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Grassroots Education

The Why

For many years already, I have recognized that I’m a grassroots educator and organizer. But for most of those years I did not recognize something fundamentally political that is and always has been part of the work of popular educators like me–from Freedom Schools, to Chautauqua, to Danish Folk Schools.

This year permanently rid me of that oversight. How could I not see, given the events that rocked the world in 2016, the vital importance of this work in the bigger context, which is really about helping citizens realize, through their collective curiosity, their shared struggles and hopes, and their ability to take action together.

It finally became clear to me what is obvious to many of the historical figures I’ve been learning from this whole time, from Septima Clark to John Dewey: education is not (only) about learning; it is the way constantly build and rebuild, each generation, our connection to one another in community, and even the very foundation of our democracy.

This was the same reason Myles Horton founded the Highlander School (and the same reason why Thomas Jefferson founded my university, the University of Virginia).

Guiding Questions

  1. How might I focus my skills for grassroots education and facilitator more explicitly on the goal of helping cultivate curiosity, agency, and imagination for policy change at the grassroots, through small, self-organized groups for learning and political action?
  2. How might I inspire more citizens to become more curious about and well-informed about larger political and economic systems that shape their lives—including local and federal laws, institutions, and corporations—and to understand that they have a right to shape those systems?

The How

I have some very simple new projects to explore this question more this year, but more importantly than what projects I’ll work on, my investigation and work to exercise this part of my self will start with the issues that are weighing heaviest on my own heart at the moment.

In finding ways to investigate these more with others in my own community–to build shared knowledge and power and the possibility of action–my projects and learning will naturally take shape. The two issues I already know I want to explore more deepy this year are gun violence and the housing affordability crisis of the Bay Area.

What is not new about this is the form of structures I am working with (I’ll be bringing back my old project, Citizen Circles, as well as using some good old standard of popular education tools, like Participatory Action Research). But what is new is the explicit recognition–in myself, and outwardly–that this work is about rebuilding the heart of our democracy, not just learning for the sake of learning.

In the Fall of 2016, I’ll start by:

  • Organizing a Radical Politics Study & Action Group with friends Jesse & Sarah, Jenn Warburg, Tania & Aaron, etc.
  • Organizing a new Citizen Circle on gun violence and investigate local groups to get involved with (such as Moms Demand Action)
  • Offering my support in any way possible local popular educators doing this work already, such as Raj Jayadev and the amazing Albert Cobarrubias Justice Project.
  • Supporting my creative partner and Open Master’s co-founder Sarah Bradley on her learning plan (very related!)
  • Being intention about what I read, especially on my commute, such as:
  • And curating my Facebook feed a bit more to intentionally follow specific organizations I want to follow more closely, such as:
  • Reconnecting with some old mentors, who I met before starting Citizen Circles seven years ago, particularly:
    • Cecile Andrews
    • Sturla Bjerkaker
    • Mark Brophy
    • The Swedish Cooperative Centre
    • Chautauqua Institute
    • Montgomery County Public School’s Study Circles
    • Community Tool Box

Where is this heading?

I don’t really know. One possibility is that it leading me towards getting more involved with specific movements or organizations doing this work already, such as:

Another possibility is that my own projects in this area start having some real momentum of their own, such as my work around the Universal Basic Income movement, or Citizen Circles.

One dream would be to partner with a really aligned organization, such as the Solutions Journalism Network or Everyday Democracy, to help Citizen Circle grow in a bigger way, with more support.

The Who

Patron Saints

SeptimaClark Myles Horton Ella Jo Baker
Left to right: Septima Clark, Myles Horton, Ella Jo Baker.

Learning Buddies and Champions

Sarah Bradley Adam Horowitz David Drumming Stephanie Ryan Johnstone Headshot
Left to right: Sarah Bradley, Adam Horowitz, David Bronstein, Stephanie Ryan Johnstone.

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