Virtual Exchange “Education in a World in crisis: Limitations and Possibilities with a view to Rio+20”
Working Group on Education
Fourth Module “Lessons learnt needed to root democracy in diversity and sustainability”
Education for living-well: rehearsing democracy, imagination and enough-ness in popular education
By Astrid von Kotze (*)
A moment of democracy in diversity
The hall explodes with noise as over 100 people hold bits of plumbers’ pipe to their lips and blow. Some forget to close the pipe with a finger or thumb and they strain to produce a sound; others collapse in heaps of laughter as their concentration shifts from blowing to listening – but all are totally absorbed in the attempt to ‘make music’. Pedro ‘the Musicman’ alerts them that this is truly a democratic moment: everyone participates – all with different notes, depending on the length of pipe, but each trying to produce a note to contribute to the cocophany. He demonstrates that single notes can produce a rhythm but not a tune, and that it will take the effort of all, in coordinated fashion, to turn noise into tune. But, he cautions, the pauses, the silence are as important as the making of the sound– and participants agree: this is so, in life, too; if you speak all the time it is but a noise – and only the listening allows us to create dialogue and make meaning together.
We play to a rhythm, and then: Can we hear a tune emerging? He asks, and various participants hum or whistle what they heard. Each has their own version and each, as he points out, is equally valid: this is what you heard from where you played your note! Two older women hold on to each other as they bend in laughter – never in class have I seen them quite so relaxed and happy. And the children have left their games and joined in, too. People who have never before met nod to each other in rhythm, or stamp their feet in unison.
Would we all like to contribute our notes and produce melodies, music that is pleasing to the ear and heart? Pedro calls on ‘conductors’ to help him orchestrate and thus we begin to make real music together. It is a magic moment of creation, and as one tune follows another we become more accomplished - until we are breathless and collapse in heaps of exhilaration, delighted. We applaud each other, ourselves, the conductor and agree: we will bring the pieces of pipe to the next session of the ‘popular education school’, and build on this experience of democratic production to see what other moments and messages it may hold.
Popular Education for (a)change
The pipe orchestra was part of the final celebration of this year’s inaugural ‘popular education school’ (PES). In two 12 week cycles 10 different groups in poor areas of the city of Cape Town and in rural Drakenstein had met and learnt together. Classes were free of charge and took place every week for 2-3 hours in venues ranging from community halls to private individuals’ garages. The majority of approximately 100 participants were women: many brought children or grandchildren, most were unemployed and the first few sessions were spent finding their voice.
The curriculum, based on the everyday experiences of participants in socio-economic oppression, was negotiated with each group during ‘orientation’ sessions. It usually centred on social issues such as high levels of abuse, including drug abuse, crime and unemployment. From learning to ‘name the world’ and making connections between local issues and global forces, courses moved towards taking action – and in the final sessions participants learn about campaigning by planning and running a campaign in their communities. In this way, they assumed agency as critical citizens and began to build their sense of power in relation to affecting change. Generating community energy they have begun to re-build aspects of their lives through collective action.
Asked what kept them coming each week participants replied they found it interesting to make connections between themselves and others, people and their world, local economics and global politics. They also enjoyed being respected and working together on new insights and asserted that their participation made them role models for their children by demonstrating the importance of lifelong education and learning outside schools. In times where global capitalism only advocates and values accredited education that is certificated in terms of qualification ladders PES is counter-hegemonic both in delivery, and even more in the way it is valued by people.
Democracy, creativity and enough-ness.
The celebration ended with sharing a nutritious meal. All felt both emotionally and physically saturated and satisfied: the smiles and hugs, the now-relaxed shoulders, the quickstep and skip, the warmth of interaction were evidence. There was abundance rather than mere sufficiency and it demonstrated that it takes very little to achieve ‘enough-ness’: an idea, care and caring from and with others, an invitation to tap into the imagination and express yourself creatively, an affirmation of value in a world that suggests you are worthless if you fail to contribute to economic growth, and nutritious food with a little left-over to take home. The spirit of ‘ubuntu’ (being through the other) has often been hijacked by big business and its deliberate exploitation of people. In popular education there is recognition that your misery or wellbeing is tied in with my satisfaction or lack, that I cannot live well unless others are also able to do so. In education sessions we explore relations of power, uncover the hidden interests behind a language that claims the opposite, affirm the local common good as the basis for forging a world that sustains people as well as other living things.
The music workshop was a living metaphor for the underlying principles that inform this programme, namely the belief that what needs to be sustainable is not some idea of development but rather a sense of security in the ability to satisfy fundamental needs and live well. Popular education has always integrated creative processes and the arts towards producing crucial insights. The cut-off pipes are the ‘modern’ version of traditional instruments fashioned out of hollow bones or papaya leaf stems and show that you can create the means for mutual wellbeing out of just about anything. Importantly, the workshop demonstrated that it takes people with imagination and commitment to work together so that something new and beautiful can emerge. Here, participants were active producers rather than consumers of culture and predictably they responded to the invitation to create with joy and energy.
The simple message: democracy is about working together, was powerfully conveyed and taken. What we need is an education that does this: that reminds people that the social function of work is to maintain and reproduce life, not accumulate goods; an education that values solidarity and collectivity in processes of knowledge production and that reminds people to re-appraise other forms of knowing and knowledges, beyond western paradigms.
Popular education has the means to re-focus on essential values as rooted in the common good; it has the tools for creating democratic processes and horizontal power relations that serve as models for what ought to be and could be; it has the integrity that says if the means and the end are contradictory there will be conflict and that thinking and being must be relational and holistic. Popular education classes are one example of imagining, constructing and rehearsing the experience of another world.
(*) Popular Education Programme, Cape Town, South Africa
[Téléchargé au site Web de l'ACÉÉA le 13 janvier 2012]