In Part 2 of our conversation Vialla Hartfield-Mendez and Doris Sommer takes us further on some wonderful creative tangents on generative learning and democratic education. They discuss the (re)use of art as a vehicle for getting “unstuck” in imagining just societies, and the practice of Augusto Boal’s theatre of the oppressed as a way of embodied learning. The pronouncement of the death of the humanities is not only premature, it has served as an impetus for rethinking students and teachers as cultural agents for creative change. The changes to classrooms, through the examples they discuss from k-12 to higher education, are inspiring.
Pre-Texts is an expansion of critical pedagogy using the arts to create democratic discourses and connections between university and the world for social transformation. Pre-Texts is part of Cultural Agents (culturalagents.org) at Harvard University: “arts and humanities in civic engagement.” Pre-Texts is an approach to the humanities and to social change, grounded in student-centered learning. The handmade books from recycled material (Cartonera) in Latin America, and the art activism of Antonus Mockus, former mayor of Bogata, are two example of art in the world.
Doris Sommer, Ira and Jewell Williams jr. Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures and of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and Vialla Harfield-Mendez, in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Professor of Pedagogy at Emory University, joined me in a conversation on May 24, 2017 at Emory. They talk about Pre-Texts origins and evolution, the train-the-trainer pedagogy sessions, and the re-imagining of the humanities in the world. The tangents they follow provide examples of new ways of defining leadership, learning, and innovative change practices.
The foundational sources by Doris Sommer include her edited book, Cultural Agency in the Americas (Duke University Press, 2006) and The Work of Art in the World: Civic Agency and Public Humanities (Duke, 2014).
The Highlander Research and Education Center has been at the heart of popular education and social change. In 1932 Myles and Zilphia Horton, Don West, and others founded the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee as a place of cultural memory and organizing, participatory action research, and racial, economic, and environmental justice. Highlander has been causing beautiful trouble since its training of union leaders in the 1930s on, in its first interracial workshop in 1944, through its involvement in the civil rights movement and citizenship schools in the 1950s and 60s, and its support of movement building for groups working for justice and human rights in southern Appalachia and beyond.
In this podcast the two new co-executive directors of Highlander share their visions for the Center. They take us through the basics of popular education and the importance of communities defining “what is and what ought to be” in their local situations, while building coalitions with other resistance movements.
Ira Shor is Professor of English at the College of Staten Island and Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at The Graduate Center, CUNY. He is a leading theorist and practitioner in critical literacy and pedagogy and democratic classroom spaces. Shor is the author of numerous books, including: Critical Teaching and Everyday Life (1980), Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change (1992), When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy (1996), and a 1987 “talking book” with Paulo Freire at The Highlander Research Center, A Pedagogy of Liberation: Dialogues on Transforming Education. In our conversation on March 13, 2017 Shor offered his definition of critical pedagogy and his critique of mainstream practices in higher education, along with insights into risk-taking and creating just and democratic spaces in the classroom.
“We have been allowed to know only one definition of rigor, the authoritarian, traditional one, which mechanically structures education, and discourages us from the responsibility of recreating ourselves in society.” (A Pedagogy for Liberation, p. 77)
“Fear comes from the dream you have about the society you want to make and to unmake through teaching and other politics.” (A Pedagogy for Liberation, p. 56)