Community Organizing and Education
Horton, Friere, and Baker assert organizers must trust and value individuals in order to create a self-sufficient community that can tackle its own sociopolitical issues. Liberation education, where teachers empower students to make social change, is a primary method of prompting students to think and advocate for themselves. In addition to empowering education, the organizers encourage discourse and humble leadership to create a self-sufficient community.
Liberation education provides an alternative to the classic “banking system” of education where teachers deposit knowledge in students—receptacles unable to critically process the information presented. Friere’s radical model relies on teachers being confident in their students’ abilities to become self-sufficient, which is a desire echoed by Baker and Horton. The material must be relevant to the lives of the students, conveyed in a culturally relevant way, and presented in the context of the bigger picture. Facts alone do not organize a community, rather they are an essential first step to liberation.
All three organizers use dialogue to teach the roots of marginalization and empower the people to trust their own intuition. Friere believes intelligence cannot continue to be farmed out to experts, rather, the people must develop and value the knowledge they already possess (Martinson 2012). Baker’s organic questioning forces the community to articulate its knowledge, perspective, and suggestions for action (Payne, 1989). Dialogue shifts the power dynamics of the traditional classroom, creating a space where all voices are valued, not just the educator’s. Empowering communities through dialogue ensures that they do not lose faith and become reliant on an expert when challenges arise.
Horton was an especially adamant supporter of letting the people come up with their own solutions (Horton, 1990). He emphasizes the difference in providing a community with information and telling them how to use it, similar to the proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for life.” Expert advice may fix a current problem, but it is not in the best interests of the people rely on experts, for only finding solutions for themselves will lead to long term independence. The net present value of giving a community time to think of a solution and become self-sustaining far exceeds that of short-term fixes by organizers. Baker would have agreed with Horton saying, “You’re organizing the people to be self-sufficient rather than to be dependent on a charismatic leader” (Payne, 1989). Though paradoxical in nature, encouraging self-sufficiency is key respecting and solidifying the agency of a community. Chronology can abate the dilemma of this paradoxical strategy because encouragement can lead to freedom from reliance on a leader. The need for an organizer to actively upkeep the self-sufficient of a group would present more of a dilemma. Self-reliance diverts control from the leader and ensures that the power the leader maintains is acceptable to the people.
All three organizers continually work to elevate the power of the people and aid them in their journey to becoming self-sufficient. Liberation education cultivates a community’s ability to create positive change for themselves, valuing all voices and keeping conversation culturally relevant. The smallest voices must carry great weight, in order for communities to determine their fate. When communities want a leader to tell them what to do, it is important to hear them and redirect their “who.”