This winter, the Director of my school’s community engagement center floated the idea of designing and teaching a course together. The course would be rooted in Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, whose thesis is that traditional education models treat the student an empty vessel into which teachers pour knowledge. The course would try to undo that process and instead focus on empowering students as agents of social change. The student would be at the helm of designing rubrics, grading scales, and engaging with texts about and historical case studies of grassroots social movements. My already overactive mental wheels started turning and we put in a proposal. Two weeks ago we received approval to offer the course next fall, and this summer we’ll be designing the curriculum. I am so excited. The title of the course is: Protest and Social Movements: Theory, History, and Contemporary Challenges, and here’s the description.
Why do social movements happen? What starts them, fuels them, and determines whether they succeed or fail? How does power operate in societies, and how have the relatively powerless sought access to political, social, and economic power? How can students thoughtfully, and with a sensitivity to history and their immediate context, promote social change? This course will examine the history and theory of social movements by positioning the student as primary change agent. As an exercise in personal and group agency, the course grading rubric will be cooperatively designed by the teacher and students at the beginning of the semester. Course material (readings, videos, and podcasts) will include anthropological, sociological, and historical studies of protest and social movements, in addition to current news and commentary. In-class work will include extensive discussion, viewing and analysis of recent news clips, and collaborative work. Graded work will consist of short response papers, class discussion, and a final analytical project on a topic and in a style of the student’s choosing. While this is a stand-alone course, it is hoped that students might use the knowledge gained to engage in community-based fieldwork in the second semester.
And here’s the students’ summer reading:
So since the course is yet-to-be-planned, if you were taking this class, which social movement would you want to study? What questions do you have about social movement and engagement in general? Are there things about which you’re curious or confused or enraged or excited about the way people interact with power?