Academic journal article Adult Learning

Making Hope and History Rhyme: Reflections on Popular Education and Leadership Following a Visit to Highlander

Academic journal article Adult Learning

Making Hope and History Rhyme: Reflections on Popular Education and Leadership Following a Visit to Highlander

Article excerpt

Abstract: This article draws on our backgrounds as adult educators in Ireland and our experience at Highlander in 2014. We review our development as critical educators, exposed to deep inequalities in Irish society. We explore role of popular education in fostering social change, beginning with the commitment to equality and freedom, whereby, we produce emancipatory knowledge with students and participants. This learning process is more explicitly political and collective than individual psychological concepts of learning. The Highlander experience provided the opportunity to interrogate related assumptions that underpin the concept of leadership, pointing toward a more collective and political framework. The article uses feminist critical theories as lenses for this interrogation, holding that equality and freedom are mutually constitutive principles of critical practice. Popular educators foster critical thinking and reflection. The Other's Tools, drawing on the precept that traditional thinking reinforces the status quo. These critical thinking tools are vital to question the assumptions that power and control in society as individualized or de-politicized. We take this learning into our practice in Ireland.

Keywords: popular education, social movements, critical practice, feminisms, leadership theories


   History says, don't hope
   On this side of the grave.
   But then, once in a lifetime
   The longed-for tidal wave
   Of justice can rise up,
   And hope and history rhyme.

--Seamus Heaney

Highlander is a shining example of courageous leadership in our work in adult education. We learned of Highlander through our studies and our colleagues in the Popular Education Network (PEN). Highlander has fed into the creation of emancipatory learning environments and influenced the work of social movement activists in Ireland. However, neither of us had visited Highlander, and we were overjoyed with the opportunity to travel to Ball State University as visiting scholars. This included a trip to Highlander with our new colleagues to participate in the learning program on authentic leadership in the iconic round-room full of rocking chairs.

Highlander's vision of a better world and the acknowledgment of the profound struggle to attain it provide a beacon of hope in inequality's darkness (Adams & Horton, 1975; Horton, 2003; Horton & Freire, 1990). In this article, we reflect on this participation, explore our reaction to the place and what it represents, and contemplate our experiences with the intensive course and how we brought this learning home. To contextualize these reflections and our visions for the future, we begin by describing how we became popular educators and delineating our conception of popular education.

Yes, It's Personal and Political!

We believe that it is impossible to separate the personal and political. We act, think, and speak out our lived, embodied, and storied experience. Our pedagogical choices and our approach to writing a piece such as this also emerge from biographies made within collective histories. To clear the ground for dialogue with you, the reader, we introduce ourselves as people who came to Highlander with particular experiences, expectations, ideas, and commitments.

Just a note, when we use I and we, we refer to ourselves rather than the wider community of popular educators or social activists; however, we align ourselves with these groups.

Brid Connolly

During my studies in philosophy, I was influenced by the work of Beauvoir (1949/2010) and the wider philosophy underpinning equality and justice. When I started in adult education, this influence stayed with me, particularly in the aftermath of the anti-abortion amendment of 1983. In 1989, I worked with a project for unemployed people and applied this personal/ political perspective to wider groups including men, people with disabilities, and other minorities. …

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