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Home arrow Sociology arrow Holistic engagement : transformative social work education in the 21st century


Effective organizing committed to the transformative process of fundamentally alternating dynamics of power takes patience and persistence if both social justice is to be achieved and the shape of power, not just its hands, is to change as well.[1] The slow, incremental process of problem-posing with others, students' gradual assertion of authority combined with a changing sense of their own identities as “subjects of history,” and strategic success in the larger world comes to be experientially understood through our own struggles in the classroom to cocreate learning together. Early tensions and discomfort with affirming others' identities without denying one's own give way to the growing capacity to hear others' stories and affirm differences. The awkward embrace of mutual authority in the classroom—from seating arrangements to use of the blackboard and greater responsibility for classroom discussion—is understood as our own classroom midwifery experience—painful and freeing at the same time—and to be expected in the “outside world” as well. Reflecting on this dynamic of embracing mutual authority comes about by weaving many “little things” over time in the classroom that signify a lot. For example, I am humorous about the fact that the last seats filled in the classroom circle are the ones next to me. I joke about first calling on people furthest from me so people will come nearer. Later, when finally sitting somewhere other than the front, I ask people to take note of their discomfort in me sitting next to them. All trivial—except they speak to subtexts of power, authority, deference, and—yes—the safety in the insular, divided world of a “banking system” of education (Freire, 2000). Such reflections become a critical component to this pedagogical process. In its place, the conflict-ridden “either/or-ness” of how learning and organizing take place over time is replaced with the mutual affirmation of the overlapping and enriching rhythms embedded in flexible, strategic work, whether classroom or community.

Such transformation, as it begins to occur—first moment by uncomfortable moment, and then, surprisingly, minutes and then hours breathing and acting freely—affects everyone—whether organizer or organized, teacher or student—in our mutual discovery of individual differences and shared similarities. At a pedagogical level, the learning process has expanded the case study approach to one that has begun to reconfigure new ways for students and teachers alike to re-imagine how power itself in the learning/organizing can be transformed. Some will have gained power, others will have lost none. For it is from such transformation, whether in a small classroom or a large community campaign, that the vital lifeblood of powerful social movements springs forth: hope. Undertaken in other classrooms and communities elsewhere, may such hope regenerate its progressive roots across a world parched by its absence.

  • [1] For two complementary approaches to this topic of transformation, see Pyles (2013)and Homan (2010).
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