Academic journal article Adult Learning

From the Lungs of the Americas: The People Shout! Popular Communications on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast

Academic journal article Adult Learning

From the Lungs of the Americas: The People Shout! Popular Communications on Nicaragua's Atlantic Coast

Article excerpt

"Somos la garganta de America (We are the throat of the Americas)" begins the chorus of a political song by Nicaraguan Luis Enrique Mejia Godoy that was popular during the early years of the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s. The insurrection that overthrew the U.S.-backed dictator Somoza put the small Central American country on the political as well as the geographic map, where it indeed appeared to be the throat of the western hemisphere. Like many other North American adult educators during that period, I was inspired by the tremendous energy unleashed by the revolution, nurturing a series of daring social experiments. From the "throat of the Americas" had come a unique environmental adult education development: the renowned Nicaragua Literacy Crusade, which had sent 100,000 brigadistas (volunteer literacy teachers) into the countryside to teach 400,000 peasants to read and write in a short five months (miller, 1985). I had fortuitously been present at the celebration of this "Victory over Ignorance," when plans were announced to continue a process of democratizing education through popular education collectives taught by new literates. Then I was invited by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Education to offer workshops in photo-story production to new literacy teachers in 1981 and 1983. More a learner than a teacher during those forays, I uncovered an already rich tradition of popular education (Barndt, 1991) and a lesser known practice of "popular communications" (Nunez, 1999).

Like popular education, popular communications works on behalf of the marginalized majority, drawing content from their daily struggles and putting the tools of communications in their hands. In contrast to the mass media which in the Nicaragua context had been state- and often foreign-controlled, popular media are locally produced and serve as catalysts for deeper social analysis and collective action. I became part of the first team to set up regional production centers and to train literacy teachers and community workers to gather their own stories, develop photos, and produce popular education materials, including masks, theatre, poetry, and silk screen posters, all popular forms of cultural expression in Nicaragua.

We developed a conceptual framework for introducing this new approach to cultural production to the maestros populares, or popular teachers, as they were called. It compared the dominant media with alternative media, or popular communications, according to four categories: content (what are the stories told or messages transmitted?), form (through what mediums?), production (how are they produced and by whom?), and use (for what purposes?).

This framework reminded us that transforming education and media from the practices of the dictatorship involved not only replacing the ideological content (that had previously denied the experiences and struggles of the poor), but also rethinking who produces communications tools, how, and for what. It was clear, for example, that dominant culture media was primarily aimed at selling, if not products through advertising, at least a way of life inaccessible to most Nicaraguans.

We were particularly interested in emphasizing that the production process itself could be reclaimed for popular purposes. In contrast with mainstream media production, usually the exclusive domain of professionals, popular communications engaged ordinary people in collective production, tapping their creativity, and stimulating their learning through an active making process. In other words, we tried to turn the entire purpose of dominant media on its head; popular communications was, in fact, more concerned with process than with the final product.

In the 20 years since we first developed this framework, I have used it many times, though primarily in northern contexts. I added a fifth category --context--which I came to see as the most critical factor. …

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