In this chapter, Carnoy and Tarlau analyze how Paulo Freire's educational ideas have been relevant to U.S. educators and activists over the past 50 years. First, Carnoy discusses Freire's first visit to the United States in 1969, and the influence of his educational thought during the subsequent decades of neoliberalism and structural adjustment, reflecting in particular on Freire's participation in 1983 in a seminar at Stanford University. Next, Tarlau analyzes Freire's significance for social movements and educators in the 2000s when “another world” seemed possible and resistance to neoliberal globalization was at a peak in the United States and Latin America. Tarlau synthesizes the major lessons that Freire offers educators and activist, from the concept of unfinishedness to the tensions between manipulation and directive teaching. In conclusion, Carnoy and Tarlau reflect on the current context, and the lessons Freire continues to offer in the context of Donald Trump's election.
Rebecca Tarlau is an Associate Professor at The Pennsylvania State University affiliated with the Adult Education and Lifelong Learning program, the Comparative and International Education Program, and the Center for Global Workers’ Rights. Her ethnographic research agenda has three broad areas of focus: (1) Theories of the State and State-Society Relations; (2) Social movements, Labor Education, and critical pedagogy; (3) Latin American education and development. Her book Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education (Oxford University Press 2019) examines the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), a national social movement of rural workers struggling for agrarian reform. Rebecca’s current research is on teachers’ movements in Brazil, Mexico, and the United States and the conditions that lead teachers and their unions to participate in broader struggles for social justice.
Research InterestsSocial Movements, Education, Latin America, Agrarian Reform, Teachers Unions, Freire, Gramsci
In this article, Rebecca Tarlau attempts to build a more robust theory of the relationship between education and social change by drawing on the conceptual tools offered in the critical pedagogy and social movement literatures. Tarlau argues that while critical pedagogy has been largely disconnected from its roots in political organizing, social movement literature has shifted away from a theory of educational processes within movement building. Specifically, she suggests that the currently dominant “framing perspective” in the social movement literature is incredibly limited in its ability to analyze the pedagogical aspects of organizing. Conversely, while scholars of critical pedagogy are extremely convincing when critiquing U.S. schooling, the field is weaker when theorizing about how teachers using critical pedagogy can link to larger movements for social transformation. Critical pedagogues need more organizational thinking and social movement scholars need a more pedagogical focus. Tarlau suggests three conceptual frameworks for moving forward in this direction: the notion of social movements as pedagogical spaces, the role of informal educational projects in facilitating the emergence and strength of social movements, and the role of public schools as terrains of contestation that hold the possibility of linking to larger struggles for social justice.
Over the past 30 years, the Brazilian Landless Workers’ Movement (MST), one of the largest social movements in Latin America, has developed a series of pedagogical practices for public schools that support the movement’s struggle for agrarian reform in the Brazilian countryside. The MST’s educational initiatives can be viewed in terms of their place in the debate about how grassroots movements develop alternatives to dominant educational practices.
This article examines the conflicting visions within the US labor movement about the proper function and implementation of labor education programs, and how educational programs are connected to union structure. While this article is primarily based on interviews with union officials, the article also draws on union documents and participant observation in union meetings and educational workshops. The author argues that an analysis of worker education programs is an appropriate entry point for drawing out the similarities and differences that exist about the goals, structure, and political values of different unions in the contemporary US labor movement.
This article explores how social movement co-governance of public education offers an alternative to neoliberal educational models. The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) is one of the largest social movements in Latin America. We describe one of the many schools that the MST co-governs, the Itinerant School Paths of Knowledge (Caminhos do Saber), located in an occupied encampment in the state of Paraná. We analyze three of the most unique pedagogical innovations in the school: the teacher’s incorporation of ‘portions of reality’ into classroom teaching, the student work collectives, and the participatory student evaluation process. Although these pedagogies are seemingly mundane changes to everyday school practice, we argue that they represent a challenge to the neoliberal educational model being implemented globally. These movement pedagogies are likely to continue, despite recent conservative attacks, and they offer several concrete lessons for how to effectively contest neoliberal educational practices in other global contexts.
Contrary to the conventional belief that social movements cannot engage the state without becoming co-opted and demobilized, this study shows how movements can advance their struggles by strategically working with, in, through, and outside of state institutions. The success of Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST) in occupying land, winning land rights, and developing alternative economic enterprises for over a million landless workers has made it an inspiration for progressive organizations globally. The MST’s educational initiatives, which are less well known but equally as important, teach students about participatory democracy, collective work, agroecological farming, and other practices that support its socialist vision. This study details how MST activists have pressured municipalities, states, and the federal government to implement their educational proposal in public schools and universities, affecting hundreds of thousands of students. Based on twenty months of ethnographic fieldwork, Occupying Schools, Occupying Land documents the potentials, constraints, failures, and contradictions of the MST’s educational struggle. A major lesson is that participating in the contentious co-governance of public education can help movements recruit new activists, diversify their membership, increase practical and technical knowledge, and garner political power. Activists are most effective when combining disruption, persuasion, negotiation, and co-governance into their tactical repertoires. Through expansive leadership development, the MST implemented its educational program in local schools, even under conservative governments. Such gains demonstrate the potential of schools as sites for activists to prefigure, enact, and develop the social and economic practices they hope to use in the future.
Beginning in the summer of 2008, the global financial crisis destroyed wealth across the world. Emanating from the world’s financial capital in New York City, as the financial institutions Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers went bankrupt, the crisis rapidly influenced the financial well being and prosperity of people, businesses, and governments across the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Europe. The crisis exposed the harsh reality behind the rapid economic growth and wealth creation of the new millennium – it was predicated on levels of inequality unseen since the Great Depression.
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century documents this landscape of rising wealth inequality in the twenty-first century. While inequality is not a new topic, the book’s unparalleled success came at a moment of political salience when inequality was at the forefront of academic conversations, political rhetoric, and social movement demands. Piketty’s arguments powerfully entered the public dialogue and served to reinforce the growing consensus that our global economic system is unjust and has led to unprecedented returns on wealth for a few and devastating, precarious conditions for most of the world’s population.
Although the question of inequality is not a new topic in the field of education, Piketty’s economic treatise is an opportunity to revisit the question of education’s role in producing a more equal society in the twenty-first century. According to Piketty, the diffusion of knowledge and skills through education is an important ‘force for convergence’, but cannot overcome the powerful forces of divergence within capitalism that propel increasing inequality. This special issue is comprised of scholars who examine if, how, and to what extent Piketty’s analysis is useful for understanding contemporary relationships between inequality and educational policy and practice. The authors draw on, expand, reject, and/or critique Piketty’s arguments and proposals in light of empirical findings in their own research.
This contribution explores the strategies used by popular movements seeking to advance social reforms, and the challenges once they succeed. It analyzes how a strategic alliance between the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) and the National Confederation of Agricultural Workers (CONTAG) transformed the Ministry of Education's official approach to rural schooling. This success illustrates the critical role of international allies, political openings, framing, coalitions and state–society alliances in national policy reforms. The paper also shows that once movements succeed in advancing social reforms, bureaucratic tendencies such as internal hierarchy, rapid expansion and ‘best practices’ – in addition to the constant threat of cooptation – can prevent their implementation.
This article analyzes the transfer and 15-year policy trajectory of Colombia’s “global best practice” Escuela Nueva in Brazil. This program, initially transferred to Brazil in 1997 with the help of the World Bank, was largely unknown for the first decade of its life span. Then, between 2008 and 2011, after the World Bank stopped funding the program, Escuela Nueva / Escola Ativa suddenly became one of the most well funded and controversial programs in the Brazilian Ministry of Education. Continual protest and unrest concerning the program led to its termination in 2012. This article argues that it is only possible to understand these developments through an explicit theory of the “contested” state, wherein the state’s purpose is understood as both social reproduction and mediating class conflicts. Drawing on the global policy transfer literature, this framework emphasizes the role of elite actors, transnational agencies, and grassroots mobilization in determining educational policy trajectories.
In 2014, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century rocked the economic and political world, with its argument that inequality is destined to increase; in the field of education, however, this book has been almost entirely ignored. I argue that Piketty’s treatise is relevant to educational theories for three reasons: his rejection of meritocracy contributes to theories of social mobility; his critique of human capital theory provides fodder for debates about educational purpose; and his interdisciplinary analysis supports the political economy tradition in education. However, I also argue that it is necessary to move beyond the economic determinism in Piketty’s arguments, to explore the transformative potential of education as a consciousness-raising process, the agency of communities, the production process, and alternative solutions to inequality. I argue that education scholars should use the renewed interest in inequality generated by Piketty’s book to shift the dominant discourses about education, schools, and social justice.
In this article I analyze the tensions and difficulties that activist-scholars face in developing collaborative and critical social movement research. Through a series of reflections on my own trajectory into the academy and seventeen months of field research with the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement, I cautiously offer some ways forward for social movement researchers. Contextualizing these reflections in the rich literature on the ethics of social movement research, I argue that activist-scholars should attempt to design research questions that generate movement-relevant theory, leverage our (limited) influence to study powerful actors, move beyond dichotomous understandings of the “researcher” and the “research subject,” and be continually self-reflective about the unresolvable contradictions that come with being an activist-scholar. I end the article by suggesting that no matter how movement-relevant or collaborative our scholarship, this does not replace the “action” part of the action-theory praxis.
The Landless Workers’ Movement (MST) has been the principal protagonist developing an alternative educational proposal for rural public schools in Brazil. This article analyzes the MST’s differential success implementing this proposal in municipal and state public schools. The process is both participatory—activists working with government officials to implement MST goals—and contentious—the movement mobilizing support for its education initiatives through various forms of protest. In some locations, the MST has succeeded in institutionalizing a participatory relationship with government actors, while in other regions the MST has a more limited presence in the schools or has been completely banned from participating. Drawing on the concept of coproduction—the active participation of civil society actors in the provision of public goods—the author argues that coproduction is a joint product of high levels of social mobilization and government orientation. The former is necessary in all cases, while the latter can take the form of either a left-leaning or clientelistic government.
On the outside walls of a rural public school in Brazil, in the northern state of Pará, an unlikely set of images is painted: the Brazilian flag, the logo of the local municipal government, and the flag of one of the largest social mobilizations in Latin America, the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)—the landless workers’ movement that has been a thorn in the side of the Brazilian state for almost 30 years. Alongside these symbols is written, “Reforma Agrária para Justiça Social e Soberania Popular” [Agrarian Reform for Social Justice and Popular Sovereignty]. This school is representative of an apparent contradiction occurring throughout rural Brazil: the active coordination between the government and the MST for the provision of public education.
But while bureaucrats in many states and municipalities are working cooperatively with MST activists, in other regions the official response is drastically different. Based on 17 months of ethnographic field research in three regions of Brazil, I analyze the conditions under which states cede power over education policy to social movements. Data come from 70 interviews with MST activists, 60 interviews with elected officials and government bureaucrats, extensive field notes, informal conversations, site visits, school observations, teacher training and shadowing MST activists.
This article explores the social(ist) pedagogies of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), a large agrarian social movement that fights for socialism in the Brazilian countryside, meaning that workers own their own means of production and collectively produce the food and other products necessary for their communities’ survival. Over the past three decades, activists in the movement have developed an alternative educational proposal for rural schooling that supports these new social relations of production. Drawing on major theories of reproduction, cultural production, and resistance in the field of education, I argue that three theorists—Paul Willis, Paulo Freire, and Antonio Gramsci—are critical in assessing the role of schools in processes of social reproduction. I examine four components of the MST’s social(ist) pedagogy: the incorporation of manual labor into public schools; the promotion of collective learning; counter-cultural production; and linking schools to concrete political struggles. Drawing on Willis, Freire, and Gramsci, I argue that the MST’s educational proposal is a limited but real attempt to interrupt dominant social relations of production in the Brazilian countryside, thus representing a unique example of social pedagogy in the 21 century.
This article explores how the Base Nacional Comum Curricular (National Learning Standards), entered the policy debate in Brazil and became the most important reform initiative of the Ministry of Education between 2015 and 2017. We argue that this accelerated policy process was contingent upon the practice of philanthropizing consent: foundations’ use of material resources, knowledge production, media power, and informal and formal networks to garner the consent of multiple social and institutional actors to support a public policy. In other words, these foundations do not impose policies on governments; rather, they ‘render technical’ high-stakes political debates on pressing issues of educational equity and then influence state officials’ consensus about which policies to adopt. We argue that this philanthropic influence is not simply a neoliberal, profit-maximizing scheme; rather, it is an attempt by foundation and corporate leaders to garner power and influence on different scales, and re-make public education in their own image. Although this educational policy game is in many ways participatory and widely accepted, foundations are only able to play this role due to their tremendous economic power, a direct product of the unequal global political economy, and the systematic defunding of the public sphere.
A growing interest in how principals address issues of social justice in schools has emerged with an emphasis on critically interrogating school practices, policies, curriculum, and instructional approaches. Yet, many injustices, which prompt calls for social justice, are created outside of the school by larger socioeconomic arrangements and require greater consideration and collaboration between schools and communities. Given the interrelatedness of schools and communities, this study explores the principal's role in addressing social injustices through activism and utilizing the community's resources and emerging political opportunities to promote social justice.
The purpose of this study is to examine how, if at all, do principals with social justice orientations engage in activism, particularly in relation to their school-community context and the networks and political opportunities that are available within and around the school.
Data were collected in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico; Baltimore, United States; and Ceará, Brazil.
This qualitative multicase study used in-depth interviews and observations to explore the leadership actions of principals with social justice orientations.
Findings revealed the specific actions taken by principals to understand the social and political context in which they work. The principals in the study utilized their understanding of context to inform their avenues for organizing activity and how they lead to strategically position their schools as resources to support communities and families. Challenges to an activist approach to leadership were also identified, including (a) tensions associated with the multifaceted nature of social justice and the demands; (b) ethical obligations of being a principal within a system and needing to adhere to district policies and priorities; and (c) the unpredictability and uncertainty of outcomes in certain school-community contexts.
Major conclusions and recommendations for this study include the need to instill in principals a recognition that what happens in society impacts schools, and therefore, requires leadership to be attentive to community needs and activist-oriented. Preparing and supporting principals requires additional attention to how principals can lead for social justice with communities and in ways that are responsive to context. The potential constraints associated with being employed by a school district or connected to a social movement with predetermined priorities needs to be further explored and considered.
Social movements are using education to generate critical consciousness regarding the social and environmental unsustainability of the current food system, and advocate for agroecological production. In this article, we explore results from a cross-case analysis of six social movements that are using education as a strategy to advance food sovereignty. We conducted participatory research with diverse rural and urban social movements in the United States, Brazil, Cuba, Bolivia, and Mexico, which are each educating for food sovereignty. We synthesize insights from critical food systems education and the political ecology of education in analyzing these cases. We compare the thematic similarities and difference between these movements’ education initiatives in terms of their emergence, initial goals, expansion and institutionalization, relationship to the state, theoretical inspirations, pedagogical approach, educational topics, approach to student research, and outcomes. Among these thematic areas, we find that student-centered research on competing forms of production is an integral way to advance critical consciousness about the food system and the political potential of agroecological alternatives. However, what counts, as success in these programs, is highly case-dependent. For engaged scholars committed to advancing education for food sovereignty, it is essential to reflect upon the lessons learned and challenges faced by these movements.
The Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST) is one of the largest and most influential social movements in Latin America. Since the very beginning of the movement’s agrarian reform struggle, MST leaders have developed a broad-based program of leadership, political training, and education for all participants in the movement. The MST’s educational demands are organically connected to the movement’s attempt to create, in the present, a new social order based on social justice, participatory democracy, autonomy, and humanistic and socialist values. The goal of this article is to introduce to an English-speaking audience the main contours and components of the MST’s educational proposal. The first part of this article discusses the three theoretical foundations of the movement’s educational approach and its five pedagogical practices. The second part of the paper presents two concrete experiences of educational institutions administered by the MST leadership: the “Itinerant Schools” in Paraná, a network of public schools located inside MST occupied encampments, and the MST’s national political training school, the Escola Nacional Florestan Fernandes (ENFF). Together, these two cases offer concrete examples of how the MST’s educational proposal is implemented in diverse Brazilian contexts.
Food systems education can help individuals and communities transition to more sustainable food systems. Despite the growing scholarship on food systems education, there is a paucity of critical perspectives on its pedagogical methods, learning outcomes, and overarching objectives. This article addresses this gap by integrating insights from critical pedagogy, food justice, food sovereignty, and agroecology, developing a new synthetic area of study and research entitled critical food systems education (CFSE). CFSE is composed of a tripartite perspective, consisting of praxis, policy, and pedagogy. This framework is guided by the following overarching question: How can food systems education prepare individuals and teachers to transform the food system, and help communities attain food sovereignty? Following a review of the food systems education literature, we highlight the constraints of the depoliticized approach by drawing attention to its race and class-based assumptions. We then construct a definition of CFSE, and articulate the theoretical and practical cornerstones of this perspective, which are drawn from critical pedagogy, food justice, food sovereignty, and agroecology. A case study of a seed sovereignty project at a vocational high school associated with Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement is used to exemplify how CFSE can contribute to educating for food sovereignty.
Studies of food systems education have largely avoided questions concerning race. In this commentary, we interrogate the racial assumptions behind certain food systems education projects. Food systems educators are often motivated by a whitened cultural desire to "bring good food to others" and see garden-based learning projects, which seek to instill healthy nutritional behaviors, as the solution to the problem of purported food deserts. We argue that food systems education is in need of a critical intervention. In this commentary, we propose critical food systems education (CFSE) as a theoretical framework, set of pedagogies, and vision for policy that moves beyond teaching students about the food system, and helps them realize their potential to structurally transform it through collective action. The CFSE perspective is theoretically grounded in food justice, food sovereignty, political agroecology, and critical pedagogy. The CFSE approach is not merely theoretical, but arises from the examples of grassroots social movements throughout the world that have developed radical forms of food systems education. We highlight this approach using the example of the Brazilian Landless Workers' Movement (MST). The MST opposes a racialized discourse of the "peasantry" as backwards and ignorant. The movement's leaders reject a vision of education that reproduces white modernity, and instead support a vision that advances radical agroecological education programs that train students to be political subjects capable of creating a socially and environmentally equitable food system. The example of the MST underscores the potential of CFSE as a corrective for the food systems education's racialized assumptions.
This article provides an introduction to the Brazilian social movement known as the Landless Workers Movement (MST). After a brief history of the landless struggle and the international organisation of the movement, the article discusses educational philosophy and practice in the MST. The MST actively cultivates a 'culture of study' within all the diverse spaces of the movement including (but not limited to) its schools and literacy programmes, political education, agricultural production, and culture and media communications. These processes of knowledge production and dissemination are informed by the philosophical principles that constitute the MST 'Pedagogy of the Land'. which links anti-capitalist struggles for land, education, and culture. Readers are also provided with an extensive reference list on publications about and by the MST - in English and Portuguese.
This chapter discusses the educational initiatives of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), the largest agrarian social movement in Latin America. Although the MST is famous around the world for its success forcing the Brazilian government to redistribute land, less well known is the movement’s simultaneous fight for access to education in all areas of agrarian reform. Part of this fight is for the movement’s right to develop its own educational pedagogies and curriculum in these public schools. Over the past three decades, members of the movement have drawn on a variety of theorists to develop these educational practices, from Paulo Freire to Soviet pedagogues. This chapter explores two Soviet theorists the movement draws on—Moisey Pistrak and Anton Makarenko—and how these theorists arrived in Brazil and the ways in which members of the movement have adapted these theories to their contemporary context. This argument is based on extensive interviews with MST educational activists as well as visits and participant observation to dozens of schools in MST settlements and camps. In addition to a historical discussion, the chapter also analyzes two schools administered by the MST where the theories of Makarenko and Pistrak are currently flourishing. This chapter argues that the MST’s conscious use of Soviet pedagogies is part of the movement’s overarching goal of creating socialist economic alternatives in the Brazilian countryside through collective organic farming.
Tarlau, R. (2018). Social Movement-Led Participatory Governance of Public Education: The Case of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement. In Another Way: Decentralization, Democratization and the Global Politics of Community-Based Schooling, eds. K. A. Heidemann and R. A. Clothey. Boston: Sense Publishers.
Kuk, H. S., & Tarlau, R. (2020). The confluence of popular education and social movement studies into social movement learning: A systematic literature review. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 39(5-6), 591-604.
The purpose of this paper is to systematically review and trace the lineage of theoretical debates around social movement learning in the field of adult education. We compiled articles, books and conference proceedings on adult education and social movements from Google Scholar using the software Publish or Perish and manually filtered the data to only include those that explicitly address the topic. Based on the data, we identified key literature that scholars cross-referenced, which extended the review to include the literature from the 1970s until today. We argue that the theoretical debates about social movements and education can be characterised by four phases: 1) popular education within and for social movements, 2) the Old/New Social Movement debate and its radical influence on adult education, 3) conflict and pushback between scholars, and 4) social movement learning as a confluence of literature. We argue that it is only when scholars writing about popular education interacted with scholars promoting the idea of ‘new’ social movements that the current proliferation of ‘social movement learning’ emerged. Thus, the knowledge production of social movement learning itself has been a result of a dynamic and historical movement in the field of adult education.
Mariano, A., & Tarlau. R. (2019). The MST and research with and for landless peasant-worker struggles in Brazil. In D. Kapoor & S. Jordan, eds., Research, political engagement and dispossession: Indigenous, small peasant and urban poor activisms in the Americas and Asia (pp. 29-49). Zed books.
This article offers a framework for analyzing social movement participation in public education through a focus on universities in Brazil. It builds on the literature on social movement–state relations, participatory governance, and community organizing in schools, drawing on the case of the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement and the National Program for Education in Areas of Agrarian Reform (PRONERA) to illustrate the need to recenter the idea of conflict as a central and ongoing process of social movement participation in public schools and universities. The article also introduces the concept of prefiguration and highlights how students can prefigure in the formal public school system the types of social and economic practices they hope to build in the future. Contentious cogovernance and prefiguration are tools not only for improving educational equity but also for increasing the strength and internal capacity of social movements, paralleling the role Paulo Freire envisioned for nonformal popular education within grassroots organizations.
How do unions that represent similar constituencies and fight for comparable goals come to embrace radically different relationships to the state and party politics? Drawing on Collier and Collier’s (1991) concept of the dual dilemma, that is, whether to collaborate with the state and risk co-optation or reject such collaborations and risk being sidelined, I analyze teachers’ unions political strategy in São Paulo (APEOESP) and Oaxaca (Local 22). In São Paulo, strategy centers on taking state power by building political parties that fight for working-class interests. In Oaxaca, the rise of the democratic teachers’ movement was a rejection of state power and an attempt to build autonomy from political parties. I argue that teachers chose these contrasting strategies during the late-1970s and early 1980s, due to their experiences of the legacies of labor incorporation under authoritarian regimes. The internal political practices established during this transitional period, when reform movements took control of the unions in both countries, continue to shape teachers’ strategies to the present. These findings suggest that union strategies regarding how to interact with the state are deeply shaped by previous state-labor relations and that unionists’ responses to the dilemma about whether to take or reject state power will directly shape their interpretations of ongoing political challenges.