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About the Author 

Francisco Argüelles


Pancho Argüelles Paz y Puente was born in Mexico City and has lived in the U.S. since 1997. For more than thirty five years he has worked on human rights issues in Mexico, Central America, and the United States: as a rural teacher in Chiapas, supporting Guatemalan refugees, co-founding Universidad Campesina in Nicaragua, and with rural cooperatives in Central Mexico. In Houston, he co-founded Fe y Justicia Worker Center, a community organization for low-wage immigrant workers and currently serves in its board of advisors. Pancho served on the board of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights where he co-authored the popular education curriculum, BRIDGE: Building a Race and Immigration Dialogue on the Global Economy.

He lives in Houston, TX, where he just finished serving for the past ten years as the executive director of Living Hope Wheelchair Association, a community-based organization of migrants with spinal cord injuries and other disabilities. Through PazyPuente LLC he provides training and consulting services to social and racial justice organizations across the country.  He also serves on the board of the Highlander Research and Education Center and holds a BA on Education from UNAM and a Masters on Multicultural Education from UHCL.

Note to Reader:

Popular educator, Francisco (Pancho) Arguelles Paz y Puente has written a guide for practitioners of popular education in the United States. This document defines popular education “as a political intention of building a knowledge that turns into collective action for liberation” As a methodological guide, this document explains how organizers can incorporate popular education to workshops and trainings for their organization. Along with a discussion of the core principles, it asks readers to examine the differences between conventional teaching and liberating learning experiences. By incorporating diagrams about the different components of learning, as well as reflective questions, readers will walk away with a better understanding of how to integrate popular education in their organizing work.

Note: This document was adapted from the BRIDGE popular education curriculum (2004) for the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) and from the PICOSO Guide for Participatory Planning (Universidad Campesina, Estelí Nicaragua, 1991). Arguelles Paz y Puente has given us permission to share this resource here.

Introduction to Popular Education and Discussion Guide for PICOSO- Colectivo Flatlander

Popular Education Intro and Discussion Guide for CCHE1

Popular Education, has also been called “Educación Liberadora” (Education for Liberation) "Educación Dialógica" (Dialogic Education) and Participatory Adult Education and is based upon the principle that all people have knowledge, based on their experiences in life, and all people have dignity as human beings. From this base the goal of Popular Education is to open a space for trust and participation where human dignity can be affirmed and diversity can be honored and knowledge can be created and recreated.

However, the main distinctive element of Popular Education is the political intention of building a knowledge that turns into collective action for liberation. This liberation includes the personal, and community levels and aims toward a larger social transformation that reshapes the power structures and addresses power relationships and inequalities.

Popular Education is a process where many dialogues have to take place :

  1. Dialogue among all the participants in a workshop, including the facilitation team. This means co-­‐creating an environment that invites participation and co-­‐responsibility/co-­‐ ownership of the space and the process.

  2. Dialogue between the "issues" and the reality, experiences and needs of the group. Connecting individual experiences to a shared context finding commonalities and differences, using a common language that actually speaks from and about the realities the group is sharing. It is not about infantilizing issues or “dumbing things down” or putting things at somebody’s level, it is about relevance! Asking how important and close are the issues and language we are using to the realities the group we are working with are facing?

  3. Dialogue between the tools used to explore the issues and the tools the group already has. Keeping things simple, accessible and at scale helps democratizing the use and control of tools.

  4. Dialogue between the issue of the workshop and its historical and social context: exploring the root causes of the issue and experiences being discussed. Situating the conversation and the people in the room in their relationship with other social actors (“naming” the moment and mapping the social and historical space)

  5. Dialogue between the issue of the workshop and the ongoing organizing effort. Connecting the event to the process, asking not only what are we doing but why and what for. Balancing the need to Win something (a campaign, an issue) with the need to Build something (local leaders and local power, an organization or coalition, a larger popular movement for social and racial justice).

All these dialogues require of a design and a process: A challenging balance of planning the process and activities and improvising and adapting this process to the realities of the group, the team and the context. This balance becomes a lot easier if both, the group and the team stay close to their central values and focused on honoring and affirming human dignity. This is important to remember in the U.S. organizing context, it is not just about individual anger and self interest, it is about personal and collective dignity and survival. Popular Education is a political ethic and a methodology to accompany organizing processes for resistance and liberation.




In this "age of information" the skill to transform information in knowledge is essential.

Knowledge is information in context, "concientizacion" is knowledge applied in collective action to affirm human dignity, to resist oppression and to fight for liberation, this requires a wisdom that is usually found in the lives and stories of persons and communities that have been able to survive and overcome suffering and oppression. We don´t have to go far to find people that can tell us these stories and share with us this wisdom, they are around us in the barrios, in the fields and factories, in our own homes, they are our elders our neighbors our brothers and sisters in the struggle. Popular education opens a space for dialogue where information, knowledge and wisdom are created, shared, reproduced and transformed to build local power that transforms structural power.

From this perspective organizing can be described as a continuous process of reflection-­‐ action-­‐reflection through dialogue. If we eliminate the reflection part, we are reducing organizing to mobilizing, if we eliminate the action part, we are just intellectualizing the struggle… In popular education the process is a goal on itself, it is not all about power, it is about human dignity. We can not build a more dignified society if we don't build organizations that honor and respect the human beings that participate on them. We cannot build a more democratic society with anti democratic organizations. Popular Education is centered on values and long-­‐term systemic change through everyday actions for survival and resistance.


At the core of the principles that define what popular education there is a commitment to listen to what those who have endured the most have to say. This is assumed both as a moral and strategic obligation. It is not about being “the voice of the voiceless” but about accompanying-­‐creating an organizing process where the voices of those who are suffering and risking the most are the ones leading the conversation and making strategic decisions. As professional organizers being an ally means in some ways learning to be “ear of the earless”, learning how to be silent when working with communities that will come up with questions than our privileges could not even dream of asking. Popular education is also about producing good questions and then working together to build common answers.

Below you can find a visual representation of some of the elements mentioned above and some questions to analyze these diagrams:

  1. Compare it to the diagram on Banking Education: What are the differences?

  2. Can you apply this diagram to describe one of your training activities, does it helps you to have a more integrated vision of your praxis?

  3. What is missing?

  4. Add your own questions to analyze and describe Popular Education

Components of a learning experience (Popular Education Perspective)

lib edu.JPG

Some questions to analyze this diagram:



  1. How are the power dynamics in this model? Who has the control of the process?

  2. Does it relates to your learning experiences?

  3. Does it relates to your teaching experiences?

  4. What happens to the experiences, values and knowledges of the group in this model?

  5. How does Dialogue happens?

  6. What about the Context of this teaching-­‐learning model:  Is it acknowledged?


Add your own questions to analyze and describe Banking Education:

Components of conventional teaching ("Banking" education)

banking edu.JPG

Some questions to analyze this diagram:



  1. How are the power dynamics in this model? Who has the control of the process?

  2. Does it relates to your learning experiences?

  3. Does it relates to your teaching experiences?

  4. What happens to the experiences, values and knowledges of the group in this model?

  5. How does Dialogue happens?

  6. What about the Context of this teaching-­‐learning model:  Is it acknowledged?


Add your own questions to analyze and describe Banking Education:

More principles and tips for and from a popular education practice (praxis!):


A "methodological model" aims to identify some general principles that guide our action and that can be adapted to different circumstances. These principles are a synthesis of values, attitudes, knowledge and skills based upon concrete experiences. We don't want to pretend that we are "inventing" hot water of discovering the wheel. From our experience of doing something in a concrete place and time, we are extracting some ideas confirmed and learned down the road; with the hope that they can be helpful to those who are walking similar paths. Method means Road, not Recipe, as usual a poet explains it better:

  • To do a workshop is to open a space for dialogue, it is the creation of a "safe space" for learning, and therefore the initial effort is to open the space. But a safe space exists around behaviors, attitudes and values, it doesn't exist just because the trainer says that the space is safe, or because the people with more privileges feels safe.

  • The ways in which we define what is a "safe space" depends on our circumstances: our background, our race and ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, immigration status, disabilities, and many other variables that imply inclusion or exclusion, privilege and oppression. As facilitators of a workshop we can not solve these differences, but we must acknowledge them if we want to open a space for dialogue and not for simulation. Therefore I think that instead of defining a workshop as a "safe space" it is better to think that a workshop is a place for trust and participation.

  • The main tool in a training process is the facilitator him/herself, if he/she doesn't attend with an attitude of dialogue and openness then she/he can't really facilitate the participation of others. (Notice: The facilitator is the tool, the group is the builder)

  • Education is always Reproduction and Resistance of values, ideologies, skills, and attitudes; the more we can be explicit about what we are reproducing and resisting, the better we can keep the direction of our process. Being explicit and specific about our values, (the political-­ethical center of our educational-­organizing effort) helps to create your own center of gravity for the process and when you have your own center of gravity there is less probability of getting lost and ending spinning around somebody else interests.

  • From a conventional point of view, education implies transmission, conservation, and creation of knowledge. (knowledge includes: information, skills, values, attitudes, and behaviors in an specific context; information without context is not knowledge, and doesn't necessarily means empowerment)

  • In the tradition of Popular Education: Any educational project should be an ethical and political process that looks for the liberation of the oppressed, the inclusion of the excluded, the empowerment of the individuals and group, the transformation of the structures of power and the building of a more just society. It has several "dimensions": Person, Family, Community, Popular Organization, Society and History.

  • Popular Education processes are based upon Concientización: Experience in Context. Knowledge that leads to Action The personal story (experiences) of oppression/ Resistance/ Liberation shared in dialogue and related to the stories of others and then to the structures of power from an historical perspective. It is learning and unlearning, redefining my personal reality in relation with the experiences of those around me.

  • The synthesis of Action and Reflection/Theory and Practice is known as Praxis: Learning through action how to transform my reality in the everyday struggle for survival, resistance and affirmation of rights. Action without reflection is activism, is doing a lot of isolated actions but without long term goals and strategies. Reflection without action is… well, "intelectualism", is just blah, blah, blah…

  • Popular Education implies Participatory Methods, but it is not reduced to that. Participatory methods without organizing and political vision/action are not popular education. Participatory methods and “icebreakers” are used at large corporations retreats too, it is not a matter of playing games at the beginning of the meeting or doing emotional rituals at the end, it is about accompanying a well defined political project connected to an organizing process and a action strategy.

  • There are several ways of doing organizing. From a Popular Education perspective, it has to be a long term participatory and democratic process. Leadership will be service, in some way, the process of becoming “unnecessary”. Or in the Zapatista's words: Leadership is "Mandar obedeciendo" (To command by obeying)

  • Becoming Unnecessary is a long term goal and it is lot easier if we are developing new organizers, so they can do what we are doing, so that we can go do something else or go somewhere else to do the same. Developing new leaders or organizers has also been called "Forming Promoters"; and in the experience of the movement De Campesino a Campesino in Central America it was done under this principles: Little by little, from the practice, starting in small scale, with demonstratives experiences, building a model that can be applied elsewhere. Becoming unnecessary doesn't means becoming irrelevant!

  • Any educational process implies planning and evaluating, from the popular education perspective these two activities have to be participatory in order to be coherent with the ethical and political vision. There are several methodologies for planning and evaluating here we offer a guide with some principles to have in mind when choosing or designing one.



Process perspective and Ownership of the process: Moving from Dependence -­‐ to Independence -­‐ to Interdependence. Different levels and types of participation


Landing the process on Every Day life: staying afloat, making waves and changing the tide. Survive, resist and transform the system by naming and addressing racism, sexism, classism and other isms and intentionally connecting services, advocacy, organizing, civic participation and other aspects of the larger social movement


Information in Context…. Self Criticism/ Structural Critic.

Historical perspective. Openness to create and to what is new.


Building local power – Wining policies. Developing local leaders, strengthening the community, being able to answer: What happens when I leave?


Other kind of power/ Culture, Celebrations, Faith! Value centered organizing – Defining victory at different levels


Being effective transforming reality. Have a real membership, develop local leaders, create an organization, change public policy, transform institutions, strengthen democracy at all levels and advance racial and social justice. Work towards financial autonomy-­‐sustainability. Evaluate to improve.




  1. How are people Participating in the decision making process and in managing resources? Are we really democratic?

  2. How are we trying to Integrate the long and short term needs? How are we trying to Include those who are not included now?

  3. Do we make space for Creativity and Criticism within our team and processes, are we addressing the causes of the problems or only the visible symptoms?

  4. Are we creating new social actors? What happens when the campaign ends? What happens if we disappear… if things end when we leave, then we are mobilizing, not Organizing. What are we winning and what are we building?

  5. What kind of power are we using and creating? Are we playing with the rules and language of the oppressor or are we drinking from our own wells: How are we using our Culture and Faith? How are we using, creating and recreating our Symbols?

  6. Are we solving some concrete problems related to the need of our membership, to their survival? Are we transforming reality? Achieving some concrete victories? Are our Operations and systems efficient? How do we measure this? What are we doing right? How can we improve?

Some ideas about Planning.

As they say in NASA: "It is not rocket science!". You can design you own planning method based upon your experiences and some common sense. The real challenge is to develop a collective commitment to planning and evaluating so that it becomes a permanent part of our organizing work.

  1. Any Planning tool should be able to answer the following questions:3 What? (Activity) 

  2. What for and Why? Objectives (general and specific)

  3. Who? (Responsible and who supports)

  4. How? (Methodology and process)

  5. When and for how long? (Date and time)

  6. Where? (Place)

  7. With what? (How much? Materials, Resources)

  8. Then what? (Follow up: who , how, when… what´s next?)

3 See the attached planning table if you want an example of these questions as a tool in table format.

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