Freechild Project youth with picket signs in Seattle

Activist Learning

Activist Learning is an intentional strategy for creating knowledge characterized by taking action to realize just relationships that transform unequal power structures in our personal, social, political, environmental, spiritual, and economic lives.

This is accomplished by linking critical reflection to activism with intentional opportunities to connect the action to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the creation and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge.


 

What is Activist Learning?

Activist Learning can be a youth-only, actively encouraging self-direction and self-education through community activism. Activist Learning with young people can also happen in partnership with adult allies, although in this situation the emphasis should always be on youth-led action, with opportunities for adult-shared learning facilitation optional.

Why Activist Learning?

  • Activist Learning can challenge ideas that educators can deposit knowledge into the empty minds of students by engaging co-learners as the co-creators of knowledge.
  • Activist Learning can engage young people and educators as co-facilitators of learning, encouraging young people to become knowledge creators and adults to become allies.
  • Activist Learning can empower activist/learners to articulate themselves in a way that is relevant to their lives and their roles as agents of change.
  • Activist Learning can move activist/learners from acts of charity and sympathy towards solidarity and allyship.

Activist Learning can allow activist/learners to…

  • Prioritize ethics and a work towards social justice;
  • Challenge the ways schools perpetuate power structures in our society;
  • Support teachers in reflecting on their complicity in this perpetuation;
  • Show students that knowledge is socially constructed – and is not the ‘truth’;
  • Assist students in deconstructing knowledge to see how and why it is that way and whose purposes it serves, teaching them to “read the world differently” and “resist the abuse of power and privilege” that abounds (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 49);
  • “Create new forms of knowledge through … breaking down disciplinary boundaries and creating new spaces where knowledge can be produced” (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 50)

 

Discover our Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet at https://freechild.org/yaptips/
Discover our Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet!

 


 

Important Ideas

  • Activist Learning — A community learning approach characterized by people taking action to realize a society based on just relationships by seeking to transform unequal power structures in our personal, social, political and economic lives.
  • Adult Ally — Adults in unity or connection with young people in personal relationships, as in friendship or partnership.
  • Collective — Flat organizational structure where the all members of a group are responsible for or involved in making all decisions.  There are no ranks or structures that make one person more powerful than another
  • Community Learning — A knowledge-creating practice in which traditional student-teacher roles are eliminated; co-learners are simultaneously encouraged to facilitate and receive knowledge.
  • Critical Reflection — Thinking about what we are thinking and doing, and then acting on what we have thought about; A circle of learning that promotes continuous action for social justice.
  • Praxis — Bringing together critical reflection and concrete action with/in a community in order to transform it.
  • Social Justice — The practice of putting democracy into daily practice with regard for the social conditions within a community.  Often associated with, but not limited to, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, poverty, and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
  • Solidarity — A union of interests, purposes, or empathies between people; a fellowship of responsibilities and interests.

 


Elements of Activist Learning

Activist Learning doesn’t just happen. There are critical elements that make Activist Learning the powerful, purposeful tool it is. Here are some of them:

  • Activist Learning develops communities as places that promote radical democracy, where diverse, consensus-based, non-hierarchical and non-discriminatory learning takes place.
  • Activist Learning fosters critical analysis of institutions and social structures, takes responsive action to promote justice and equity, teaches the history of social movements.
  • Activist Learning encourages learning to cross disciplines, issues, cultures and communities in order to foster knowledge creation, challenge and exploration.
  • Activist Learning honors and accentuates life-long learning that engages learners through community-based, innovative and effective pedagogy.
  • Activist Learning uses technology and media as liberating tools that support community needs.

Activist Learning in Schools

Following are a few suggestions for integrating Activist Learning in schools:

  • Organize a class project with all of the elements of Activist Learning.
  • Students can research news stories about social injustice by collecting and analyzing news clippings or Internet printouts that portray unjust sentiments, statements, or actions in their area.
  • Students can collect accounts of protective and supportive acts toward people of color, low-income people, differently-abled people, environmentally sensitive areas, etc.
  • Create a class mission statement about responding to one’s fellow citizens in a productive way. This can be an opportunity to brainstorm and model consensus-building.
  • Assign an essay comparing contemporary events to analogous events in history.
  • Dedicate an hour every week or month for students to locate and read publications written for largely minority audiences (e.g., Asian Week, Hispanic Review, Black Enterprise, Indian Country Today).
  • Work with interested students to form a Student Civil Rights Team in your school. Student Civil Rights Teams work in schools or other settings to teach their peers about prejudice, discrimination, hate crimes, and protecting victims or potential victims.

Activist Learning in Communities

YOUR voice is YOUR power!  You’re an activist, and you know you’re learning!  Around the world people are learning through activism and grabbing hold of learning and owning what they know.

 And by the way – you probably aren’t already doing this. Activist Learning requires several important elements, and most groups don’t have them all.  But you can, and that’s why we offer these examples.

Young people always learn through activism.  By working with friends and partnering with adult allies, young people are developing powerful, effective Activist Learning projects.  The following are stories of young people learning through activism (click on the heading for the link):

  • Youth Act! Students Testify on Mayor’s Budget – Read this story from 2000 about young people in Washington DC who learned about homeless issues and advocated to the city’s Mayor for change.

  • Global Uprising: Stories of a New Generation of Activists – Read excerpts from this exciting book that documents young activists work today.  The stories on this page include the personal narratives of young people standing up for peace, the environment, and for social justice.

  • Talk to Us. Listen. Take Us Seriously. – Eighteen young people from small communities across America—from the Mississippi Delta to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the Navajo Nation to the northern California coast—speak about their efforts to promote youth leadership and voice in their schools and communities. They recount their successes while offering pointed advice on ways adults can partner more effectively with kids.

YOU can get inspired, get informed, get active and learn something!  The following websites offer great information to promote young people taking action – all you’ve got to do is make something of it!  You can do that with Activist Learning.


Summary of Activist Learning

Young people have increasingly been at the front of rallies, marches, and activism around the world over the last several decades. Children and youth organize, research, educate, analyze, and advocate for change around the world through local, national, and international movements. While this action is powerful and often effective, there has been one component that is usually missing: the intentional learning.

For several years The Freechild Project has been researching youth-led activism in several areas, including environmental activism. Using this research and our own experiences in activism, we have developed an exciting new model for youth engagement in social change work called “Activist Learning.”

We define Activist Learning with young people as an intentional strategy for creating knowledge characterized by taking action to realize just relationships that transforms unequal power structures in our personal, social, political, environmental, spiritual, and economic lives.

Activist Learning is a process that:

  • develops communities as places that promote radical democracy, where diverse, consensus-based, non-hierarchical and non-discriminatory learning takes place.

  • fosters critical analysis of institutions and social structures, takes responsive action to promote justice and equity, teaches the history of social movements.

  • encourages learning to cross disciplines, issues, cultures and communities in order to foster knowledge creation, challenge and exploration.

  • honors and accentuates life-long learning that engages learners through community-based, innovative and effective pedagogy.

  • uses technology and media as liberatory tools to support community needs.

Elements of Activist Learning include shared assumptions and purposes; negotiated co-learning goals agreed upon among activists; common action and learning (“praxis”); continual critical reflection, and; emphasis on co-learner/community voice.

Activist Learning can be a youth-directed, youth-only activity that encourages self-direction and self-education through community activism. Activist Learning with young people can also happen in partnership with adult allies, although in this situation the emphasis should always be on youth-led action, with opportunities for adult-shared learning facilitation optional.

Activist Learning challenges the idea that educators can deposit knowledge into the empty minds of students by engaging co-learners as the co-creators of knowledge. It engages young people and educators as co-facilitators of learning, encouraging young people to become knowledge creators and adults to become allies. Activist Learning empowers young activist/learners to articulate themselves in a way that is relevant to their lives and their roles as agents of change. Finally, and most importantly to our work, it moves activist/learners from acts of charity and sympathy towards solidarity and allyship.

 

Recent studies have shown that Activist Learning can allow activist/learners to: Prioritize ethics and a work towards social justice; Challenge the ways schools perpetuate power structures in our society; Support teachers in reflecting on their complicity in this perpetuation; Show students that knowledge is socially constructed – and is not the ‘truth’; Assist students in deconstructing knowledge to see how and why it is that way and whose purposes it serves, teaching them to “read the world differently” and “resist the abuse of power and privilege” that abounds (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 49); “Create new forms of knowledge through … breaking down disciplinary boundaries and creating new spaces where knowledge can be produced” (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 50) [From Con/testing Learning Models by Gaell Hildebrand (1999).]

While taking action is powerful, learning from it is even more important. There are millions of people who are working to save the environment and change the world everyday – shouldn’t you make your effort today?

 

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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in activist learning in your community or organization, contact us.

 

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