Youth Engagement in Popular Education

SoundOut Summer Camp Participants

Creating spaces for youth engagement in popular education can support dynamic, powerful and just opportunities for social justice, youth empowerment and community engagement. Popular education is a way of facilitating learning that moves youth from being recipients towards becoming fully equal partners. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire taught that this approach can build learners’ beliefs they can change the world, by engaging them in the world instead of separating them from it. It can also integrate youth throughout communities by positioning them as co-learners, co-leaders and full members of society.

“This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization — the people’s historical vocation. The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed.” — Paulo Freire

How to Foster Youth Engagement in Popular Education

Youth-Led Programs — Supporting youth-led action moves popular education beyond traditional classroom learning towards interactive, engaging and hands-on social change. Youth design, develop and facilitate programming, including lesson plans, activities and projects, and more. This generative process builds knowledge and ideas while supporting the individual strength, self-esteem, and the overall capacities of youth, and it challenges assumptions about what youth can and cannot do.

Youth-Led Learning — Facilitating learning for themselves, their peers, younger people and adults allows young people to experience motivation, self-empowerment, hope and ability by positioning them in positions of capability while co-learning from others. Strengthening and challenging their knowledge, youth facilitators can grow the abilities of others in unique ways, too.

Youth Learning with Adults — Engaging youth and adults as co-learners through popular education can redefine their expectations of each other while fostering safe, supportive learning environments to grow and expand their knowledge, ideas and abilities. Providing access to each other as comrades in learning can foster healthy interactions between youth and adults, challenge negative stereotypes, improve intergenerational relations, and redefine social norms that negatively affect both youth and adults.

Needs for Youth Engagement in Popular Education

Education — Comprehensive training on popular education should teach youth about the ability, capability and power inherent in co-learning, co-teaching and cooperative education. Youth should learn about the role of the facilitator (versus a teacher, trainer, leader, etc.) by experiencing group animation and motivation; staying focused on learning during a popular education activity; ensuring all the voices within a group are heard; seeking consensus, and; offering supportive and helpful feedback.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to facilitate popular education. By actively employing popular education strategies, they can experience the humility and learning needed to become effective community advocates; inspire people to change the world, and; have real fun!

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth through popular education. Transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement in popular education can allow young people and adults to work together to transform communities in powerful, positive ways.

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how the Freechild Institute can support youth+ social change through youth as mediators in your community or organization, contact us.

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