Action is Education

Lisa Putkey, Peace Studies Teacher
Thursday, June 4, 2015

Looking back on my first year as a teacher, I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to grow, learn, and create with this community.  Coming to Woolman marked a shift in my career from grassroots organizing to formal education. I now see how intertwined these two paths are. Organizing and action for collective liberation are central to peace education, and I have designed my curriculum to reflect this.

With a background in youth organizing, I fiercely believe in the power of youth to create change. Youth voices matter, and they have the power to transform and heal our communities as they have done for generations. A primary goal of my course is for students to see themselves as agents of change. I invite students’ interests, passions, and creativity into the classroom and strive to create a container with space for possibility and transformation.

One way that I do this is to model my projects class curriculum on organizer training and emergent teaching, in which I use flexibility and creativity to center students’ passions. This means that each semester, I have to trust in the students’ truths as they are revealed, and I have to be open to supporting their vision, wherever it may take us.  It makes for an exciting semester and gives students practice and empowerment in consensus-based decision-making, group facilitation, and logistical action planning and outreach.

For the past two semesters, this process has yielded extraordinary results. The Fall ‘14 semester students collectively organized Safe Spaces for Youth Voices, an Open Mic dedicated to shedding light on the topic of sexualized aggression. It was radical in that it broke the silence and allowed space for speaking out against sexual violence in our lives. Throughout the semester, students based their organizing on an ethic of love and modeled self and community care.

This Spring, students hosted Let’s Taco ‘Bout Social Justice, a taco fest to educate community members on the issues of Pro-choice, Undocumented Student Rights, and Islamophobia.  Their program was centered around the voices of communities directly affected with the understanding that these communities know best how to bring about and sustain justice when it comes to their own lives.  The event was powerful, uplifting and fun, demonstrating the power of creative and joyful youth energy in taking action to dismantle violent systems of oppression.

These actions wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the trust and support of the Woolman community.  I look forward to the 2015-16 academic year and to continuing to learn and be inspired by my students and co-workers.  For more information on how I incorporate education for transformation and liberation into the classroom, check out my Rad Resources blog on our Radical Learning for Change Trip and #BlackLivesMatter Unit.  This summer, I will be writing about and refining my curriculum for my graduate thesis in Peace Education and hope to make that available as a resource for educators early this Fall.  

I want students to walk away from my class with a greater understanding of themselves and their world and a belief in their own power to change the world around them. In this spirit, I leave you with a quote from Andrea Gibson’s spoken word poem, Say Yes, which I played for students at graduation to remind them to shine.

“when two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound the note
if this is your definition of hope
this is for you
the ones who know how powerful we are
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings”

-Andrea Gibson 

(To listen to Say Yes in it's entirety, click here.) 

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