense? Should it be called the Flower of Conscientization through Praxis? Or the Flower of Organizing through Praxis or the Flower of Popular Education through Praxis? Does the language work for you? Should I give the leaves longer stems? (I think so) Should I add "socio-economic" to "reflect on personal experiences?" and add "to change structures of oppression" to "take informed action"?  What do you think??

Thanks! When the final draft is ready, I'll add an attachment in resources that people can download

Pedagogy of the Oppressed – what is it and why its still relevant.

I originally wrote this for the forthcoming book, Beautiful Trouble. Because so much of Practicing Freedom's work is inspired by it, I thought I repost the mini-chapter here: I'd love feedback!

Not just the title of a book by Paulo Freire, a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an approach to education and organizing to transform oppressive structures and create a more equitable, caring and beautiful world through action and reflection that is co-created with those who have been marginalized and dehumanized.

In 1962, Paulo Freire created culture circles in Northeastern Brazil to support 300 suger-cane workers to teach each other how to read the word and their world in 45 days, which enabled them to register to vote. These Culture Circles that began with Sugar Cane workers, catalyzed thousands more. Each with the purpose of not just literacy, but conscientization, or which involves people joining with their peers to name their world by reflecting on their conditions, imagining a better world, and then taking action to create it. This approach, developed as much by Freire as the workers he educated, was so galvanizing that he was jailed and exiled by the Military Government within two years.

Over a lifetime of working with revolutionary organizers and educators both in exile and back in Brazil, Freire offers a compass to direct us towards liberation from structures of oppression. This compass is both an approach to education and organizing and a lens through which to understand systems of oppression in order to transform them. It flips mainstream ideas of education and organizing on their heads by insisting that true knowledge and expertise already exists with people – they need no deposits of information (what Freire calls Banking Education) or propaganda to convince them of their problems. What is required is dialogue, respect, love for humanity, and praxis or action and reflection to transform the world.

Pedagogy of the Opressed is an education as a practice of freedom, which Freire contrasts with education as a practice of domination:

Problem-posing Education; Education as a practice of freedom Banking Education; Education as the practice of domination
  • Primary goal is conscientization.
  • Primary goal is to adapt people to their oppressive conditions.
  • Both educator and educand (Freire’s word for student in an attempt to convey a more equitable relationship) teach and learn from each other as partners..
  • Teacher attempts to control thinking and action of the students who are ignorant objects
  • Assumes that the world, everything and everyone is interrelated..
  • Assumes that people are merely in the world, not connected to it or each other.
  • Begins with context; the educands’ “historicity” , “dynamic present” and incomplete future..
  • Removes students from their historical, current and future context. Teaches reality as complete and unchangeable.
  • Dialogue about topics that the educand has some prior experience of..
  • Lectures about topics the students have no connection to.
  • Words are thick with meaning and have transforming power..
  • Words are empty and alienating.
  • Educands are posed with problems that relate to their lives and respond by creatively posing new challenges and new understandings..
  • Students are meekly filled as empty containers (and tested to see how much leaked out)
  • Seeks to transform society to rehumanize both the oppressed and oppressor..
  • Treats oppressed people as on the margins of a healthy society who need to be incorporated into it.
  • Integral to the revolutionary process – not something to get to after the revolution.
  • Integral to maintaining systems of oppression as they a
















How do you take the ideas above and translate them into a classroom or community setting? While methods have been documented, Freire wanted them to be constantly recreated and adapted to fit different realities, struggles, and generations. Saying that, here are some common practices guided by a Pedagogy of the Oppressed and used in the associated fields of Popular Education, Critical Pedagogy, Theater of the Oppressed, and Ecopedagogy.

  • Dialogue: Freire explains that what most people think of as dialogue is really a debate, where people compete to deposit ideas into the other or name the world on behalf of the other as an end in itself. However “true dialogue” is means for deeper understanding, in which the world is named through both lived experience and theory and explores common patterns among the participants as an act of creation and re-creation of knowledge in order to generate action.
  • Participatory Action Research: In this thorough process of reflection and action, people explore the problems they face in their community, and then find solutions through gathering data from their peers, analyzing the data and then taking informed action. It’s a model of community organizing that builds the capacity and expertise of people on the front-line of a problem.
  • Coding: Freire’s literacy method begins with generating “codes” or images that speak a thousand words about the world of the participants. These codes become the subject of subsequent dialogues and through a “decoding” of the group’s life circumstances, the student-teachers recognize their right to a worldview -- one in which they’ve been screwed. This new confidence and clarity of vision leads directly to praxis.

Many of our movements today are fueled by non-profit organizations that strategize behind closed doors and advance their campaigns through “organizing” people to support their agendas. Imagine movements led by people on the frontlines of the crisis’s we face. Imagine popular education, creative dialogue and participatory action research generating the solutions that the people are supported and funded to implement themselves. This, according to the Pedagogy of the Oppressed, can transform our world.

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About Us

The Practicing Freedom Collective supports communities to generate and enact their own solutions while strengthening their relationships through Popular Education practices. We amplify the liberatory, participatory and humanizing potential of programs, schools, campaigns, organizations and businesses working to create systemic social and cultural change. We believe that if we want our institutions, and political and economic systems to be participatory and democratic, then each step of the process to transform them should be participatory and democratic as well.

Upcoming Events

PAR - T! A celebration of Participatory Action Research for practioners and "the PAR curious" alike. Date TBD. Please contact us if you'd like to be involved.

Theater of the Oppressed 6 week spring series. For seasoned TO practitioners as well as folks totally new to this work. Date and location still being confirmed

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