When discussing community organizing, Paulo Freire’s methods come to mind. Freire’s approach to community organizing is based on a model of liberation—otherwise known as popular education—on critical consciousness (i.e., a sociopolitical educative tool that engages learners in questioning, reflecting, and learning about the nature of their social and historical situation) and structural transformation. Freire’s approach focuses on community organizing and building through providing the space for the community to participate in meaning making activities. Because critical consciousness requires that people understand the root causes of their daily life conditions before they can work toward addressing and transforming them, research suggests that Freirean organizing methods of organizing are key for creating lasting social change (Martinson & Su, 2012, 67).
The Freirean approach to organizing centers on the emotional and cultural exchange between the members of the group, with a focus on listening and dialogue. This approach runs against the traditional “banking system” system of education where teachers “deposit” information into students’ heads, resulting in students’ uncritical absorption of knowledge (Martinson & Su, 2012, 65). Freire argues that this sort of “banking system” of education is dangerous as it prevents students from attaining critical consciousness regarding the sources of oppression and inequity in their communities, thereby keeping them from becoming agents of social change (Martinson & Su, 2012, 65). In Freire’s community-focused method of organizing, the role of organizers is simply to engage their communities in dialogue—not to provide solutions to problems—as dialogue is an essential method for generating critical thinking (without providing solutions). Thus, dialogue and listening in critical consciousness allows individuals to participate in community organizing to change the oppressive state of society.
In schools, critical consciousness can be used to promote an alternative model of education that supports human liberation and makes people the subjects of their own learning. Through liberation education, teachers can support social justice and social change by facilitating a process whereby their marginalized students can come to realize the sources of their oppression, which is an essential step in mobilizing to change it. Therefore, teachers should not treat their students as “empty vessels” in a manner that promotes their passivity and perpetuates the status quo as is typical in the traditional “banking system” of education (Martinson & Su, 2012, 65). Through liberation education, the act of learning for both students and educators is not divorced from the social, economic, and political conditions of individuals’ everyday lives, and thereby makes people the subjects of their own learning (Martinson & Su, 2012, 66).
In all, the heart of Freire’s organizing approach is liberation education through critical consciousness, which “begins with people’s own experiences [and] gives them the tools to analyze their situation and take action to transform themselves and their conditions” (Martinson & Su, 2012, 65). These methods of liberation education “democratize the learning process and produce new knowledge for all involved” through consciousness-raising and political education (Martinson & Su, 2012, 68). Through critical consciousness’ focus on listening, dialogue, and collective action, social change is made possible for both schools and community organizations to produce social change.