Popular education resists unjust uses of power or, in a word, oppression. As a process of learning/teaching it creates opportunity to practice resistance to oppression and, perhaps, a celebration of freedom. Responses to injustice are many including rebellion and resistance (both individual and collective), organizing for social change as well as resignation and acceptance, collusion and collaboration. The dominant (or hegemonic) common sense treats education and learning as “neutral” territory. However, there is nothing “neutral” about any form of education as Paulo Freire so famously demonstrated in his life’s work. Popular education is a praxis of educating/learning for social change that recognizes the interlocking (as well as overlapping and intersecting) nature of the many forms of oppression perpetually active in our daily personal and public lives.
The “popular” in popular education refers importantly to the struggle of “popular” classes against elite interests, the so-called 1% of contemporary notoriety. Thus popular education includes a class analysis of societies and economies and sees class as an indispensable frame with which to understand struggles against oppression and for greater freedom.
Popular education has always recognized the importance of connecting the personal and the social, the individual and the group, and, as much as popular education is aimed at changing the world it is also about changing the self. Many sites of social change (e.g. a university classroom, a community centre, an electoral campaign) are temporary coalitions in which several interests and various individuals have converged in order to act together to effect change. Each of these sites is an opportunity to learn many things together including training and skills acquisition, practicing and developing theoretical knowledge, self-reflection and planning for the future. Popular education treats learners as full human beings who enter learning processes abundant with experience and expertise, history and relationships, loves and losses. Popular education recognizes that learners exist within living histories that have shaped them and which they, in turn, can shape. Thus popular education is aimed equally at the changing of the world and the changing of the self. Nor is “self” in this context, intended to signify the individual as much as it points to the “individual in relation” or the “I/Thou” (theorized by Martin Buber), a notion which finds contemporary expression in the popular Nguni word ubuntu which has been translated as “I exist because you exist.” Closely related to this is the Zulu concept/expression “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu” which has been translated as “a person is a person through other persons”.
Popular education praxis is challenged and enriched by Aboriginal knowledges and educational practices as well as postcolonial theory, social movement practice and organizational theory. Popular education always includes the opportunity to include in one’s praxis reflection on one’s own relationship to colonial histories and ways of knowing, learning, and acting.
Methodologically-speaking, popular education draws on the full range of ways in which individuals, communities and cultures make and communicate knowledge together including reading, writing, discussion, participatory group activities, storytelling, music and singing, theatre, community arts, and more.