It is often said that popular education is not about the participatory techniques that we use (or not just about the techniques), it is about the content. One argument is that techniques are just tools that can be used for good or bad purposes, to liberate or to enslave. I remember Neville Alexander making this point in Education and the Struggle for National Liberation in Southern Africa. He writes that after Freire was exiled from Brazil the military junta used some of his techniques to conduct pro-government literacy education.
Reading Ranciere on Jacotot (Ignorant Schoolmaster) I have been thinking about the idea of constraint, of force, or the subordination of one will to another without sacrificing the equality of intelligences. ("Entre l'eleve et le maitre s'etait etabli un pur rapport de volonte a volunte..."p25) The student's will is subjected to that of the teacher, but the intelligences of the teacher and student are separate and equal.
I made this one up for the English for Activists class I teach. The first class of the new season came one month after the 3/11/2011 great Tohoku Earthquake and resulting nuclear disaster, on the day the disaster was rated a Level 7 -- the highest level of nuclear accident on a global scale.
I wanted a way for the group to share about this enormous disaster that we all confront and all share. Inspired by the "Head, Heart, and Hands" activity in Educating for a Change, I drew six icons on index cards: a heart, an ear, an eye, a hand, a mouth, and a question mark. (I made three sets.)
There are many ways to form small groups for learning activities. One tool that I like for its flexibility is to give each participant a playing card, then form groups on the basis of poker hands (or some other game): Four of a kind, Flush, Straight, Straight Flush, etc.
You can have face cards (or any other set) be observers or note-takers. You can have jokers be facilitators. You can form groups of any size.
This role play activity is based on setsubun, the Japanese festival of the coming spring, held in early February. One feature of setsubun is the mamemaki, ritual bean-throwing to chase away demons. I learned from a local shinto priest that the practice is based on the peasants' struggle to survive the winter. The demons represent hunger, death, disease and the beans -- the most nutritious food available at that time of year -- represent health and potential growth, the power to survive until spring.
Idea for a role play/improv activity:
Have people think of the most disagreable or objectionable person they know -- it has to be someone they can visualize, someone who they have seen.
Give people time to get ready (a few minutes).
Joker says "go!" and everyone walks around playing the role of the objectionable person they chose.
OR, taking turns, the objectionable person is interviewed by the group (or one or two members).
OR, two objectionable people meet and/or discuss a given topic.
A warm-up activity that raises (!) the question of power, what/who is powerful and what is not. Should be done quickly, but may lead to discussion that deserves time. This could be a good warm-up for a fuller discussion/analysis using, for example, the power line activity.
- Group sitting in chairs, warn them that they need to ready to stand up quickly.
- Joker starts by naming something s/he thinks is clearly powerful -- for example, "CEO" -- and pointing to the next (or another) person.
How to make it easier for people to visualize the course content and then suggest improvements? How to stimulate thinking by making abstractions physical?
Get a dozen cardboard boxes (or other 3-dimensional objects) of different sizes, label each so that it represents a different aspect of the course, for example one box could be tagged: "Writing journal entries on the course website" or "meeting with union activist" or "watching film Human Resources" or "student participation"...
After a long day I thought, "students are harder than Allah, you have to take two steps towards them to get them to take one step towards you."
On a related note, sitting in a contentious meeting with my academic higher-ups I finally really got what Elijah Mohammed was talking about when he showed Malcolm the glass of water with ink in it: "if you offer only dirty water, people will drink it because they are thirsty. If you offer the choice between dirty water and clean, they will choose the clean water."
A simple way to help people tell a story by providing prompts that keep the story moving and demand richer description and reflection.
Sitting in a circle, participants take turns telling a story with the facilitator (or as Boal says, the Joker) providing the links:
Participant 1: "My friend called me this morning and told me she was going to quit school..."
Participant 2: "...she needs to make money and she feels like school has no meaning."