A practice of liberation: "Agitate, arouse, inspire"

In 2015, Patrick Camangian came out with an article in Urban Education, “Teach Live Lives Depend on It:  Agitate, Arouse, and Inspire.”  My colleague, Cliff Lee, introduced me to it as he brought it to our Foundations of Secondary Education class, which is the first one our students (who are hoping to become teachers) take in our program.  From the abstract, “this article offers critical participatory teacher analysis that suggests this [a humanizing pedagogy] can be done by (1) agitating students politically, (b) arousing their critical curiosity, and (c) inspiring self and social transformation.” (424) Today, after reading more of the increasing news of the purposeful debilitation of my country by the current president, I am thinking more and more about how I can work in these three ways and how the first actions (which are led by an instructor or a group who has and shares knowledge) can lead to intellectual and critical curiosity in students, which leads to continued self and social transformation. I am interested in how one action ripples out and circles back.

In reading the blogs of my students, for example, I am struck by the incisive criticality on Kenyan social issues that also relate to the American context, one that is far more familiar.  As we learn about the drought in this community, we are reminded of our own drought.  As we consider water conservation and the relationship between human beings and the land, we are reminded of the Water Protectors and the Dakota Access Pipeline and Trump’s order to continue construction (participate in public comment here on this issue; the fight is not over!)  As we learn about the election violence of 2007 in Kenya, the loss of lives, and the uncertainty that the students here at Daraja have about their futures because of anticipation of election instability (the form 4s fear that their national exams in November may be postponed for a year, they will forget everything, and not be able to go to college because of it), we are reminded of the tumult of our own election season and the problematic election of a man 3 million votes shy of the popular vote #notmypresident.

In the article by Cam, he speaks to how communities should be called “dispossessed” rather than the PC term of “urban” as “‘dispossessed’ acknowledges what has historically been stolen from Third World people worldwide” (425).  When the United States, mass groups of peoples have been segmented into “‘internal colonies'” (Gutierrez as quoted in Camangian).  This makes perfect sense when thinking about the theft of our resources and labor, our bodies in prisons, our artistic contributions for commerce, our lands for violation, our spiritual traditions for coopting, with the return of nothing but foreign mandates and standards by which we, POCs, are judged … maybe I’m too radical.  Maybe not enough.  

I continue to think about my own work as an agitator and whether this is best done from within my country or outside of it.  I have a luxury in even thinking this way, even considering that I might be able to agitate from a distance.  I’m no Baldwin or Baker or all the others who have done massive revolutionary work rooted in art, resistance, and social change … or am I?

In this semester, I want to do more to connect with other educators, to learn from their actions and work, to connect with them and do the best I can with my students to “teach like lives depend on it” because they do.  It’s funny that before I read Cam’s article, I had submitted a workshop for a conference called, “Teaching about Race:  At Stake is Nothing Less than Our Lives”.  We ended up being at the same conference, him as the keynote speaker and me as a workshop leader.  Funny how multiple people can be on the same track.  The lives of the marginalized are at stake in my country.  My life and lives of my people are at stake.

Cam’s article offers educational practitioners a framework for a humanizing pedagogy, one that works to engage “dispossessed youth …[in ways that] begin with their realities, ideologies, and ways of communicating their understanding of the world” (426).  It pushes practitioners to consider the work of freedom and justice … as it pushes me to consider my work as an educator as a practice of freedom.  I tell that to my teacher candidate students all the time, that education is a practice of freedom.  By practice, I mean that it requires dedication, participation in a constant cycle of learning, reflection, and action and a joining of what is theoretical, what is learned from the experiences of others, and what is personal in its purpose and urgency.  This is how I would complicate the definition of “praxis”.  I also say that teaching and learning (education) is a practice of liberation.

The other day Jenni Doherty quoted from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, ““Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” This is radical even in itself and lends me to also think of how small politically and socially engaged acts can lead to self and social transformation.  

I return to thinking about my own country, though.  For someone like me who feels everything and rages at a news article and mourns the loss of every POC killed by the police as if a family loss, what I must learn and do to be sustained in my work, how to find joy within resistance, and resilience in struggle.  I think it’s important for me to be in Kenya right now, to learn a little from the young women here at Daraja, who inspire me in the dedication to learn, study, and help themselves, their families, their communities, and their country despite past struggles and institutional obstacles (based on tribe and gender).  I needed to see again what resilience and resistance is to return to myself in my work.  Perhaps I needed to see that to commit to staying in the States in that work … though I still don’t know how long.  

Recap of Wednesday
Yesterday, I went to Youth Hub, connected with coordinators and youth there; I maneuvered my students to their chores and got them the T-shirts and water bottles that they need; spent time debriefing with my co-instructor; had a conference with two students; had dinner with the Global Platform volunteers and learned about the preparation and future work of three volunteers (two at an orphanage in Uganda and one at a school in Ghana); wrote out the whole agenda for the remaining few days; graded; reviewed the budget again; and finished Parable of the Talents, which is strangely appropriate for our times.  

FaceTime with Matteo; breakfast; grading; work emails; lunch; visit to Simama from 1:15-4:30; 5-6pm debriefing; 6:15pm dinner with Jenni; budget and grading

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