Volume 18, 20

Under the Radar: Popular Education in North America
A White Paper

Drick Boyd


What is Popular Education?
The Different Expressions of Popular Education
Significant Themes in Popular Education
     Building Community
     Providing Space
     The Nature of Dialogue
     Role of the Educator/Facilitator
     Participatory Democracy
Logistical Issues
     Measuring Success
Concluding thoughts
About the Author


During a sabbatical in the spring of 2011 I set out on the modest goal of learning about the current work of popular educators in North America. My objectives of this project were two-fold. First, I wanted to see what was actually happening on the ground in the world of popular education, since in both the scholarly literature as well as adult education conferences, popular education was noticeably absent, and was only nostalgically referenced as something that happened in the past. I knew from conversations and experiences such was not the case, but I wanted to find out firsthand what popular educators were doing, and how they conceived of, financed, and organized their work. My second objective was to use the knowledge gathered from the research to develop a start-up plan for a popular education center in the city of Philadelphia where I live and work. I wanted to learn from practitioners, and hopefully build on their insights and avoid some of their mistakes. As a result many of my questions were functional and logistical in nature: Where does funding come from? How do you decide on which issues or which groups to work with? Do you have a board? If so, what are their responsibilities? How do you organize the work? How do you measure success? What do you conceive popular education to be?

In the course of my research I interviewed 25 popular educators either in person or by phone, and perused over 30 websites for popular education-type organizations.[1] I identified potential interviewees through the assistance of Larry Olds, editor of Popular Education News, as well as culling through the list of organizations listed in the program of the 2010 Social Forum. Interviewees often suggested other people I should talk with and I often followed up on these leads. Friends and family members heard of my project and also suggested names of people to talk with. I also attended two workshops – one organized by Training for Change in Philadelphia, and the other by Colectivo Flatlander at the Pedagogy and Theater of Oppressed Annual Conference in Chicago. In the course of my research I took copious notes and developed a data base of ideas, experiences and opinions. I also drew on readings and a workshop I had attended at Highlander Research and Education Center in 2006.

Almost from the beginning of the process of doing interviews I found that people were grateful for the opportunity to talk and reflect on the nature and purpose of their popular education work. Often they would thank me for the interview and requested a copy of my analysis at the end. Thus, first and foremost, this article is for all the people who have helped me over that past several months to gain a fuller of the state of popular education in the 21st century. Amidst all the insights and analysis below, the results of my study can be summed up this way: Popular education in North America today involves a vast network of highly skilled and dedicated individuals and organizations operating in a variety of settings doing their work tirelessly and without much reward or notice. As Chris Cavanaugh from the Catalyst Centre in Toronto put it, popular education in North America today largely operates “under the radar;” yet if my research is at all accurate, even so it is a powerful and dynamic social movement that is resisting oppression, fighting injustice, and bringing hope to people in communities large and small.

What is Popular Education?

In general conversation with colleagues, friends and family about this project, I found that “popular education” was not a term that most people are familiar with. However, by and large the people I interviewed for this project were conversant with the term and used it to describe the work they were doing. In a couple cases individuals distinguished their approach from popular education. Chris Spicer of the Institute for People’s Education said he did folk education not popular education, and Daniel Hunter of Training for Change referred to his approach as direct education rather than popular education. In other cases I identified individuals as doing what I would consider popular education but they used different terms. For instance Harry Boyte, a political scientist and director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, referred to his work as “public work,” and Shannon Dennis, a social worker and director of Possibilities, Inc. referred to her organization’s work as “community development” (with community having more of a personal growth connotation than economic as is generally the case). However, when other popular educators referred to these individuals or their organizations, they still considered their work to fit under the umbrella of the term “popular education.”

So what exactly is popular education? Historically, the two most significant thinker-practitioners for North American popular educators are Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. Horton, the founder of Highlander Research and Education Center, drew inspiration initially from the Danish Folk School movement founded by N.F.S Grundtvig in the 19th century. While the folk school movement in North America was primarily focused on personal development, Horton & Highlander became more politically involved in movements for radical social change thru labor unions, civil rights, environmental justice and immigration reform. However, Horton maintained key elements of the folk school approach, such as the importance of having residential retreats, building community, and honoring the inherent wisdom of one’s cultural background (Spicer, 2010)

The term popular education (from the Portuguese “educacion popular”) originated with Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, who developed an innovative approach to literacy training he called “reading the word and reading the world.” In his work with landless campesinos in Brazil, Freire and his associates helped their students not only learn how to read well enough to pass the literacy tests required to vote, but also engaged them in dialogue about the conditions imposed by landowners and the economic elite that kept them poor and oppressed (Freire and Macedo, 1987). Freire’s work became such a threat to the dominant Brazilian elite that he was exiled from his country for 16 years. While a source of personal angst for Freire, his exile was a gift to the world, as he travelled the globe under the aegis of the World Council of Churches sharing his approach and philosophy of education.

Three other influential thinker-practitioners who are less known but deserve honorable mention are N. F. S. Grundtvig, Moses Coady and George Lakey. N. F. S. Grundtvig is widely regarded as the founder of Danish Folks School movement which influenced the North American folk school movement, and most significantly Myles Horton. Grundtvig was a clergyman and an educator, whose philosophy of education included reconnecting persons with their culture, the arts, and spirituality. Grundtvig believed that renewed and transformed persons would bring a renewed and transformed society (Spicer 2010).

Moses Coady (1939), a scholar and Roman Catholic priest who lived during the first half of the 20th century in Nova Scotia and was the prime mover in  the Antigonish Movement, which addressed the depressed economic conditions of farmers, fishers, and coal miners in that area. Coady started a “people’s school” which lives on today as the Coady International Institute of St. Francis Xavier University and trains community developers and educators all over the world. George Lakey, a longtime community activist and educator, is the founder and inspiration for Training for Change, an organization committed to training trainers of social activists in basic facilitation and group building skills.

I asked my interviewees to describe what they understood popular education to be. While Larry Olds of the Popular Education News has collected a number of definitions that can be found on the popular education website, here is a sample of some of the definitions I received in my conversations.

These definitions and many others I heard or read contain several common characteristics. Popular education is an approach to experiential learning that roots the content of a course or workshop in the concrete struggles and concerns of ordinary people. The learning process is collaborative and participatory, meaning that learners take part in all aspects of teaching and learning, from developing the curriculum, to teaching, to analysis and evaluation to action. Moreover, popular educators tend to focus their work with groups of people who are economically poor, socially oppressed and politically marginalized from the dominant society. However, because each community and social context is unique popular education must adapt its approach to each group and context with which it is involved. The emphasis in popular education is on collective rather than individual learning, and the use of an action-reflection-action approach to learning commonly referred to as praxis. Also popular educators do not lecture, but rather use dialogue as their primary pedagogical method with the idea that all people in a learning circle are both teachers and learners. Popular educators tend to be overtly critical of the social, cultural and political status quo, and see the ultimate objective as bringing about social and political change through education. Thus, popular educators typically encourage learners to analyze their experiences and concerns in the context of wider political, social and cultural systems that influence them. Ultimately the goal of popular education is to equip and empower communities to bring about fundamental social and community change. While popular educators occasionally work with youth, most popular education occurs in groups of adults. Myles Horton (1976) once explained his focus on adults by suggesting seeking to change society means bringing about change in the attitudes and actions of adults, who are the greatest influence on younger people who will be the adults of the future.

While generally most if not all the popular educators with whom I spoke would agree with principles outlined above, there were degrees of difference that I noted as I talked with folks. Perhaps most striking were differences around a residential vs. a non-residential approach. Several organizations with which I spoke used the retreat approach promoted by Highlander. Horton believed pulling people out of their regular environment for short periods of time enabled deeper reflection and thus speeded up the learning process. Several other organizations such as Wayside Popular Education Center, Escuela Popular Nortena (EPN) and Newark Freedom School stressed the importance of a place where people could gather for a time of learning and reflection. Other organizations did not have access or the desire to have a designated place, and thus would often use community spaces wherever available in churches, community centers, schools or homes.

Another area of difference lay in the degree to which a Marxist framework was used for the analytical portion of the work. Some centers such as the Brecht Forum, openly describe themselves as a neo-Marxist organization. On the other hand, groups such as the Institute for People’s Education (IPE) and Possibilities, Inc. purposely distanced themselves from any particular political designation. Chris Spicer said the lack a clear political emphasis caused him to refer to IPE as folk education rather than popular education. Alan Furth of CCLC conceives of his work in terms of a social ecology model; social ecology “suggests that behavior is affected by multiple levels of influence including intrapersonal, interpersonal, organizational, community, and policy factors” (Williams, Perko, Usdan, Leeper, Belcher & Leaver-Dunn, 2008). Other groups, while not rejecting the Marxist framework, saw it as inadequate. For instance, the educators of EPN add a feminist critique to their analysis in their work. Even with those who have a clear political agenda, some were more public and overt in their political orientation than others.

There were also degrees of difference when it came to how popular educators understood the locus for learning. As stated above, most popular educators tend to emphasize collective over individual learning. However, certain practitioners tended to place greater emphasis on individual learning as a stepping stone to collective learning. For instance Training for Change (TFC) focuses on training individual trainers who then go back to their groups with what they learn, creating what Lakey (2010) calls a “ripple effect of learning.” In a similar vein Highlander often invites individuals from various communities that have similar struggles and concerns. They encourage these folks to share from their experience and create a collective knowledge base, that then those individual take back and share with their respective communities. On the other hand, organizations that use popular education as part of an overall social change strategy, such as Empower DC, ARISE, and the Workers Action Centre, tend to put an emphasis on the learning of the group encouraging folks to reflect on their public actions so as to come away with skills and knowledgeable transferable to the next situation. The Neighborhood Learning Center (NLC) takes this idea of collective learning a step further by seeing the community as a whole (as opposed to individual, schools or institutions in the community) as the primary locus of learning (When the Community Learns).

Over time popular educators have developed a number of games and exercises, commonly referred to as “tools” to build trust in groups and to help raise a wider social awareness of particular issues. Some groups, such as Brecht Forum, incorporate tools arising out of the work of Augusto Boal and the theater of the oppressed. Of particular interest is the use of “forum theater” in which participants create skits that describe struggles being faced by communities and then offering “spectators” to become actors by stepping into the skit to propose possible solutions. Other groups such as EPN and Cobscook Learning Center (CCLC) draw heavily on the indigenous cultures in the group for wisdom coming out a group’s history as a people. Training for Change distinguishes itself as “direct education” in large part because they have incorporate insights from learning theorists such as the role of emotions in learning and techniques such as appreciative inquiry. Overall, what impressed me was the range of tools being used and available for doing the work of popular education and the sophisticated theoretical framework exhibited by many practitioners.

Paulo Freire often objected to his pedagogical approach being referred to as a “method” because he did not see himself as offering a particular set of skills or exercises, but rather an overall philosophy of teaching and learning. In much the same way I would contend that while popular education exhibits a specific approach to education and to social change, and has developed a number of specific tools for doing their work, at its core popular education is a particular theoretical framework for supporting and encouraging social change, but in each specific context that framework takes on a unique form appropriate for a specific group of people of a particular culture in a specific community. So while David Greene began his work in Newark, Ohio by attending community meetings and city council hearings, Laura Dumond has spent a year “inserting herself in the community” as a resident and elementary school teacher. Both are seeking to listen to people and come alongside of them, but in ways unique to their situations.

The Different Expressions of Popular Education

When a philosophical perspective such as popular education gets expressed in the work of an individual or an organization, it takes on a specific shape or character. In my interviews I saw six different types of work. While these types are presented as distinct, in practice several popular educators incorporated elements from several types. However, I present these six different types as a way of illustrating the different forms popular education work is being conducted.

The first type would be folk education, which as has been noted some consider essentially different than popular education. However, the fact that Highlander, which grew out of the folk education movement, is a considered a leader and model of popular education makes the distinction between folk and popular education blurry at best. Like popular education the Danish folk school movement grew out of an experience of repression, in this case the dominance of German culture over Scandinavian education. When folk education first came to this North America, it was a way of preserving elements of Danish culture, while preparing individual for productive citizenship in their new nation (Spicer, 2010). Today folk education, most clearly preserved in the work of the Campbell Folk School in North Carolina and The Clearing in Wisconsin, tends to focus on individual growth and enhancement through learning crafts and folk arts. Some folk school centers, like Cobscook Community Learning Center (CCLC) still see themselves as a vehicle for social change at the local level. However, CCLC seeks to do this on an individual level as their mission states they seek to “sustain an educational setting within which people can cultivate understanding and enrich life through experiences in the natural surroundings, with our cultures and traditions, and through access to the arts.” (Italics mine). In centers in the folk school tradition, the motive for social change is less overt, and thus efforts tend to focus on personal development and growth.

The second type also focuses on individual development, but it is development for the expressed purpose of equipping people with knowledge skills to bring about social change. For instance on its website the Catalyst Centre describes itself as a “one-stop Pop-ed worker coop” that is “a collective of educators committed to democratic, social justice education and community development.” In that sense Catalyst Centre equips social change educators to work with their respective communities and organizations as they see fit. Training for Change specializes in “training trainers to create ripple effect in quality activist training” (from the website; emphasis original). TFC sees its niche in making sure that social activists are getting the best skills available in their work for peace and social justice. In a similar way the Popular Education Alliance was established as a network of “community educators, organizers, university educators and researchers, students and activists” (Popular Education Alliance, 2011) in the Chicago metro area who are using popular education as a primary approach to social change. They see their role as that of a “catalyst” and not as an organization doing the front line education work. What distinguishes organizations in this type is that while individuals in the organizations may be directly involved in grassroots popular education work, the organization is more of a place of equipping and encouraging practitioners in their ongoing work.

A third type of popular education tends to have focused its work with people in a clearly defined community or geographical area. For instance Highlander sees itself as “a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South,” Wayside Center has identified as serving those working for social change in Virginia and surrounding states, CCLC seeks to serve the people of Washington County, Maine, and the Colectivo Flatlander website states that its mission is to “build a stronger popular movement for social, economic and racial justice in the South and Southwest” (Italics are my emphasis). While some organizations are regionally focused as these just mentioned, others like the Newark Freedom School are focused on a particular community (in this case Newark, Ohio). While also being geographically focused on northern New Mexico, EPN further states that it is most concerned with “Latinos and Latinas” in that area and in other parts of the country, while Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action (PILA), Highlander, and Colectivo Flatlander primarily seek to serve the immigrant community. When organizations focus on particular geographic regions or cultural groups, the range of issues they may deal with changes with the needs and challenges faced by those people.  In these cases popular educators cannot afford to be single issue-oriented, but must be committed to the process of ongoing growth and community change.

A fourth type of popular education focuses its efforts in one vital area of community education and development: leadership. While both the Grassroots Leadership College (GLC) and Possibilities Inc. may contend with a variety of issues, their efforts are focused on developing leaders to work in their local neighborhoods and communities. GLC has a clear popular education approach with its motto of Everyone a Learner, Everyone a Teacher, Everyone a Leader.” However, the way GLC actualizes that motto is through The General Semester Program, a nine month structured program “which provides comprehensive leadership training to community activists” (from the website). In a similar vein, while Possibilities Inc. provides technical assistance to communities in many forms, its primary means of impact is The Possibilities Innovation Program that trains individuals to work effectively for change in their communities. What characterizes both of these programs is their commitment to active learning, as individuals in the training are also actively working on a community project while receiving their leadership training. Thus learning is relevant and applied in concrete situations. Though not as formally structured as GLC and Possibilities, CCLC and Colectivo Flatlander tend to conceive of their work as the development of indigenous community leaders.

A fifth type of popular education is being carried on through university based research centers. The Center on Democracy in a Multiracial Society (University of Illinois), the Center for Democracy and Citizenship (Augsburg University, Minneapolis), the Coady International Institute (St. Francis Xavier University, Nova Scotia), and the Center for Popular Education and Participatory Action Research (University of California, Berkeley), are all examples of this type. For the most part these centers seek to carry on the traditional academic functions of teaching and research, while linking it to vital concerns in civil society. As such they are a center of academically oriented participatory action research, and a vital training ground for people who want to link their professional concerns with public needs. Of these four only Coady is primarily a teaching center, offering diploma and certificate programs for community development professionals from the Global South. The other three tend to focus more on the research dimension, and as such as valuable source of community based research studies.

A final type sees popular education primarily as a set of tools to be used when appropriate. The organizations falling in this type tended to have a clearly explicit activist orientation. For instance, when I asked to the folks at the Workers Action Centre about popular education, they saw it as a set of exercises they sometimes used in their training, even though from my perception their work involved many aspects of popular education such as experiential learning, action-reflection, political analysis and a commitment to the oppressed. Likewise, Parisa Nourizi of Empower DC saw popular education techniques woven into their work “to improve and promote self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents in order to bring about sustained improvements in their quality of life”, while from my perspective their monthly “empowerment circles” were essentially a popular education approach to training and empowerment. For many popular educators the process of learning is essential to the actions taken, whereas with these organizations learning was secondary to the actions taken.

It is significant to note that many of the organizations regardless of type also sought to provide any number of resources to aid in the work of popular education. Two organizations that particular come to mind are IPE and Build the Wheel. Both of these organizations are almost completely devoted to being a source and network for various exercises and tools to help in the work of popular education. Many of the items on these and other sites were offered for free or by donation, and those that were for sale were offered at very reasonable prices. As one person told me, her organization struggled with whether or not to charge for the resources, but decided on simply asking for a donation because the need for money was outweighed by the desire to get information and tools out to people seeking to bring about change. Such is the attitude that I encountered throughout my interviews. So even though the way in which organizations structure and focus their work may differ, the commitment to a common cause seemed nearly universal.

Significant Themes in Popular Education

While each popular educator I interviewed and organization I researched had its unique features, there were many factors that they held in common. I have discussed many of those common features above. However, there were some themes that continued to emerge in my discussions that seem significant to discuss further. These factors are building community, providing space, the importance of dialogue, the role of the facilitator/educator, and the concept of participatory democracy.

Building Community

At all three of the workshops I attended (Highlander, TFC, & Pancho Arguelles), a strong emphasis was placed on developing a sense of community among the workshop participants. Various exercises, often called “icebreakers,” were used to help people open up and share fully in the process of the workshop. At the TFC workshop each participant was paired with a “buddy” and at different times during the workshop, buddies met to debrief and check in with each other. Early in the workshop certain ground rules were set that sought to create an atmosphere of openness to one another, risk-taking and accountability for the actions and process of the group. Pancho Arguelles even had the group form committees to take care some of the logistical concerns of the group like setting up and cleaning up, as well as monitoring the group’s energy. Since the group he led included both English and Spanish language speakers, he also brought in translators and gave all participants headsets, so that everyone could fully participate regardless of what their primary language was.

Arguelles pointed out that popular education seeks to enable people with less privilege and voice in society at large  to  be full participants in workshops. Since popular education emphasizes the importance of dialogue, building a strong sense of connection and openness among participants is central. He further stressed that it is important for persons of privilege to see themselves as allies of the oppressed, rather than leaders and primary actors, as persons of privilege incur much less personal risk than those who live on the margins of survival. Furthermore community is not developed just for its own sake, but as a means of creating political power among the people. Building trust among people builds a sense of solidarity, which gives the group power when it chooses to act against groups, companies, institutions and systems that seek to dehumanize them.

Community does not only involve those persons in a workshop or in a community group, but also those persons and groups that precede us in history. Arguelles reminded us that we “stand on the shoulders of giants” who went before us in the struggle for justice. Their insights and examples can guide, inspire and support us in our struggles. Moreover, the community includes our families, our ancestors, and our cultural symbols and icons.

Providing Space

My first interview was held with Kazembe, a member of the staff of the Brecht Forum, located in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. When I asked him what his organization did, his first response was that they “provided space for learning and dialogue.” Having seen how crowded that section of the city was, and imagining the high price of rent in that area, I quickly realized that Kazembe was speaking both literally and figuratively. Space for community groups to meet in that community were at a premium, but also the Brecht Forum saw itself as a place where divergent viewpoints could be expressed and explored. As my interviews continued in a variety of settings, this concept of “providing space” continued to surface.

As has already been noted, those popular education centers that follow the residential model of Highlander and the folk school movement place a premium on providing a physical place where social and community activists can retreat, reflect, learn, and regroup. Wayside Popular Education Center is relatively new, having only begun in July 2010, yet director Jeff Winder imagines that a major purpose of Wayside will be to provide a place where activists can come for retreat and healing. Likewise, EPN has brought together Latino women from across the country to their small retreat facility in New Mexico for the purpose of training and empowerment. In this notion of space, the space is a place to meet, to network, to plan, and to reflect. The idea is that a place set aside for that purpose is a necessary for the growth and learning that needs to occur.

However, even those organizations that had limited facilities for meetings also used the language of creating space. For instance, the Workers Action Centre has regular meetings for workers facing discrimination and abuse on their jobs in their overcrowded office area. These meetings are a mixture of training and support group. When discussing these gatherings, Karen Dick, a WAC staff member, talked about the importance of creating a “safe space” where people could share their struggles. By contrast Pancho Arguelles of Colectivo Flatlander, spoke of providing and “open space” as opposed to a “safe space.” He explained that spaces are not always safe for everyone involved in a group or a workshop, and so the popular educator should work to provide an atmosphere of trust among participants that will lead to vulnerability, sharing and risk-taking. Likewise, TFC avoids the language of “safe space” and instead in workshops seeks to create a “container” for mutually supportive learning. They see the language of safety as potentially undermining authenticity among participants and inadvertently marginalizing certain racial or cultural groups. In this sense providing space is not about giving people a place to withdraw from others, but rather creating an environment where one feels valued, trusted, and willing to take risks toward personal growth.

Maria Lugones (2006), a philosopher and popular educator with EPN, captures this notion of providing space in her discussion of what anthropologists call the limen, and what others have called a borderland. In talking about the challenges faced by groups of oppressed persons seeking to build coalitions with one another, Lugones suggests that there is the possibility of creating opportunities where oppressed persons can come together “outside structural descriptions, [where] we are neither in the presence of power nor related to each other in terms of power” (p. 76). The limen is a literal and figurative space where persons normally degraded and disregarded by dominant culture can see “particular positive inhabitations of ourselves, positivities at which we could not have arrived in the dominator’s cradle” (p. 77). In my conversation with Lugones she offered an example of the limen as the vision quest that young Native American men go through on their journey from childhood to manhood. Their time on the mountain alone is their limen. As such the limen is like a cocoon, not as a place of withdrawal, but rather a place of exploration and transformation.

In the same way when popular educators create space for people, they are offering an opportunity for those persons and groups to go through a transformational experience from feelings of powerlessness to an awareness of power, from confusion to vision, and from fear to courage. Oppressed persons and their non-oppressed allies face rejection, denial and frustration at almost every attempt to bring about positive change for social justice and equity. Creating spaces where persons can experience liminality and the possibility of profound transformation is a central component of popular education work, thereby providing the emotional and spiritual resources for persevering in the ongoing struggles to overcome oppression.

The Nature of Dialogue

A central tenet of Paulo Freire’s (2000) educational philosophy concerns the importance of dialogue over against what he called “the banking concept of education”(p. 72). Freire writes “Dialogue is the encounter between men [sic] mediated by the world, in order to name the world … If it is in speaking their word that people, by naming the world, transform it, dialogue imposes itself as the way by which they achieve significance as human beings. Dialogue is thus an existential necessity”(p. 88). In other words through dialogue people are empowered and thus come to see their potential and capacity for significant social change. Myles Horton (1985) said much the same thing when he indicated that in the process of  dialogue “You give value to [people] that they haven’t had before” (p. 272). Thus, it is not surprising that dialogue is seen as a major aspect of popular education work.

Chris Cavanaugh refers to dialogue as a midwife for understanding and action. Dialogue takes many forms. Some organizations such as WAC, Empower DC and Possibilities have weekly or monthly facilitated meetings where people come together to share stories of struggle and success. Other groups such as TFC and Highlander design workshops where dialogue is central to the entire group process. Janice Hurtig of the Prairie Group conducts community writing groups in which participants share their personal stories through writing. Almost all the popular educators I interviewed saw their work with people as an ongoing dialogical process involving learning the language and vernacular of people, storytelling, conveying respect and building trust. Most often this dialogical process was conducted through a process of intense listening and skillful asking of open-ended questions designed to help people reflect critically on their lives and circumstances.

Despite the acknowledged value of dialogue, some people noted shortcomings to the dialogical process. Maria Lugones in particular was critical of Freire’s view of dialogue. She contended that Freire’s perspective on dialogue was too simplistic, in that it assumed that understanding and meaning emerge through simple dialogue. In her work Lugones has come to see that all understanding emerges in a social and political context, and that sometimes people need to be helped to see that the meaning they take from their experiences is often distorted by their oppressive conditions or their unconscious adoption of the dominant culture’s view of their situation. Moreover, Lugones contends that Freire’s view of oppression was also simplistic in that he did not appreciate the various kinds of oppression (racism, sexism, heterosexism, patriarchy, ethnic discrimination etc.) persons can experience. While dialogue might help reveal the experience of oppression, Lugones (2006) asserts that persons need more direct assistance is communicating with one another and unpacking the different meanings words may take on because of diverse experiences or cultural background.

In his observation of many popular educators Daniel Hunter of TFC observed that some popular educators use dialogue in a somewhat manipulative way by subtly guiding persons to a position held by the educator. As a result TFC has incorporated a number of conceptual and practical safeguards into their work, in order to “follow the group in the experience” rather than manipulate the group to a predetermined end. Through a process they call “emergent design” TFC creates workshops in response to the emerging needs and dynamics in a group while staying true to the group’s learning goals. As Lakey (2010) writes the commitment to emergent design “means that [facilitators] have a chance to be much more accurate as teachers –the activities we insert can be closer matches to the unique journey the group is taking” (p. 148).

As a result of how Lakey and Hunter have seen popular education practiced, they have opted to distinguish their approach as “direct education.” Philosophically, none of the popular educators I spoke with would endorse a manipulative approach to dialogue as acceptable, and would agree with Hunter’s and Lakey’s critique. What their concerns indicate, as well as those raised by Lugones, is that effective dialogical problem-posing education, and a commitment to the empowerment of marginalized and disempowered people, means popular educators must work hard to remove barriers to understanding, while being careful not to disrespectfully impose their agenda on the group process.

Role of the Educator/Facilitator

Because I had the opportunity to participate in workshops conducted by some of the organizations I researched, I was able to experience popular education as a participant-observer. One issue that arose for me through closely related to the nature and purpose of dialogue was the role of the facilitator.

Freire (2000) contended that in any learning situation instructors and the students are both teachers and learners. Horton (1985) talked about being about being part of a circle of learners. Yet both recognized that as facilitators of the dialogical learning process they had a unique role to play. Horton described his role this way: “ I think of [myself] being in a circle of learners, and I’m one of the people in that circle. And I’m different from everyone else, too. But I’m different in a way – because first of all, because I convened them, therefore I’m different …. And my job is twofold: it’s one to be part of the circle of learners, and the other is to facilitate that learning process and help them understand they have experiences worth learning from” (p. 272). Horton believed that one of the strengths he and other facilitators brought to a group was an awareness of other struggles of people not in the group that when shared appropriately can add to the group’s overall knowledge. Thus, when I attended an introductory workshop at Highlander in 2005, the facilitators were an integral part of our group participating in the exercises and sharing their experiences like everyone else, even as they facilitated the group process. Horton did not see himself sharing as an “expert” but rather as a fellow participant, who like others in the group had insights to share from his experience. In particular his experience lay in working with other groups who were seeking to bring about change in their communities, and thus he could share from what he had seen others do. Also, over the years he developed contacts that enabled him to help learn how to do research and organize for action in a way that was effective (Horton, Kohl & Kohl, 1998).

In contrast to the Highlander  and Arguelles workshops the facilitators at a TFC workshop made clear that their role was distinct from the group, and that they were there to design, monitor, and guide the group process. Furthermore, while the Highlander and Arguelles workshops began with the group establishing its group goals, the TFC workshop learning goals were set by the facilitators. While participants were urged to create personal learning goals, when those personal goals fell outside the purview of the established goals (as was the case with me), they were superseded by the workshop goals. In terms of group process, the TFC facilitators used many of the same tools employed by other popular educators to build group cohesion and to create critical learning experiences, but the different role played by the facilitators in relation to the group was obvious to me.

The TFC approach to facilitation reflected an approach to workshop facilitation commonly found in corporate and academic settings where a more formal structure and designated set of learning objectives are assumed. By contrast the general approach espoused by popular educators has been more in line with Horton’s view of being one among a circle of learners.  Thus, many popular educators take significant time become part of the community of people who they are trying to facilitate. For instance Laura Dumond took a year of “inserting herself in the community” of Valdez, NM developing relationships and “learning the language” while teaching in an elementary school; during that time she did not attempt to do any overt popular education work. In my conversation with Alan Furth of CCLC, he continually stressed that he came at the invitation of the community and the work of CCLC was a “tool” to help bring about the change they wanted to see in their community. Likewise, when David Greene relocated from New York City to Newark, OH he began by attending city council meetings to not only learn about the issues in that Rust Belt town, but also to identify the more active community leaders.

Now both TFC and the popular educators I mention distinguish their approach to education from the traditional banking method criticized by Freire (1970). And while TFC has a more structured approach, Lakey (2010) states that facilitators must exercise the “flexibility of designing on your feet” (p. 148) when the goals and dynamics of a group require the facilitator to change course in the midst of a workshop. In part the distinction in facilitation styles may be a product of a short term, workshop involvement versus with a group versus a continuous interaction with people over a longer period of time. However, my sense is that the distinction is also a matter of teaching philosophy and personal comfort and that all popular educators fall somewhere on a spectrum between TFC’s more formal, distanced perspective and Horton’s notion that the facilitator is part of a circle of learners.

Participatory Democracy

A commitment to building a more truly democratic society was an assumed matter of faith with nearly everyone with whom I spoke. Some of the organizations studied made democracy a central tenet of their mission. For instance, PILA states its mission is “to increase immigrant civic and political activism to strengthen democracy and advance social justice.”  In its mission statement Highlander states: “We develop leadership and help create and support strong, democratic organizations that work for justice, equality and sustainability…” Catalyst Centre describes itself as “a collective of educators committed to democratic, social justice education and community development.” Finally, the Jane Addams School states its members “learn the principles of democracy they must know to become citizens” (Emphasis mine). In both formal statements such as these, as well as informal comments, it was clear that democracy was a critical outcome popular educators hope to achieve. However, the more I listened the more I wondered exactly what democracy (as they perceived it) was.

The impulse of popular education to work for democracy has its origins in John Dewey’s insistence that a major purpose of education is to prepare persons for active democratic citizenship. Dewey believed that democracy was not primarily a form of government, but rather a way in which diverse people live together cooperatively in society. School therefore needed to be a setting where students learned and practiced collaboration. At its best, the school became a vehicle for positive democratic social change (Skilbeck, 1970).Thus it is not surprising that Dewey influenced the thinking of both Freire and Horton, or that Dewey was an early contributor to the work of Highlander (Horton, 1936, p. 72).

As I listened what I realized was that for many popular educators democracy is both a means to and an end of the educational work. Katz-Fishman and Scott (2004) identify popular democracy in the principles of equality, participatory decision-making, struggle and liberation. Horton (1979) stressed that in his workshops decisions made about the content of his workshops needed to rest with the participants themselves; freedom to make decisions about their lives gave people the power, freedom and knowledge necessary to bring about change in society. The Jemez Principles for Democratic Organizing listed on the Colectivo Flatlander website identify democracy in a process characterized by inclusiveness, bottom up organizing, letting people speak for themselves, working in solidarity and mutuality, building just relationships and a commitment to self-transformation (Solis, 1997).  Coady (2011) identified the goal of educational work being the creation of environments where there is a “full and abundant life for everyone in the community” and where  individuals are able to develop their full human potential. For most of the popular educators I read and talked to democracy is something they practice in smaller settings with the goal of making society as a whole more inclusive, equitable and just for all.

Harry Boyte (2011), director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship, contends that the concept of democracy promoted by many community organizers (and by extension popular educators) is too limited in scope. He writes: “The limit of such groups from the vantage of participatory democracy is that their goals, achieving justice and developing public people, while important, do not include general democratization of society.” In other words too often concerns for democracy are localized and we have not given sufficient attention to how one group’s advocacy and experience of democracy can be generalized to a population as a whole. This tendency was illustrated in my conversations with educators and organizers in Chicago, which has been heavily influenced by what is “Alinsky-style organizing, where individual blocks or groups with competing concerns were often in conflict with one another rather than looking beyond their differences to a larger objective. Boyte advocates the development of a broader based form of democracy he equates with the populism evidence in the communal labor movement and the Civil Rights movement where coalitions were built across a broad diversity of groups and were able to exercise collective power. Boyte refers to this form of democracy “public work” indicating that democracy in this sense is “work of publics, work in public; and work for public purposes” (p. 13).

Stanley (2007) sounds a similar note in his review of the competing traditions of

democracy promoted by the neoconservative, neoliberal, and progressive movements. He argues  that progressives assume that their view of participatory democracy is the best option, but overlook the fact that people do not have access to all the necessary knowledge to make wise decisions. This lack of knowledge is largely due to the government and corporate sectors’ control of information and images used to manipulate popular understanding of reality.  Therefore, Stanley contends that the educator’s main task cannot be to teach students what to think. Rather it is to teach them to think critically in applying knowledge to real human problems. He concludes: “We have good reason to believe the only effective path to education for social transformation lies in enabling our students themselves to develop competencies for active participation in work necessary to construct a democratic social order. We can hope but never know in advance if this approach will work” (p. 386).

While many popular educators have incorporated democratic principles into their work with individuals and groups, there seems to be a deep faith that what happens in a workshop or a community meeting will somehow naturally extend to the society as a whole. As the resurgent neoconservative Tea Party movement illustrates, democracy has many faces and many perspectives, some which run quite counter to one another. Furthermore, the manipulation of the media and education by powerful interest groups makes access to reliable information increasingly difficult. What popular educators do best is provide people the means to assess and analyze the information they have, and to examine the power dynamics behind information that is being disseminated. This may be the best hope for democracy that can be given.

Logistical Issues

In my search for popular education centers, I found that the landscape is littered with programs that once did good work, but no longer are in operation. So, a significant portion of my interviews focused on the logistical issues underlying popular education work. I was interested to learn how one supported and sustained the work of popular education in the face of significant economic, political and cultural pressures. So I asked questions about funding, governance, marketing, and the measurement of success. What follows is a summary of what I learned in the process.


The financial cost of doing popular education varies widely from center to center based on a number of factors. Some programs like Brecht Forum, Highlander, and Wayside have physical properties to support and maintain. Others such as Highlander, Coady, CCLC, and Possibilities, Inc. employ several staff members who draw a full or part time salary. For some organizations, such as Empower DC and WAC, popular education is part of a more activist effort, and so the costs are folded into an overall budget. Some organizations such as Movement Matters and Grassroots Leadership College are essentially one or two person operations that operate out of homes. As has been noted above some organizations like Catalyst, TFC, and the Change Agency are coops where each person is considered to be an independent contractor. In those cases there usually is an administrator who draws a small stipend to coordinate the work of the group. So in varying degree and a variety of ways, funding the work is a challenge these popular educators have to address in some way.

Dylan Rodriguez (2007) writes: “Perhaps never before has the struggle to mount viable movements of radical social transformation in the United States been more desperate, urgent or difficult” (p. 21). Many of the people I interviewed would resonate with this statement; in fact several referred to the book from whence it came, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded (INCITE!, 2007). Because of its commitment to social change, popular education neither seeks nor is offered many of the funding sources available to many non-profit organizations.  All too often monies from government and foundation sources come with demands and expectations from the funders that place an unwanted burden or direction on the recipients of those funds. Moreover often those funders seek to protect their interest by directing recipients away from activities focused on fundamental social change. For an enterprise like popular education which is primarily about social change, this presents a major challenge when it comes to funding (Rodriguez, 2007; Heaney, 1992b)

The vast majority of the organizations I reviewed receive a majority of their funding from individual donations. Like other non-profit organizations popular education centers typically use mailing lists and website donation portals as a major means of gathering support. Some centers such as the Brecht Forum ask participants to become subscribers which allowed them free entrance to certain events. WAC and ARISE developed a membership approach whereby individuals contribute a small amount (in the case of ARISE it was $30 per year) as an expression of commitment to the organization. An approach popularized by Highlander and used by other centers is the house party, whereby people connected to the center friends together for an event that becomes a combination of socializing, information sharing, and fundraising. Some organizations like Possibilities, Inc. have a wide enough donor base that they are able to hold an annual fundraising banquet that both highlights the work of the organization and raises significant monies. In the vast majority of cases the donors tend to be people who have participated in workshops or have been directly influenced by the work of the center. Smith (2007) contends that this focus on one’s constituents is the wave of the future for non-profit organizations interested in radical social change.

Most of the organizations I reviewed got little to no funding from government sources or foundations. Government funding tends to be focused on short term, measurable results that often did not fit the longer term social change vision of many organizations.  Similarly most the people I spoke with have found that foundations are not interested in educational work, or they have constraints put on the funding made foundation funding too restrictive. There are a few regional foundations that have tried to fill this gap by specifically targeting social justice work. For instance, the Headwaters Foundation in Minnesota states its mission is to be “a catalyst for social, racial, economic and environmental justice, and the Bread and Roses Foundation in Philadelphia supports “change not charity” and “remains committed to providing technical and financial resources to the voices of progressive activism.” Unfortunately, these justice-oriented foundations tend to be few in number, and limited in funds. Furthermore, major foundations such as Soros, Ford, and Mellon which seem to support progressive political efforts often draw the line short of activities that seek to fundamental change the current structure of North American society (Rodriguez, 2007).

Despite the general tendency to avoid government and foundation-based funding, there were some notable exceptions to this pattern. Possibilities, Inc., The Grassroots Leadership College and the Neighborhood Learning Center received funding from their local city governments. CCLC received money from state government sources and local foundations. In contrast to so many other groups that received money from neither foundations or governments, I found this occurrence striking. In part this may have been due to their focus on neighborhood capacity building, and in the case of NLC, youth.  They all seemed to have a history of good relationships with local politicians, who promoted the work. Finally, they seemed to come from communities that a long history of grass roots activism and civic participation.

A unique approach taken by was to support popular education work through the development of a profit-making business. Located in an area that used to boast of a booming fishing industry, CCLC in conjunction with a local entrepreneur has started the Cobscook Bay Company LLC, which makes seafood pies for distribution throughout Maine and upper New England. Started in 2010 the company currently provides ten local jobs and is expected to begin turning a profit in 2012. If this approach works, it may provide an alternative model which not only serves as an economic stimulus, but also provides an income for future community work.

Another area of exception was in Canada. According to Chris Cavanaugh, until 1994 the Canadian government generally supported social justice work. However, according to Cavanaugh in that year “neoliberalism hit Canada” and almost overnight there was a significant withdrawal of funds available for social justice work. Over half of community action centers were forced to close, and church denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church and United Church of Canada significantly cut back their funding, as a conservative political shift took place in Canada. Nonetheless, two of three Canadian centers (WAC & Coady Institute) I interviewed still received some funding, but both indicated that funding was on the decrease. Linda Dick of WAC said that her agency receives some funding from government support, but that because of the history of government support, the private foundation community in in Canada is much less developed than in the United States, and so WAC is actively developing new sources of revenue. Likewise Coady currently receives 42% of its funding from the Canadian International Development Agency, but according to staff member Olga Gladkikh current shifts in the political orientation of the government leadership may lead to significant decreases in development-oriented foreign aid, which would force Coady to seek alternative sources of funding.

In addition to individual donations, and foundation and government funding, the other source of income for many centers are fees for service.  A number of the programs I visited offer workshops for which there is a designated fee.  However, in their desire to reach persons who might not otherwise be able to afford the full fee, many programs have a sliding scale workshop fee structure. The Catalyst Centre has a “pay what you can” policy, and suggests that if an individual is paying out of their own funds, they pay $0-75 for a workshop, whereas if they are coming from an agency that can support them, they pat $75-150 per workshop. TFC has developed a sliding scale based on income. So for instance , a workshop where the full fee is $375 would be the full price for someone with an annual income over $55,000, where as a person earning less than $15,000 is only asked to pay $150. Both Catalyst and TFC observe the honor code, and have been able to cover their costs.

The other form of fee-for-service was through training contracts with organizations. Chris Haiman, co-director of Movement Matters does professional development workshops, executive coaching, and organizational consulting with local non-profit organizations. Often he will consult with these organizations as they are seeking foundation grants, and work to get himself “written into the grant.” Likewise, the members of Catalyst Centre, TFC, the Grassroots Leadership College and the Change Agency offer specified trainings to organizations for a contracted fee. In some cases the contracts are done with the organization, and sometimes with the individual, and as Pru Gell of Change Agency admitted sometimes the line between when a contract is organizational and when it is individual is fuzzy. However, most organizations handle this dilemma by considering all their educators as independent contractors.

The centers based in universities face a unique challenge when it comes to funding in that often they are subject to political pressures within the university, as well in the community at large.  For instance, when I spoke with Jorge Chapa, the director of the Center on Democracy in a Multicultural Society (CDMS) at the University of Illinois, he was in the process of shutting down the center after ten years of operation in large part because the university administrators instrumental in establishing the center were no longer at the university. Furthermore, state government funding for universities were in the process of being reduced so that even with a “champion” the center could be deemed expendable in relationship to other activities. Most university centers, if they are able to survive do so based on foundation and corporate funding usually targeted for specific aspects of their program. For instance, Coady Institute receives funding from the Master Card Corporation specifically for its Microfinance and Livelihoods in Markets certificate programs.

What impressed me the most was the financial sacrifice most popular educators make in order to do this important work. Most did not draw their primary income from popular education, but from other jobs such as consultants, teachers, professors or retirement pensions. In those cases where the popular education was the major source of income, their incomes were modest to meager. In some cases the sacrifice was substantial. For instance, the associates of TFC all pledge to tithe 15% of what they earn back to the organization. In order to purchase land for the Wayside Center, Jeff Winder spoke of a friend and former popular educator who sold her home, purchased the land for the center and loaned another $200,000 for startup costs. In a similar vein the four members of EPN save money throughout the year, which they then use to provide scholarships for low income Latinas from across the country to come to their center for workshops in New Mexico. If one’s checkbook and savings account ledgers are an indication of one’s priorities, it is clear that many popular educators truly put their money (or lack of money) where there commitments lie.


Any organization that receives non-profit, tax-exempt status must have a designated board of trustees in order to receive tax-free donations. For some organizations this was reason enough to have a governing board. However, many of the organizations had boards more for advisory and work purposes than simply the government required fiduciary role.

The nature and work of the boards varied in terms of membership and roles. Several organizations like Wayside, WAC, CCLC, and GLC had small advisory boards made up of people who were available to provide the staff direction on the work of the center. Some of the larger organizations such as Possibilities, Inc. and Coady Institute included people with philanthropic or development expertise on their board. In some cases organizations such as Catalyst, the Change Agency and TFC operate more as “communities of practice” where the workers and the board members are one and the same. Some organizations such as Movement Matters  and EPN were so small and loosely organized that they had chosen not to have a board at this time. In some cases such as the university centers such as CDMS and Coady there is an advisory board, but the main  governance comes  from the board of the university, as the center is part of a much larger system.

While in many ways the governing structures of these organizations were similar to the systems used by numerous other non-profit organizations, what stood out to me in most cases, was the fact the boards, be they advisory or otherwise, were comprised of people who were close to the work. Several of the people I spoke with stressed the importance that their board members be intimately aware of the kind of work that was being done. To help in this several organizations made sure that at least some of the board members had been direct recipients of the services offered by the organizations. Others populated their board with allies who shared the commitment to social change through education. I was struck by how carefully these organizations sought to get board members who shared the vision of the organization and who in some way were workers as well as board members.

Measuring Success

Working with people who are often discouraged and defeated, while seeking to spark movement for social change through education, can be difficult if not depressing. Neither people nor societies change without struggle, and when change is achieved, that change is often compromised or partial relative to the desired goal. Moreover as Horton (1989) wrote: “Growth is painful. It’s painful for the seed to break out of the ground and its painful for the person to grow. And people have to be introduced to pain of growth, and not shy away from it” (p. 63). Education for change is asking people to go on a difficult, if not painful journey. So I was curious what keeps these popular educators going. What motivates them to continue in the work? How do they measure success? What metrics do they use to determine if they were having the desired effect on people and their communities?

For many people a key factor is the change in the lives and outlook of individuals, particularly in terms of their self-esteem and self-efficacy. Laura Dumond of EPN looks for “small waves” of change in people’s lives: a greater interest in one’s culture and family, decisions to pursue further education,  and small acts of resistance to oppression. David Greene sees success not only measured in whether a group’s action achieves its desired result, but also by the degree to which people are strengthened personally and the degree to which they have developed their leadership, organizing and reflection skills. Even if an action is not “successful people can grow in awareness and personal confidence. Linda Dick of WAC takes satisfaction in seeing immigrant workers “busting myths” that exploited workers are afraid to speak out against injustice.

For still others, it is the process of staying committed to the ongoing process of education and resistance. Maria Lugones, sees her stance primarily in terms of political resistance, and so for her success is measured largely in staying true to her essential political and cultural commitments. In a similar way, Jeff Winder, as the director of the newly formed Wayside Center measures his success in terms of staying true to the organization’s founding vision. TFC and GLC have evaluations of all their training sessions and are continually looking for ways to improve their training process.

For others, success is measured in the number of people an organization touches in a given period of time. For instance, Pru Gell of  The Change Agency marvels that their website averages 5000 hits a year, and that they occasionally hear back from people all over the world who have accessed their resources. Likewise Coady advertises on their website that has over 5000 alumni partners around the world. Other organizations keep track of those who have gone through their programs as a way of promoting the extent of their organization’s reach.

Another measure of success are the stories people tell after a training or action is over. Amy Mondoloch of GLC collects stories of people who have gone through their program and features the community work they are doing. Similarly, Possibilities, Inc. also features stories of people who have gone through their leadership training on their organizational website. Janice Hurtig, who runs community writing groups, publishes the stories of her participants in a journal called The Journal of Ordinary Thought, which is widely distributed.

Beyond these observable ways of measuring success, David Haiman points out that there is an intuitive side to the work of popular education. While he looks to many of the indicators discussed above, he also asks himself questions such as: How are the relationships in the group going? Can we envision the long term effects of our work? Are we improving our process that can eventually lead to better results? For Haiman one of the keys to successful educational work is the commitment to ongoing reflection such as this. My sense in talking with these folks, that Haiman was not alone in his commitment to ongoing reflection and personal growth.

Concluding thoughts

I am grateful for all the people who took time to talk with me about their work as popular educators. Space does not allow me to tell the many stories and fully illustrate the diversity that exists in the popular education movement. When I began this project I had little idea as to how rich the experience would be for me personally, and thus it is difficult for me to summarize all that I learned in the process.

I conclude this review with these general remarks about popular education and popular educators. Popular education represents a network of committed academics and community activists who are working sacrificially for progressive social change in their communities, nations, and the world at large. They represent only a fraction of worldwide movement  that is more evident in parts of Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America. They are motivated by an educational philosophy that values the experiences and inherent wisdom of ordinary people, and believes that people can bring about equitable social change once they are organized and given tools to analyze their social, political and economic contexts. Popular education also promotes a particular approach to learning and a set of techniques, exercises and tools for helping people tap into their personal and indigenous knowledge.

Moreover, as Chris Cavanaugh says, popular education is a movement for social change that is often unrecognized, underfunded and undervalued.  By design popular educators seek to “work themselves out of job” so that when they are successful, people no longer need them. Because they work for social change they often find it difficult to fund their work. While Heaney (1992a) laments that the field of adult education has in many ways strayed from its original focus on progressive social change, he nonetheless finds hope that this commitment “lingers still in the work of grass-roots popular educators and organizers” (p. 51).  I share both Heaney’s lament and his hope as a result of the many conversations I was privileged to have. Popular education is a movement with which I am proud to be associated, and to which I hopefully can grow contribute in the years ahead.

Interviews Conducted




Organization Web Site

Pancho Arguelles

Colectivo Flatlander

Kyle, TX

Chris Cavanaugh, Deborah Konecny

Catalyst Centre

Toronto, ON – Canada

Jorge Chapa

Center for Democracy in a Multiracial Society (CDMS)

University of Illinois, Champaign- Urbana, IL

Shannon Dennis

Possibilities, Inc

Oklahoma City, OK

Karen Dick, Milan Nadarajah, Deena Ladd


Workers Action Centre

Toronto, ON – Canada

Laura Dumond

La Escuela Popular Nortena (EPN)

Valdez, NM

 Article: /article.php3?id_article=322

Alan Furth

Cobscook Learning Center (CCLC)

Lubec, ME

Pru Gell

The Change Agency


Olga Gladkikh

Coady International Institute

St Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, NS - Canada


Davide Greene

Newark Freedom School

Newark, OH


David Haiman

Movement Matters

Washington, DC


Daniel Hunter

Training for Change (TFC)

Philadelphia, PA


Janise Hurtig

AREA Chicago/Popular Education Alliance (PEA)



Chicago, IL


Alan Kader


Chicago, IL


Brecht Forum

New York City


Maria Lugones

La Escuela Popular Nortena (EPN)


Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Philosophy, Interpretation & Culture

SUNY – Binghamton,Binghamton, NY


Valdez, NM


Amy Mondloch

Grassroots Leadership College (GLC)

Madison, WI

Parisa Nourizi

Empower DC

Washington, DC

Larry Olds

Popular Education News

Minneapolis, MN

Erik Skold

Neighborhood Learning Project (NLP)

St. Paul, MN


Chris Spicer

Institute for People’s Education (IPE)

Amherst, MA

Jeff Winder

Wayside Center for Popular Education

Faber, VA

Additional Websites Consulted




Center for Democracy & Citizenship

Augsburg College, Minneapolis, MN             

Center for Participatory Change

Asheville, NC

Center for Popular Education & Participatory Action Research

University of California – Berkley, Berkley, CA

Center for Popular Research, Education & Policy, Inc. (C-PREP)

Rochester, NY

Freire Institute

Great Britain

Freire Project


Highlander Research & Education Center

New Market, TN /about.asp

Jane Addams School ofr Democracy

St. Paul, MN /main_home.html

Project South

Atlanta, GA

Jefferson Center for Education & Research

Portland, OR

Kotare Trust

New Zealand

Partners for Transformation


Partnership for Immigrant Leadership and Action (PILA)

San Francisco, CA

Ruckus Society

Oakland, CA

The Strategy Center

Los Angeles, CA

Trapese Popular Education Collective

Great Britain


Social Justice Foundations consulted




Bread and Roses Community Fund

Philadelphia, PA

Headwaters Foundation for Justic e

Minneapolis, MN


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Coady International Institute (2011). The Antigonish movement. St. Francis Xavier University. Retrieved 6/30/11 at

Coady, M.M. (1939). Masters of their own destiny: The story of the Antigonish movement of adult education through economic cooperation. New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed: 30th anniversary edition. New York: Continuum

Freire, P & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and world. Wesport, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

Heaney, T. (1992a). When adult education stood for democracy. Adult Education Quarterly 43 (1). 51-59.

Heaney, T. (1992b). Resources for popular education. Adult Learning 3 (5), 10-11

Horton, M. (1936/2003). The Highlander Folk School. The Myles Horton reader: Education for social change (Ed. Dale Jacobs). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 72-76.

Horton, M. (1976/2003) Highlander. The Myles Horton reader: Education for social change (Ed. Dale Jacobs). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 11-19.

Horton, M. (1979/2003). What is liberating education. The Myles Horton reader: Education for social change (Ed. Dale Jacobs). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 184-189.

Horton, M. (1985/2003). A circle of learners. The Myles Horton reader: Education for social change (Ed. Dale Jacobs). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 272-278.

Horton, M. (1989/2003). A different kettle of fish. The Myles Horton reader: Education for social change (Ed. Dale Jacobs). Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 59-66.

Horton, M., Kohl, H. & Kohl, J. (1998). The long haul: An autobiography. New York: Teachers College Press.

INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence (2007). The revolution will not be funded:Beyond the non-profit industrial complex. Cambridge, MA: South End Press.

Katz-Fishman, W. & Scott, J. (2004). Popular democracy: A vision for our movement. It ain’t just about a vote: Defining democracy for movement building. Atlanta: Project South.

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Longo, N. (2007). Why community matters: Connecting education with civic life. Albany,NY: State University of New York Press.

Lugones, M. (2006). On complex communication. Hypatia 21 (3), 75-85.

Popular Education Alliance (2011) Introducing: Popular Education Alliance. Area Chicago. Retrieved August 9, 2011 at

Rodriguez, D. (2007). The political logic of the non-profit industrial complex. The revolution will not be funded: Beyond the non-profit industrial complex. (Edited by INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence). Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 21-40

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Solis, R. (1997). Jemez principles for democratic organizing. Southwest Organizing Project. Retrieved 6/23/11 at

Spicer, C., Ed. (2010). Lifted by the heart: Writings from Option – Journal of the Folk Education Association of America. Nyack, NY: Circumstantial Productions

Stanley, W. (2007). Critical pedagogy: Democratic realism, neoliberalism, conservatism and the tragic sense of education. Critical pedagogy: Where are we now? (Eds. McLaren, P. & Kincheloe, J.). New York: Peter Lang, 371-389.

Williams, R., Perko, M. Usdan, S. Leeper, J., Belcher, D., & Leaver-Dunn, D. (2008). Influences on alcohol use among NCAA athletes: Application of the social ecology model. American Journal of Health Studies 23(3), 151-159.


[1] A list of the individuals interviewed and the organizational websites reviewed can be found at the end of this article.

About the Author

Drick Boyd is Associate Professor of Urban and Interdisciplinary Studies at Eastern University in Philadelphia, PA, as well as popular educator working with community groups on leadership training, educational justice and gun violence prevention issues. This paper was completed as part of a sabbatical he took in the Winter/Spring of 2011