“Education either functions as an instrument to…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
Its not just the title of a book by Paulo Freire, a Pedagogy of the Oppressed is an approach to education and organising 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 marginalised and othered.
In 1962, Paulo Freire created culture circles in Northeastern Brazil to support 300 suger-cane workers to teach each other how to read in 45 days, which enabled them to register to vote. These Culture Circles that began with Sugar Cane workers, catalysed thousands more. Each with the purpose of not just literacy, but conscientisation, 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 galvanising that he was jailed and exiled by the Military Government within two years.
Over a lifetime of working with revolutionary organisers 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 organising and a lens through which to understand systems of oppression in order to transform them. It flips mainstream ideas of education and organising 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.
Freire believed in autonomous decision making, problem-posing authentic inquiry, creative transformation, critical thinking and using people’s historicity as a starting point. He believed that teachers should be students among students to undermine the power of oppression and serve the cause of liberation.
So what does this have to do with Sparking Change? At the heart of Sparking Change is a shared practice of group learning. Many of our movements today are fuelled by non-profit organisations that strategise behind closed doors and advance their campaigns through “organising” 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.
Instead of developing classes for people to take on our ‘expertise’, we share our knowledge and tools in workshops and ask you to share your knowledge, to decide on which tools to use and how the tools and theories your choose would be best implemented in your communities or projects or campaigns. The practice comes out of education traditions – like those popularised by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed – and adds to it.
Just as direct action directly confronts systems of injustice, our approach challenges traditional education, confronting the beliefs, conflicts, and oppression that keep leaders and groups from being their most powerful – that’s why we call it Direct Education.
Direct education is about liberation and empowerment. Unlike traditional education, which gives all the expertise to textbooks and teachers, Direct Education invites the wisdom of people’s own experience. We’ve learned lessons from dozens of teaching modalities and approaches, making the most useful elements accessible in our workshops.
The approach is group-centred. We build upon group dynamics in the workshop space and people’s own experience to introduce new content and help the group access their own wisdom. This deepens learning in the workshops and also cultivates resources for people to access long after the workshop is over.
Sparking Change believes that the important work we do needs to be based in sharing the stories of our experiences, sharing our skill resources, respect, love for humanity, and action and reflection to transform the world – and we have learnt that by many including Paulo Freire.