Archive for the ‘Freire and Grundtvig’ category

A Trinitarian Look at CO

July 3, 2014

Fourth excerpt from the Manual for Organizers.

CO PopEd

This manual focuses on organizing people and communities, but I want to unbundle the concept. Instead of what may be called a unitarian understanding of organizing people for power, I prefer a trinitarian interplay of organizing, education, and leadership.

Of course, the process of organizing includes education and learning, and also the identification and development of leaders. But its primary indicator is of people acting together on common issues, and after a series of mobilizations, setting up structures that represent their collective power.

In addition to the learning that happens while preparing for mobilization and reflecting after, organizing programs include more purposive education activities. And if there are competing theories and methods of organizing, there are also competing theories and methods of education.

In the classical organizing tradition in the Philippines, Saul Alinsky and Paolo Freire represent the key ideas that have exerted explicit influence on our understanding and practice of community organizing (CO) and popular education (pop-ed).

Although there is an organic interplay between organizing and education, there is often a disconnect. Organizers may focus mainly on actions and numbers, quality of issues and mobilization, and results of negotiations. Educators may focus mainly on individual learning and the change in consciousness.

The late Odette Alcantara had this quotable quip about the disconnect between organizing and education, parallel to body and spirit: “Ang katawang walang kaluluwa ay bangkay. Ang kaluluwang walang katawan ay multo.”

In the trinity of community organizing, popular education and grassroots leadership, I identify most closely with the third. That’s why my institutional base continues to be the Education for Life Foundation, whose core program is “grassroots leadership formation for grassroots community empowerment.”

Like organizing and education, there are also competing theories and methods of leadership formation. But as Fr. Paking Silva declares: “Our bigger problem is not poverty, but lack of leadership.”

birds fish

This metaphor of birds and fish has been a continuing source of insights into the relationship between the committed professional, as organizer, educator or formator, and the grassroots communities and leaders.

Birds that fly can change change course quickly, almost as fast as our minds. From their vantage point, they look down on the fish below the surface waters and ask “Why are they not moving?”

The fish could answer: “Come down into the water, and you’ll realize it is harder to move in it. It is thicker than air, and polluted. But come close enough and you will also see that we are moving, though not so visibly to those flying far above.”

The bird must do more than a flying visit. Learn to swim with the fish. In organizing, we call it immersion. Swimming with the fish, the bird will understand the structures and culture that make them reluctant to change. But also appreciate that the fish are trying to change as much as they can in the given circumstances.

An educator from the Carribean said that we should not be too hard on birds asking questions from the outside. There is value in an outsider asking, “How is the water?” The fish may very well answer, “What water?”

The bird, having swam with the fish, can then talk with great credibility about swimming with the fish. But is that all? Be an advocate for them, even a sympathetic scholar? Could the bird not teach some of the fish to fly, to also theorize and not just to give personal testimony?

I dream of a learning community that is a partnership of birds who have learned to swim and fish who have learned to fly. The name of that dream is Komunibersidad.

Another story of birds and fish

There is the story of a bird who saw a fish struggling in the water. Thinking that the fish was drowning, the bird dove into the water, plucked the fish and brought it to the safety of its nest.

Will the fish die, or will it adapt and become a bird?

This one made we wince, because of my background in TESDA: “If fish were assessed according to their competency to climb a tree, no one would be certified.”

 

40 Years of Organizing People for Power

July 1, 2014

In the run up to my 71st birthday, I am posting excerpts from the third edition of the Manual for Organizers, which will have a launch on July 11 at the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement.

This is the foreword to the third edition.

Foreword OPP

For this third edition, I used a mimeographed copy of the second edition which Girlie Villariba found in an old box of papers from martial law years. Rereading its yellowed pages, I reimagined those early years of uncertainty and excitement, and was happy to still figure out what had been retained from my original draft, and what new material had been added.

In the same spirit, I have retained the text of the second edition with minor edits, and added some new materials. The new materials are some comments on the text, and a series of short reflections on 40 years of organizing work in the Philippines.

Why republish a text from 1974?

Why not write a new organizing manual?

One reason is that there is an interest in the original manual, and copies are not readily available. The content of Organizing People for Power represents what may be called the “classical” approach to organizing in the Philippines, field-tested through the years and still relevant, like any classic.

But we must acknowledge the many changes in the Philippines and in the world, and their impact on organizing work, including those  rooted in the classical CO tradition. There are many other organizing initiatives and innovations from which we need to learn valuable lessons .There has been talk of veteran organizers coming togetherto do another summing up, perhaps through a Tagisan III.

My comments and reflections are initial contributions to such needed conversation. Given the constraints of time and resources, I have relied mainly on what I can retrieve through my “remembering self.” A more extensive and intensive research awaits.

Other than marking the 40th anniversary of the first edition, this is an auspicious time to re-publish the manual. There are many new opportunities for organizing, among them the government’s programs on community driven development and participatory local governance and development. Some international and local agencies are also open to include community organizing as an integral part of “building back better” in post-disaster recovery and reconstruction.

While reading this manual is not a substitute for the action-reflection method of training organizers, it can be used for individual and group reflections. May it serve as a bridge from our generation to a new generation of organizers.

The format I have chosen for the third edition of the Manual is a bit different from the first two editions. I designed it to have features of a popular education workbook, for self-directed learning.

Hence I have included questions plus some spaces for you to write your answers. The same spaces are there for you to pose your questions and post your reflections.

My hope is that every copy of this Manual will be unique, as you become a co-author of your personalized edition.

Filipinos in 2014: What Can We Learn from Grundtvig?

March 22, 2014

Grundtvig

At least two things, maybe more.

But first, you may ask, who is Grundtvig? He is a Danish pastor, poet, historian and educator, whose full name is Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig. He lived from 1783 to 1872, and was the contemporary of two Danes who are better known internationally – the  existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, and Hans Christian Andersen, beloved author of fairy tales.

So, what does Grundtvig have to say to us, Filipinos in 2014?

“Outer loss, Inner gain.”

Am not sure if this saying is from Grundtvig’s own words, but it is, as Danes would say “Grundtvigian.”

The historical context for this saying was the loss of territory in the southern part of Denmark, which the Germans took over. According to historians, the saying may have had a literal meaning: The loss of the rich farmlands near the German border forced the Danes to develop the farmlands deeper into Denmark, particularly in Jutland, which led to the expansion of Danish agriculture.

But over the years, the dominant meaning of “Outer loss, Inner gain”  has been the philosophy of Grundtvig, and the Danes, that even if a superior nation-state conquers the territory, the people can develop a stronger sense of national identity and independence, if they dig deep into their history and culture and cultivate it, resulting in “people’s enlightenment.”

So what’s the relevance to us in 2014? I think of the continuing tension in the West Philippine Sea, as China with its superior naval forces asserts its claim on a part of our land and sea. And if that is not bad enough, there is the realpolitik response of the USA offering to establish greater presence on Philippine soil as a counterfoil.

Other than feeling dismayed and aggrieved, and debating about the danger of deepening dependence, can we have a national conversation about what we, as a people, still have and can develop?

Grundtvig 2

“When few have too much, and fewer have too little.”

These are definitely Grundtvig’s words, from one of his many poems. He had a prodigious output of poems and hymns, over 1500, many of them still being sung today in Danish churches and folk high schools.

The idea of nationalism as a response to external threats can be misused in an elitist fashion: Forget our internal differences. Unite against a common external enemy.

Grundtvig had a core concept that is difficult to translate, but I think it is captured by the hyphenated phrase “national-popular.” I am reminded of Rey Ileto’s thesis, distinguishing between the call for “independencia” by the ilustrado leaders of the Philippine independence movement, and the vision of “kalayaan” by the peasant libertarian movements.

Even the present administration accepts the criticism that the Philippine economic growth is not inclusive, and we remain a very inequitable society.

A Grundtvigian dialogue of life does not limit itself to seeking and strengthening our shared national culture and identity. It must ask and decide on the actions that are needed to make our country stronger, because it is more equitable.

Maraming salamat Grundtvig!

Thanks to Boinikko who shared a link to an interview about Grundtvig, where Professor Clay Warren mentioned my name as someone from the “resistance movement” who was influenced by Grundtvig. That led me to write this blog.

What Can Adult Educators Learn from Rak of Aegis?

February 1, 2014

Rak of Aegis

When Girlie and I arrived at the PETA theatre for the premier of Rak of Aegis, we were surprised to see the editorial board of the DVV International journal, Adult Education and Development. I was thrilled to meet them because I had a discussion with them earlier in the day. But then I felt a little anxious.

“Did you know that the musical is in Pilipino?” I asked the group whose members are from Europe (Germany, Norway and Denmark), Latin America, Middle East and South Asia. They did, but they were prepared to understand as much, or as little, as they could. At least they had read the synopsis from the printed program.

I couldn’t shake off my anxiety, but I told myself that the music of Aegis would make their evening, even if they don’t understand the lyrics. Girlie and I offered to do some whispered translations for them. For starters, we shared with them what we know of Aegis and their songs, which Maribel Legarda, the director, aptly described as “rockified kundiman.”

I hadn’t read the synopsis, and did not know what to expect other than the music. But Rak of Aegis delivered the PETA brand of theatre which Girlie and I have enjoyed in their past productions – a multilayered story driven by energy, full of invention, weaving poignant moments with sly and good-natured humor, conflict and feel-good inspiration.

How to explain Pinoy humor?

During the break and after the show, our foreign friends’ gave very positive feedback. Like us, they were especially swept up by the enthusiasm of the audience which erupted  in cheers and sang-along when the Aegis band gave a mini-concert of their hit songs.

Still, our friends had some questions, like: “Why did the audience laugh during scenes that appeared to be serious and sad?” I tried my best to explain the Pinoy sense of humor, and laughter as our default reaction, with a range of nuances from knowing titters and guffaws to self-mocking laughter.

What about the casual line, was it an ad lib ?, by a girl character to a boy: “Do you want visit to me in my condo?”  I didn’t want to  tell the convoluted telenovela about Vhong Navarro and Deniece, just to explain one brief burst of mischievous laughter.

Love in the time of calamity

Yesterday, my immediate appreciation of Rak of Aegis was how it recontextualized the hit songs of Aegis beyond the original personal “love and loss.” The songs acquired a wider and deeper meaning, about the loss of community resources and livelihoods, and about competing hopes and dreams.

Today I read the notes of Lisa Magtoto, the writer of this rock musical. She tells how she found Aegis lyrics that are not only about being “sawi” but also about gumption, that applies to many levels – personal love, individual and family dreams, community hopes.

In particular, the hit song Basang-basa sa Ulan has well-known lines of loss and helplessness:  Heto ako / Basang-basa sa ulan / Walang masisilungan / Walang malalapitan. But that same song also has these lines: Ngunit heto / Bumabangon pa rin.

Although the social and community context is integral to the musical, Lisa explains that true to the original Aegis songs, the spine of the story is still about losing, and possibly finding, love in  the time of calamity.

Different ways of decoding Rak of Agies

Following Paolo Freire’s methods, adult/popular educators like myself can look at Rak of Agies as a “code” which can yield many meanings through a process of “dialogical decoding.”

Using this approach, we can decode the messages of Rak of Agies about losing and finding love, with calamity as a context.  There are many lessons about love in the rock-musical –  from the triangle of Kenny and Tolits competing for Aileen’s affection,  a father and daughter’s love and conflict between Kiel and Aileen, a son and mother’s love and conflict between Kenny and Mary Jane, unresolved hurt from past love between Mary Jane and Kiel, Jewel’s hope that Kenny could reciprocate gay love.

The many love stories add a richer texture to the Aegis songs. But they also stretch the musical. Can they be tightened without sacrificing the message about the complexity of personal and family relationships in a community under stress?

Given the tradition of adult/popular education, we will most probably decode Rak of Agies by focusing on its messages about a community losing and finding hope after a calamity.

Rak of Agies as a mirror of competing hopes

Last night, I wished aloud that sponsors can bring PETA’s rock musical to the communities in the Visayas who have been affected by Yolanda.

First of all, it is entertaining – the songs, the stories, especially the humor, but also the conflicts and the sadness. Watching Rak of Agies can be a communal therapeutic experience. Relating to the songs and stories about losing and finding love can offer welcome relief, no matter how fleeting.

But beyond the relief, Rak of Agies offers more – a mirror to their competing hopes: Looking individually for hope outside the community, or even outside the country, like Kenny thinking of being an OFW, or Aileen hoping to be discovered through You Tube. Or like Kiel, hoping to revive previous livelihoods that were already hurting from competition before being further destroyed by disaster. Or like Mary Jane, looking to donors like Fernan for relief or compensation from guilty parties.

Like a good adult/popular education “code” Rak of Agies does not deliver its message didactically. It simply offers the community various options which they can discuss with their “remembering selves” after their “experiencing selves” have enjoyed the songs and stories.

Its central message is about two competing perspectives on hope:  Do they focus on exploiting the immediate opportunities of post-disaster relief and reconstruction, including “disaster tourism” and “disaster philanthropy”?  Or do they focus on finding ways to use the remaining assets of the community for sustainable livelihoods?

Symbolic of these competing options is the generative metaphor of relying on temporary flood waters versus standing on solid ground.

Bubbles of fragile hopes

My most memorable take away image from Rak of Aegis is from a fantasy scene of Aileen and Tolits singing about their still unexpressed love and their hopes.

As they sang, other cast members appeared, each one holding two sticks joined by strings. I thought they looked like the instruments used to stun fish. I wondered what they were meant to symbolize.

To our unexpected delight, their instruments produced soap bubbles that floated above and around the love pair. The effect was magical, for a while.

Thank you PETA. Thank you Aegis. Catch the Rak of Aegis at the PETA theatre every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, until March 9.

Starting the Week with Pop-Ed

October 14, 2008

Monday afternoon, I went straight from my Mindoro trip to the Fair Trade Alliance office. The FTA staff had invited me to give an orientation on popular education or “pop-ed.”

“We have formulated a Nationalist Development Agenda,” I was told. “But we need to popularize it among the members of our network, especially the workers.” The first participants to gather at the office were all leaders of workers – from trade unions, women from the informal sector, and a worker party list. Other FTA staff members joined us a bit later.

One of my parting advice was, “Don’t schedule your education sessions after lunch.” For speakers and facilitators, the early afternoon is “ora de peligro” when participants nod their heads, but not in agreement. John Medina in his Brain Rules cites findings from neuroscience that support having siesta or at least a short catnap, if we want more effective learning sessions.

One of his other finding is that physical activity is necessary, not only for our health, but also for learning. It’s supposed to be rooted in the fact that our brain evolved when our ancestors were doing a lot of walking and other physical activities. His provocative conclusion is that the usual classrooms and offices are not designed for effective learning, since they are designed to keep students and employees immobile.

That adds an interesting angle to one standard feature of pop-ed – energizers, ice-breakers and action songs.

The usual understanding of pop-ed is that it is “light” magaan, even “fun” kwela, not heavy mabigat, or boring. For political activists however, these attractive features of pop-ed has negative connotations of being “shallow” mababaw, or worse, “populist.”

It remains true that for many, pop-ed is understood primarily as a matter of methods – participatory, interactive, creative etc. But during the series of consultations we convened soon after EDSA 1986, our network of popular educators emphasized that “method” is only the third and last component of pop-ed. We proosed the “C-C-M” framework: Context, Content, Method.

When organizations set out to have a session on pop-ed, they expect to learn methods of presentation and facilitation, and of course they should. But we emphasize the need first to define the context, the program and organization, within which pop-ed will happen. And of course, we need to identify the content that the pop-ed session seeks to help the participants understand and internalize.

“There are only a few principles, but very many methods,” I told the participants. They need not limit themselves to copying the methods used by various facilitators. They can and should discover and develop new ones, so long as they grasp the key principles.

The first is that pop-ed ( and any effective education ) must be “learner-centered.” It seems rather obvious, but during our discussion, we agreed that we tend to be more “teacher-centered” and “topic centered.” This is especially true in the activist tradition, since there is strong emphasis on “the correct line” and on the “cadre.” Pursuing the discussion further, we arrived at a more nuanced appreciation of pop-ed, that it is not a stand-alone strategy for empowerment.

Still, at the informal feedback midway through the session, the participants said that one of the things that struck them most is the emphasis on being learner-centered. I had told them my usual (fictional) story about the British scientist who claimed that he had taught his dog how to whistle. But when it didn’t, explained to the jeering public: “Please recall that all I claimed was that I taught it to whistle. i didn’t say that it learned.”

Another favorite item I introduce to make my point is Thomas Aquinas’ “Quidquid recipitur, recipitur secundum modum recipientis.” I linked Paolo Freire’s critique of the “banking method” to the metaphor from Plutarch about learners: “They are not empty vessels waiting to be filled, but torches waiting to be lit.”

From there we moved on to discuss the principles of “accelerated learning”: 1) Learning is more effective if it is not consumption, but creation. 2) Learning is more effective if cooperative rather than competitive. 3) Learning is more effective if it is adapted to the different learning styles of the learners – visual, auditory, kinesthetic etc.

To round off the discussion on principles, we went cursorily through Howard Gardner’s ideas on “multiple intelligences.” One observation I posed, partly in self-criticism, is that we in the pop-ed network have not given enough attention to the fact that a high degree of musical intelligence is evident among Filipinos. One indication of the state of the popular-progressive movement is the lack of new contemporary songs. I recalled James Connoly’s assertion that “a cause has not become a people’s cause unless it is sung.”

The afternoon session was too short to have the practicum that I originally planned. I concentrated on explaining the key next steps they need to take, based on Freire’s “dialogical decoding” approach to popular education.

“You will have to identify the key words and generative themes of the Nationalist Development Agenda,” I suggested to the participants. “Then you have to develop the different “codes’ you will use for the pop-ed sessions of dialogical decoding – stories, posters and diagrams, short lectures, skits, songs, and yes, even powerpoint presentations.” I referred them to one of my favorite websites PresentationZen, to help them avoid the danger of “death by powerpoint.”

The timing of the FTA’s decision to popularize their Nationalist Development Agenda is based on their regular three-year project cycle. But it is very timely because of the current turmoil in the globalized economy, especially its financial system. After all, pop-ed does not only seek to help people understand what is happening and why. Ultimately, it seeks to help them consider ways to respond and pursue viable alternatives.

But I pointed out one additional crucial challenge to FTA as it popularizes its agenda: “You must avoid being framed as merely recycling an old paradigm. Instead, you must make the case that you are innovating, since the previously dominant neoliberal paradigm has been refuted by real world events.”

Transformative Learning

July 25, 2008

Yesterday afternoon, Girlie and I dropped into the Far Eastern University for the first time. I had been invited to speak at the biennial conference of the Association of Philippine Colleges of Arts and Science. Benilda Villena, VP of Enverga University and our friend from the 70s, is current APCAS president.

The theme of the conference is Transformative Learning, and I initially wanted to share my latest readings into neuroscience. The findings into what happens to our brain when we learn are exciting and should inform how we design workshops and classes for that matter.

Even if I limited myself to the findings summarized in Brain Rules which my sister Yen kindly bought for me, I found it hard to prepare my talk. Fortunately, Benilda gave me a topic that is relatively easier for me to prepare – Lifelong Learning for Social Transformation. “It’s your life’s work,” she said later, to explain why she asked me to speak on it.

Still, I downloaded the summaries of the 12 Brain Rules and gave them to the participants as bonus. At the start of my talk, I shared with them the first Brain Rule, that physical movement helps us learn, to introduce the energizer.

The theme reminds me of the slim book of Brian Murphy of Inter Pares in Canada, Transforming Ourselves, Transforming the World. I was expected to reflect on my experiences in social activism, and I did, including the adjustments from the politics of resistance to the politics of participation after EDSA 1986. But I dwelt longer on my insights into education work, particularly in the formation of grassroots leaders, in order to engage the participants in their own field of formal higher education.

Sometimes I describe the work I do with the Education for Life Foundation as “alternative higher education” for the grassroots, and even as “liberal education” for grassroots leaders.

Obviously, the more immediate association of social transformation is “committed action.” Young student activists who dropped out of college would quote the 60’s slogan – Don’t let your schooling interfere with your education. Later, one of Marx’s theses on Feuerbach resonated even deeper with them – Philosophers have only interpreted the world. The point is to change it.

The truth borne by those slogans and aphorisms remain valid. But I explained that the political context within which they got popularized was that of repression and resistance under martial law. But after 1986, how do we re-interpret them in a situation that offered possibilities of reform, but not radical revolution?

I agree with the observation that there was also a shade of anti-intellectualism engendered in young activists by their experience with irrelevant studies and conservative, even authoritarian professors. But even in the movement, the educational work tended to focus on progressive content ( analysis and political strategy ). The methods and the underlying theory of learning, on hindsight, were not equally progressive. Freire’s critique of the “banking method” can apply not just to conservative education but also to education within the revolutionary movement.

That is one of the reasons I think for the difficulties faced by activists in adjusting to the changed political situation. At some point I half-seriously suggested that we need to also use the reverse of Marx’s thesis – Activists have sought to change the world. But to change it effectively, we need to understand it.

Part of our response was to revive and promote the theory and practice of popular education or “pop-ed.” Initially, this was welcomed mainly for its methods – participatory, lively, even fun. As one of ELF’s leader-graduates report, the mayor in his home town appreciated their training activities simply because they were not boring.

But a deeper appreciation developed beyond the methods to the theory and the assumptions of popular education. After Freire, the other major influence on my thinking on this is Grundtvig from the Danish folkehojskole tradition. One of the Danish folk high school teachers would say, “First we enliven them; then we enlighten them.” They also had a quote I really liked, which turned out to be as old as Plutarch – “Learners are not empty vessels waiting to be filled. They are torches waiting to be lit.”

Another Danish teacher wrote that “We wind up our students like watches. Then they continue running on their own.” It’s a good metaphor for lifelong learning, but the prevalence of digital watches has made it obsolete.

I ended my talk with my favorite list of 10 Laws of Lifetime Growth. I linked “Make your learning greater than your experience” to the philosophy and method of ELF – Hango sa buhay. Tungo sa buhay, Habang may buhay, and the Life History Workshop or Kwentong Buhay.

The 10th “law” is as good a guide for transformative learning as any – “Make your questions bigger than your answers.” Answers close a stage of the discussion. Questions open doors and windows for further exploration and discovery.

Toward a community of leaders and learners

November 28, 2007

The first day of the LCC general assembly of NGOs started with an opening ritual designed and led by 15 Aytas from Botolan Zambales. As we held lighted candles they had made from native beeswax, they chanted prayers punctuated by wailing cries to Apo Namalyari.

It was an apt symbolism to start the conference on literacy with the first peoples of the Philippines, who call themselves kulot, or curly-haired, and the rest of us as unat, or the straight-haired. Some years back, we had a bit of fun on this distinction, since the Danish ambassador whom we invited as guest to their graduation was curly-haired, but blond.

The Aytas then did a short theater piece on their literacy work, which started in the 80s when they were still living on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo. It was still a revelation to me, even if I have done work with them for more than 12 years. Tay Ben, one of the first 10 Aytas trained in the popular education methods of Freire, simulated how they taught the alphabet as two families – pamilyang patinig (vowels) at pamilyang katinig (consonants), the first able to make sounds, the second not as well. He taught the letter A as the outline of a roof structure that was left standing after a storm wiped out the rest.

They ended with a tableau, holding up messages which they proclaimed: Literasi dito, doon, sa bahay, sa barangay, sa bayan, sa kanilang bayan. Literasi kahit saan!

Some years back, during an external evaluations of ELF’s work, we visited the Aytas and they told us that there was a time when they did not want their children to get an education. We asked why. “Because the first Ayta who got a college education through a scholarship went abroad as soon as he graduated. The second one stayed, but was helping a rich lowlander claim our land,” they explained. They saw educated people as those who leave them or help others harm them.

“But now,” they added, “we realize that we need to educate ourselves, so that we can protect our rights. We learn to count so we will not be cheated by traders. We learn to write our names so we can vote for the officials we like, instead of someone else writing for us who can write another name than the one we choose.”

In my talk at the conference, I cited what Carling told me once: “If when ELF first came to us you gave us money, that would be gone by now. But instead you gave us training, including how to negotiate, so now we can get funds for our projects.” That was music to our ears then. But I also teased him that if I gave them a choice of using the money we had for training them, or giving them the money to spend, he would have asked for the money.

After we had trained a few Ayta leaders in our six-week grassroots leadership course, they requested ELF to have a course that is exclusively for Ayta leaders. We did two courses. When they asked for a third, I challenged them. “There are enough leader – graduates among you. Why don’t you run the next all-Ayta course.”

They did, not just once but twice, until the outside funds we could tap ran out. But just before that happened, they invited us one day to a meeting. “We have decided to organize all the leader-graduates of the ELF courses into PBAZPaaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales,” they told us. They elected a woman leader, Letty Gomez as their first president, which was unusual.

“What do you want to do as PBAZ?” I asked. “We want to make sure that our choldren who go to the formal schools also enroll in PBAZ, so we can teach them our history and culture,” they said.

I thought they simply wanted to continue the grassroots leaders course of ELF. But they had a deeper and more strategic vision – to insure that their tribal rights and identity will survive as part of a diverse Philippine national community.

When ELF started our work 15 years ago, we thought mainly of the lowland rural communities when we expressed our vision as “toward a community of leaders and learners.”

PBAZ and the Ayta leaders have picked it up faster and given it a deeper meaning and broader perspective.

Learning conversations

November 28, 2007

Am jotting these notes just before rushing off to Seameo Innotech for the opening of the first general assembly of NGOs involved in literacy. It is being convened by the LCC – the Literacy Coordinating Council.

Ka Carling Domulot and 15 Aytas from Botolan Zambales are doing the opening ritual and a short skit on their literacy work. His story is an inspiring example of self-directed learning. As a young boy, he could neither read nor write; in fact he has not studied in any formal school. He joined a literacy program started by the FMM sisters on the slopes of Mt. Pinatubo, and since then has been a lifelong learner and literacy worker.

Will write about the two-day LCC conference later.

I flew back last night from Cebu for this conference, but will miss something they will be doing today and tomorrow which I would have wanted to observe. Fr. Paking Silva is experimenting with another approach to training members of the Board of Directors of electric coops. He heard about the method from a friend who took part in the East-West Conference in Hawaii.

The East-West conferences brought together a select group of 12 participants from different parts of the world. They have to be CEOs who manage a workforce of at least 10,000 people, and they have to be manging for at least 7 years. That’s why his friend qualified, since he was manager of Atlas Mining when it was still operating in Toledo City, with 14,000 workers.

According to his friend, it was a very expensive course (I forgot to ask the price), but more than worth it, “like a doctorate course in a special university.” The conference lasts for 21 days, and there are no lecturers, just three moderators and synthesizers.

The 12 participants discuss topics they want to discuss in depth. Since they come from parts of the world and different companies, they experience the challenge and rich potential of diversity. They go through a simple  process of 1) asking what topics they want to discuss, 2) deciding what to discuss first, and 3) presenting what they are good at.

To qualify for the course certificate, the participants write an exit seminar paper about what they have learned that are applicable to their companies.

When I was asked to comment on the idea, I said that the underlying philosophy of learning seems to be similar to what we use at the Education for Life Foundation – hango sa buhay, tungo sa buhay, habang may buhay.

It also reminds me of one of my favorite aphorisms from the 10 Laws of Lifetime Growth: Make your learning greater than your experience.

In ELF, the grassroots leaders from groups of three to five for their kwentong buhay, where they exchange what they have learned from their life, from their achievements as well as from their frustrations and disappointments. These Life History Workshops lasted for three days, and initially the participants kept wondering when the resource person would come. But after going through the kwentong buhay, they would say “We didn’t realize that we already know a lot!” One barangay captain blurted: “It’s the best semianr ever that I have attended!”

One of the truisms that I believe in is that those who teach a topic get to learn it even more than if they only study it. I think that’s what happens in those intense conversations. To share our experiences with others, we need to reflect on them and draw lessons – “distill” the knowledge in the metaphor of a knowledge management pamphlet from British Petroleum. And since we allow ourselves to be “interrogated” the questions coming from other angles help us look at our experience and ideas in another light.

That is also the spirit of Freire’s “dialogical decoding” except that the “code” we interpret together is our own life experiences.

The choice of the word “dialogue” is right. As Peter Senge wrote, dialogue is different from discussion (he says it reminds him of percussion) which tends to be adversarial, scoring points off each other. Dialogue, from the Greek dia and logos, is “thinking through” together.

Conversations in Korea

September 5, 2007

After the excitement of attending a first international conference, I find many of the formal programs rather predictable. What makes many conferences worth the time and money spent are the conversations that happen during the breaks, at meals, or at night over drinks. Of course they may be triggered by something said at the formal sessions, but not always.

We give such encounters the grand name of “networking.” Since veteran delegates usually complain about the formal sessions, and yet find the informal and side discussions fruitful, I wonder why we don’t reduce the time for the formal sessions and give more space for chance and self-organized meetings.

One of my interesting conversations here in Korea is with Carlos. The name evokes the almost mythical terrorist in the 80s. But though Carlos Torres admits to having been a Marxist as a young man in Argentina, he describes himself today as an anarchist.

When I first heard his name, I wondered if he is the professor in California who mentored Sung-sang, the Korean Ph.D candidate who interviewed me about popular education in the Philippines for his thesis on the influence of Paolo Freire in South Korea and in the Philippines.

Happily, he is. So I asked him “How did you get into popular education and Freire?” He said that he has been asked that many times, but still retold his story.

“Because of love.” he said. “I was a 19-year old Marxist when I met this revishing beauty. It was instant mutual attraction. I was poor, she had money, and so she bought books for me to read. One of her favorites was Paolo Freire and she gave me Education as the Practice of Freedom.

Carlos flashed his rakish smile, and added. “Reading that book convinced me that Freire is a hopeless populist. But I couldn’t tell that to her, or that would be the end of our affair. So when she asked me what I thought of Freire, I said I was still trying to understand him.”

Then she gave him Pedagogy of the Oppressed. At first reading, he found no reason to change his critique of Freire as a “populist.” This time, however, he decided to be frank and argued with his girl friend. But eventually, after re-reading Freire for the eighth time, Carlos became a Freire admirer. He wrote Freire, laying out his criticisms and questions, which Freire answered. He visited Freire in Sao Paolo and worked closely with him until his death in 1997.

After Freire’s death, Carlos started a Freire center in the California univesity where he teaches, and is a founding member of an international network of Freire centers. He says that his graduate course on Freire draws an unusal number of students, as many as 200.

So what happened to his love affair? “I must confess that I fell in love with a second woman,” he said, “who was also very beautiful. And at one point I had to make a choice.” He decided to marry his second girl friend and says they lived happily with their children for 25 years. But eventually they got divorced.

We had an early dinner tonight, and the other participants asked why we were laughing a lot at our table. It was because of Carlos, and his many stories.

He started by referring to my metaphor on “birds learning to swim and fish learning to fly.” He said he liked it but felt ambivalent, since he is angry at a bird that kept eating the “koi” fish in his backyard pool. He informed us that “koi” is considered a good luck fish, and can live till 70 years.

Somehow talk turned to salmon, which is my favorite fish. “Don’t you know” he told us, “that it’s a good thing salmons swim against the current to go to upstream where they were spawned? Otherwise we would all be salmons now.”

After the laughter, we asked why. “Salmons lay billions of eggs, but since they swim against the current only a small percentage survive. If they did not do that, they would overpopulate the world.”

After we clinked our glasses for a toast he warned me, “Don’t look at the glass when you do a toast; look at the person. If you look at the glass, that is bad luck.” Rosie from South Africa agreed:”That means five years of bad sex!”

But how do you know what is bad and good sex? “Well, since I specialize in methodology,” Carlos said, “I would just keep on trying so I have enough samples for comparison. Or even better, triangulate.”

Yesterday we were both at the workshop that discussed a learning region in South Africa and Changwon as a learning city. I did a short presentation on the possibility of “learning villages” in the Philippines, based on participatory local governance.

Although we all agreed on the advantages and greater possibilities of local area-specific partnerships for lifelong learning, we also acknowledge the importance of policies and politial changes at the national level. And there is the continually increasing impact of global dynamics.

Both the Korean presentor and I cited the concept of “glocal” to describe links of global forces and institutions to the local, that bypass the national.

I ended my talk by posing the question of scaling up from the village and town level. It is sometimes tempting to adopt a strategy based on the answer to the question: How do we eat an elephant? “Bit by bit.”

But we need to find appropriate “scales of sustainability” – small enough to allow the effective participation of the grassroots, and yet big enough to have an impact on the national and the global.

Carlos had a last word. “If glocal refers to a top-down impact of globalization on the local, Ed is posing an important question – is there a possible bottom-up combination of the local and the global? We need to find a name for that.”

After the workshop, I told him that he may have read more into my question than what was in my mind. We could have taken off from that to revisit Freire’s ideas on coding and dialogical decoding.

Freire and Grundtvig 2

August 30, 2007

Some years back, ELF decided to produce workbooks on Learning Theories for grassroots educators. The first pair of educators whom we featured were Freire and Grundtvig, and we consider their ideas complementary.

Although Freire’s ideas on education continued to evolve till his death 10 years ago, it is what he wrote in the Pedagogy of the Oppressed that define him internationally. In the Philippines, we associate Freire’s pedagogy with developing critical consciousness, and opposition “politics of resistance.” On the other hand, we associate Grundtvig’s ideas on education with the “politics of participation.”

While both Freire and Grundtvig are committed to the enlightenment and empowerment of the grassroots, Freire’s ideas have usually been applied to situations where the elite in power are not open to reforms, and even repress the conscientized grassroots.

At one conference in Denmark, I coined the phrase “Grundtvigian moment” to describe the situation for applying Grundtvig’s ideas. Such a moment comes when a section of the elite initiate reforms from above, and open the political space for people’s participation from below. Of course they want to limit these openings. But the point of Grundtvig is to help the people push the reforms beyond the limited intentions of the elite.

Post-EDSA 1986 was such a Grundtvigian moment. The new democratic space had its limits, and a section of the elite even wanted to constrict it. Many from the progressive movement saw this as reason not to engage the new government lest they promote illusions. But there were those of us who chose to contest and fill the space precisely as a way to push back the limits.

Chris Spicer from the USA described popular education (associated with Freire) and folk education (associated with Grundtvig) this way: “Popular education is about the struggle for life; folk education is about the celebration of life.”

Pete Batangan, a former education staff of ELF, wrote in a similar vein – Freire’s ideas criticize the negative aspects of modernity; Grundtvig’s ideas appreciate the positive aspects of modernity.

Shall we say, then, that Freire represents the tradition of critical inquiry, while Grundtvig represents the contemporary viewpoint of appreciative inquiry? Not quite.

Critical inquiry asks “What is wrong, and what should we do to fix it?” Appreciative inquiry asks “What is working well, and how do we build on it?” Both approaches can be found in the writings of Freire and Grundtvig.

Freire’s spirit suffuses the slogan of the World Social Forum that first assembled in Porto Alegre in Brazil: “Another world is possible!”

When I first heard this, I thought of something Grundtvig wrote. He said that when it comes to the matter of wealth, he would want a situation “where few have too much, and even fewer, too little.”

Years back, when my vision and passion was for radical egalitarianism, I would have dismissed Grundtvig’s view as too “reformist.” But in a world where globalization and growth is accompanied by such inequality that even Bill Gates is challenged to address it, Grundtvig’s vision has radical possibilities.


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