An Introduction to Popular Education

Popular education, an important component of this CHW training program, is an educational approach designed to raise the consciousness of its participants and allow them to become more aware of how an individual's personal experiences are connected to larger societal problems.  It is a method and a philosophy of education that holds oppressed people at the center of the learning process.  Participants of Popular Education efforts are empowered to understand the root causes of their condition and to effect change on the problems that affect them.  Popular educators facilitate groups, assisting them to identify their strengths and abilities to change their social conditions. 

Popular education begins with a discussion that searches for answers to conflict between individuals and within their everyday lives through:

  • Identifying the problems, expectations and expressed needs of a community;
  • Identifying areas in need of change relevant to the groups' needs;
  • Considering the community's history, its local power base and economic distribution; and
  • Understanding why there are those who are disadvantaged or oppressed.

The origin of popular education comes from Brazilian philosopher Paulo Freire, who wrote "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" in 1970, and from other banned writings during the Latin American military dictatorship in the 1970's.  Freier's notion was that reality was not an objective truth or facts to be discovered but "includes the ways in which people involved with facts perceive them…The concrete reality is the connection between subjectivity and objectivity, never objectivity isolated from subjectivity" (1982, p. 29).  Freire provides the psychosocial understanding of how emancipatory knowledge can lead to having the power to make change.  As people engage in dialogue with each other about their communities and the larger social context, their own internal representation, how they think and ascribe meaning about their social world changes; their relationships to each other become strengthened; and ultimately, their ability to reflect on their own values and choices is affected. 

Social change then begins with individuals reflecting on their values, beliefs and behaviors; their concern for a more equitable society; and their willingness to support others in the community.  As individuals learn about root causes to issues and understand their strengths, they are better able to recognize and understand the political, economic and social conditions that surround them.  They are then able to move from passivity to active participation, to be critical of the status quo, reject oppression, and effect change.