Who we are
Read more about Us in our "The What and Why of Popular Education" publication.
A small group of experienced popular educators with a goal to develop the next generation of popular educators.
The What and Why of Popular Education
What is popular education and why have we started a blog about it?
If we broke down the terms, popular and education, we could surmise that it means general or public knowledge suitable for the majority. If popular means “relating to the general public” and education means “the action or process of educating” then popular education could also mean an education accessible for all. In fact, the term emerged during the rise of the European national systems of education as a concept that sought to provide education for all. However, this term has evolved throughout the decades and has been influenced by social actors in Latin America and beyond that have strengthened its meaning and purpose.
In short, popular education is a commitment of ensuring individuals undergo a process of becoming aware of one’s social, political, and personal issues, or consciousness-raising. While Brazilian educator Paulo Freire is the best-known theorists and practitioner of popular education, there have been and are many more individuals who practice this philosophy in their work and everyday lives.
What is Popular Education?
As a Popular Education Collective of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, we are a diverse group composed of educators, activists, and workers. We came together to share what popular education means to us. Below are thoughts from some of our group members:
Elmer Romero (Popular Education Curriculum Coordinator-NDLON):
It is a process of awareness, mobilization or popular organization for the defense of rights and the demand for justice. In a very simple way, it is to share the knowledge, feelings and thoughts of the people within a process of liberation of the oppressed sectors, oriented toward the transformation of a more just, participatory, democratic and just world.
Klaudia Rivera (Professor of Education at Long Island University Brooklyn):
Popular education is a way of seeing and acting in the world. We all have something to contribute and something to learn, and we translate this into an educational practice that leads to a commitment to "act" in company with the educated. This action involves the use of the language of the people and the ways in which we inherited knowledge from our ancestors.
Hilary Stern (co-founder of Casa Latina):
For me, popular education is a philosophy of life and a methodology of struggle so that the people can create a better world. It is having faith in the wisdom of humble people, of people who have not had the opportunities to have a lot of formal education, but who know a lot through the maturity and wisdom that they have developed through their experiences in life. It is a methodology that is done together, sharing experiences and analysis to carry out actions that may have a common benefit.
Pedro Sosa (Immigrant Rights Program Director for the West Region for the American Friends Service Committee):
It is a form of collective learning with the community about our reality, in which together we analyze how we can make significant changes in our collective life.
Marlom Portillo (Popular Education Curriculum Coordinator-NDLON):
Many things, especially the constant process of learning and unlearning to be reborn, individually and collectively. The dream is that we reemerge as different human beings willing to contribute to the transformation of our communities. Popular education is key for oppressed communities to dismantle their oppressive reality of injustice and inequality and to break the cycle of dehumanization and exploitation through the power of the people.
NDLON’s members practice popular education in a variety of settings. Those who are part of immigrant and day laborer organizations through NDLON have made a commitment to serve and support these communities and it is here where they use popular education the most. For example, in his work with immigrant communities in Portland, OR, Pedro Sosa conducts workshops on ICE abuses and helps develop immigrant teams that monitor ICE's presence in their own communities. Elmer Romero has also worked with day laborers and for the past twenty years has used his experience to
produce curricular texts on topics such as ESOL, financial education, literacy, citizenship, advocacy, health, community organization, racism, and labor rights. Currently, he is using popular education to develop curriculum for NDLON for the advancement of a variety of struggles including, feminist struggles, the struggle of the LGBTQ+ movement, for comprehensive reform for immigrants’ rights in all areas, the "Black Lives Matter" movement, the struggles of indigenous communities, among others.
Some of us in our group use popular education in a more academic setting. Klaudia Rivera, for example, has used popular education to design and implement Spanish language literacy and ESOL programs especially for women, immigrants, refugees, and workers. In addition, she integrates popular education into the preparation of future teachers. As a history professor at Fordham University, Stephanie M. Huezo, has used popular education to center the often-overlooked histories of the Latinx and Latin American community in the university classroom.
Outside of work, we also implement popular education in our daily lives. As we have said before, popular education is a philosophy of life. After moving to a small village in Spain after a career as a community organizer, teacher and popular educator, Hilary Stern still finds that she uses the skills that she learned as a popular educator outside of work. She recently used her experience to deal with a neighborhood situation about water use. As she says, “popular education has taught me to listen to people and learn from each other.”
As you can see, popular education is a commitment that we carry within our hears to support and accompany marginalized communities. But it goes beyond this as well. We are fighting to dismantle the system that oppresses each and every one of us and we do this through a process of reflecting, analyzing, and taking action. We do it together with the people, because and Rivera says, “we must bear in mind: popular education belongs to the people and must be implemented with the people and to support the people.”
As we see it, popular education will continue to exist until we have a perfect world. And we need popular education even more now as we confront the many pandemics that exist in our society. Romero notes that without consciousness-raising, we cannot fight racism, white supremacy, fascism and authoritarians, and climate changes including our current COVID-19 situation. As Rivera commented, we must see popular education as a way to understand and act in this world and we must also pass it along others, whether it be in community organizing, in the classroom, online, and even in our homes; it is our duty to promote social change rooted in justice and liberation.
We invite you to learn about popular education with us, read our blogs, and together we can become agents of change in our communities.
Stephanie M. Huezo
*I want to thank Marlom Portillo, Klaudia Rivera, Elmer Romero, Pedro Sosa y Hilary Stern for their contribution to this post. I also want to acknowledge Klaudia Rivera for generously agreeing to edit this post. Thank you!*