Critical Pedagogy

Education for Liberation through Art and Culture

I’m excited to announce an open, national conference call on education for liberation through art and culture, which I am working on with the Arts & Democracy Project. We will have some excellent speakers from across the country. Info is below. Join us if you can on Thursday, February 6 at 3PM EST, 12PM PST. CLICK HERE TO RSVP AND GET CALL-IN INFO.

Education for Liberation through Art and Culture.

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
–    Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Amid the clamor of standardized tests, school privatization, and punitive accountability, we can lose sight of one of the most enduring purposes of education: freedom. Education for liberation is about understanding and addressing oppression in all its forms. It is a creative process, rooted in an appreciation of the rich cultural wealth of marginalized communities. It involves collaboratively reimagining our relationship with the world through dialogue and action.

Some of the most innovative forms of liberatory education are embedded in visual arts, literature, history, music, theater, and other artistic and cultural traditions. But as the banning of ethnic studies in Arizona makes clear, the right to liberatory education is something that must continually be fought for.

This conference call brings together representatives of three groups committed to supporting liberatory educational practices through engagement with culture and the arts. They will explore the possibilities and challenges of practicing – and fighting for – culturally relevant, creative, liberating educational opportunities for young people.

Khmer Girls in Action (KGA) is a community-based organization whose mission is to build a progressive and sustainable Long Beach community that works for gender, racial and economic justice led by Southeast Asian young women.
Save Ethnic Studies / Xican@ Institute for Teaching & Organizing in Arizona is an organized effort of social justice educators to challenge racist laws banning Mexican American and Ethnic studies programs in Tucson Unified School District, and across the state.
Project HIP-HOP (Highways Into the Past, History, Organizing, and Power) is a Boston-based organization that trains young artists as cultural organizers who can address pressing social justice issues in their communities.

Am I Worth It? Crowdsourcing and Critical Pedagogy

by guest blogger Dalitso Ruwe.

“Look at the weak and cry, pray one day you’ll be strong
Fighting for your rights, even when you’re wrong
And hope that at least one of you sing about me when I’m gone
I am worth it?”
— Kenderick Lamar

The existential question posed by Kenderick Lamar in the song “Sing About Me,” off his album good kid m.A.A.d city, aptly depicts the states of terror that shape the subjectivity of today’s youth. While critics may be prompted to dismiss his anecdotes as part of Hip Hop’s phantasmagoria, contextualized they excavate the growing nexus of violence that dominate the lives of youth. The State terror that drove Aaron Schwartz to commit suicide; the domestic violence that killed Kasandra Perkins; the communal violence that killed Trayvon Martin and fatally wounded Malala Yousufzai; have all become commonplace.

Education is not the sole key to addressing this public crisis, yet educators must help reclaim the public by affirming with youth that life is worth living. Pedagogy must wrestle with the fact that the worth of youth often vacillates between being targeted as consumers and being seen as a disposable population fit for the prison industrial complex. Critical pedagogy, as postulated by world-renowned educator Paulo Freire, helped us understand the need for renewed societal values by showing how racism, sexism, and economical exploitation shaped the experience of youth through the lens of popular media in the 80’s. Feminists building on critical pedagogy illuminated the complex ways that power and violence function in the nuclear family and heterosexual relationships. Yet the buck stops there. Critical pedagogy has become confined in academic camps because we lack the language and values necessary to address the states of terror that have escalated into youth-on-youth violence.

As we move into a more technologically-integrated society, the pressing question is how to elevate youth concomitantly through social networking platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. The first task in answering this question is to challenge the notion that the youth are aloof and normalized to the violence in their midst. If we look closely at these social media hangouts, cultivated by the idea of crowdsourcing. we find that youth are driven by two goals: the need to share information, and the need to be content creators. Our next task, then, is to engage them in transforming their ingenuity and passion to share and create content into a social praxis that revisions the modern world. Blueprints have been offered. The revolutionary maneuvers of youth in North Africa have been realized through Twitter as a cabal for strategy. The Occupy movement illustrated how we can create webs of inclusion in a leaderless movement, and introduced the public speaking platform known as mic check. These ideas engender a generational attitude capsulated in crowdsourcing as a way of being.

Crowdsourcing, however, isn’t the Marxist dream of a classless society. The
carnage youth face in the streets makes us culpable for failing to create effective institutions that integrate youth into society. If the future belongs to the youth, we must engage them by transforming the ideas of identity management on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram into community management by asking them to help share and create ideals we can live by.


Dalitso Ruwe is a research assistant for the upcoming publication Kanye West: Philosophy and the Tragic Image.

Book Review: Storytelling for Social Justice

Storytelling for Social Justice: Connecting Narrative and the Arts in Antiracist Teaching
By Lee Anne Bell
Routledge, 2010

Last week I reviewed Re:Imagining Change: How to use story-based strategy to win campaigns, build movements, and change the world. Today’s review is of a related book, this time from the perspective of an educator. Like the previous book, Storytelling for Social Justice is about deconstructing the dominant narratives that under-gird oppression — in this case particularly those that reinforce racism — and uncovering or creating counter-narratives using tools of art and storytelling.

But today’s review will not be from me, because a colleague of mine, Irene Liefshitz, has already written a fantastic one in the most recent issue of the Harvard Educational Review. I’ll give you a teaser below, and you can CLICK HERE to read the whole review.

A Review of Storytelling for Social Justice, by Lee Anne Bell
In our so-called postracial society, we have trouble talking about race, even in spaces intended for such conversations. In Storytelling for Social Justice, Lee Anne Bell expands our understanding of storytelling as a vehicle for race talk, builds a typology of stories to conceptualize racial discourse, and reaffirms the role of the arts in creating community. For educators who have struggled with race—and talking about race—in their personal lives and their classrooms, for social scientists who want to see how empirical and theoretical works influence pedagogy, and for the general reader who wants to learn about storytelling, this book is a great find...Continue Reading

Poetry in Stormy Times

“Syllable by syllable let each verb,
each noun
build a fortress on your insides. Strengthening
the levees of your soul”

Sitting out Hurricane Irene with my family in Boston, winds battering the windows, I thought I might share a storm-related post. As Irene makes its way up the east coast, and reports of flooding and deaths come in, it’s difficult not to be reminded of Katrina — that storm that both devastated the gulf coast and uncovered some key deficits in our country and government.

There is much we can learn from our responses to natural disasters. In addition to renewing our respect for the natural world, and our inability to fully control it, disasters stretch our resources to the limits. In doing so, they highlight systems of racism and oppression that are always there, but are deftly hidden within the myths our country tells itself.

In the newest set of resources put out by the Zinn Education Project, teaching artist Renée Watson tells of how she took advantage of these national teachable moments — as well as the power of spoken word poetry — to educate and empower a class of New York City youth. (more…)