Teaching through Community Organizing: Being the Unacademic


That’s me in the middle there. Black dress. Being inflammatory.

As someone who writes pop culture at the intersection of feminism (see my home blog for a list of publications if curious) and also does community organizing (see: Edmonton Slut Walk that’s me). Within such a broad term as feminism the people that I attract with writing are all sorts. There’s the inevitable blow back from people who call themselves anti-feminists, there’s a contingent we call white feminism which is feminism that doesn’t seek to address other levels of systemic oppressions.

Paying attention to intersectionality is a huge mind-shift for many white feminists, while many (I would say all but there’s special ones like Camille Paglia) are familiar with patriarchy far less understand what it is to consider gendered racism. This is critical for any anti-oppression work.

In organizing an event like Slut Walk unlearning is one of the most important components. You need to unlearn the idea that the onus to avoid being assaulted lies on the victim. You need to unlearn that worldwide there’s a tendency to examine what the woman could have done, should have done, to avoid being harmed. You need to then learn why these ideas are insidious and harmful. I need to unlearn even while I am teaching. I need to sit and listen to the criticisms of women of color who say, well this movement is ok, but I don’t see myself in it. I have to learn to check self-defensiveness when a criticism of the work calls Slut Walk white supremacist.

As the lead organizer I need to help you unlearn these things, and I need to listen. It can be exhausting, as anyone who has tried to challenge an ideology will know.

Community organizing is a unique kind of teaching. It isn’t academic but you sometimes use academia. It isn’t self-improvement but you must reflect and work to undue your own prejudices. It isn’t just online or in the classroom it is everywhere, and all the time. I’ve had mentors for this work and so I understand the need to have someone around when things get uncomfortable.

The fact is a lot of the work in community organizing isn’t done at the march it is done before or after–the marches and demonstrations tend to be a part of the catharsis. They give a sense of community to people who feel marginalised.

It’s a different kind of teaching. This means that there’s just-in-time learning involved–for me as well as the participants.

For more on Coalition Politics and non traditional ways of learning and gathering there’s a beautiful essay by Bernice Johnson Reagon called “Coalition Politics: Turning the Century“.


Learning Reflection…Stream of Consciousness

What is open?

Open education must be free to access and it must be free to remix and reuse. As David Wiley says the 4R permissions of open are:

  1. Reuse – the right to reuse the content in its unaltered / verbatim form (e.g., make a backup copy of the content)

  2. Revise – the right to adapt, adjust, modify, or alter the content itself (e.g., translate the content into another language)

  3. Remix – the right to combine the original or revised content with other content to create something new (e.g., incorporate the content into a mashup)

  4. Redistribute – the right to share copies of the original content, your revisions, or your remixes with others (e.g., give a copy of the content to a friend)

Before starting my job with in vocational training I had not given much thought as to the ways that other people learned. Even though post-secondary where I learned how to consider an audience in communications or how to decide on an angle to connect with people, I never gave much thought as to why or how we learned. I became aware very quickly of the ways that learning impact us not only as children but also in adult learning.

Learners often see only through their own scope of preference so if they prefer classroom they declare that the material cannot possibly be taught be print because it is too complicated; meanwhile, people that prefer print-based material make the same argument in reverse. Sometimes, it is difficult to see outside of our individual scope of understanding, but it is important to be aware that there are educators and learners that feel the exact opposite way. Material must be not merely fluid but vapour to allow for differing mindsets and abilities.

I learn in a very different way than most of the people who I develop learning for. I am very interested in Open Education for this reason. From my first exposure to the idea in residency, I have sought out more and more information. I believe in the democratization of education. I think education is the way to progress–especially where personal development is concerned. Shedding ignorance from the mind is a wonderful thing to behold. Teaching someone to think critically is the greatest gift you can ever give them.

The Desmond Tutu video was very inspiring. I admire the man and his work. “Freedom is an ongoing process and not an end in itself” is so true. He spoke well about the commodification of education and the ways in which our patent systems hinder rather than encourage progress. There was a This American Life episode that spoke about patent trolls as well that I really enjoyed. I believe patent laws, and copyright laws can serve as gatekeepers to knowledge and software that ought to be socially available.

Since I study in this area I am already exposed to a lot of the writers and journals around Open Education. I have found blogs have some of the richest and most current information around Open Education. The old-school peer review process does not work well when dealing with technological advances. Taking three years to publish an article means you are going to be talking about a technology that will be outdated or will have changed. Some of the sources I have come to read frequently are:

Open Licensing, as Stephen Downes has said, does save time and money for educators. The great thing about truly open material is the ability to remix to meet out needs. Rather than focusing on creation we can focus on improvement and in my experience that has previously been the area where we had the least time.