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Chapter 4 -- Adding New Information

This step can be tricky for popular educators. It is easy to slip back into the old "banking" model of education: and play the role of the expert whose job it is to give people information or ideas, treating your fellow participants like so many empty vessels waiting to be filled.

Providing new information (or helping people find it themselves) and helping them learn how to use it is essential in any educational process. Obtaining and learning to use information is a central part of building power. Sharing information and helping others learn is essential for democracy.

How do we share information without falling back on the most traditional and inefficient teaching techniques and methods? Is lecturing the only way? Is Power Point the answer? This step of the spiral poses a good challenge for would-be popular educators.

I wrestled with this issue at AUD because one big part of our work was helping people understand and use information about their legal rights as union members, often full of jargon and references to procedures and rules.

The key question regarding sharing information is why? Why is this particular information important to you? What makes you think it will be important to the participants? How do you expect it to be used? This is especially important in presenting information on legal rights, because what looks like simple transmission of information -- "these are your rights" -- often includes a political or strategic message -- "and you should make legal rights enforcement the main goal of your activism."

(This first became clear to me in an AUD workshop I helped organize before I worked there. A very well-meaning board agent from the National Labor Relations Board gave a presentation to union members about the NRLB and its procedures. When he was finished, TDU activist Mike Ruscigno, the other guest speaker, stood up and said "I hope you never go see this guy," gesturing cheerfully to the startled NLRB agent. "I want you to organize with your coworkers and get strong enough that you can win on you own.")

After a while I came to describe the subject matter of the workshops I did on these issues as "legal rights and organizing," which more accurately reflects the way problems come up and the way they are solved by workers: nine times out of ten, the solution to a legal rights problem is found in organizing.

When thinking about techniques to use for sharing information, it is easy to come up the traditional teaching tools: lectures, readings, handouts, audio-visual (videos, films, songs, illustrations, diagrams), etc. It takes a little more work to produce participatory techniques in which people encounter and practice using new information.

Activities in this chapter:

The subject of the first three activities -- Robert's Rules, Robert's Roles and Robert's Riot -- is Robert's Rules, the rules of parliamentary procedure that nearly every union uses as its official procedure for membership meetings. Robert's Rules can be a study in logic and self-organization or a tool of disempowerment and abuse of power. For unionists serious about winning control over their unions, Robert's Rules are an obstacle that must be dealt with. And the challenge of running an organization fairly, openly, and democratically makes some form of procedure (or process) unavoidable. (See the excellent treatment of union meetings, including simplified rules of order, in Democracy is Power by Martha Gruelle and Mike Parker. Bonus: see Mike Parker put his Robert's Rules expertise to work at a UAW special bargaining convention in this video from the Soldiers of Solidarity website.)

The fourth activity, Quick Cases: Legal Rights and Action, is a game of "non-trivial pursuits" developed by Leon Rosenblatt that works well for introducing and testing knowledge of basic legal rights as they occur in the real world.

The fifth activity, Eugene Got Suspended, is for practicing trouble-shooting legal rights and organizing problems. It is loosely based on the Problem-Based Learning method in which a problem is presented in simple terms and then explored in a series of steps. Thanks to Nick Bedell and David Bindman for introducing me to PBL; they did much more with it in their work at SEIU 1199's Training and Upgrading Fund in New York City.

Resource: a great example of creating and sharing information is Project South's timeline activity, in their two volume handbook Popular Education for Movement Building. The timeline is used to teach history in a way that is participatory and directly connected to the lives and histories of the participants -- it is a very adaptable and useful tool. Rather than say more about it here, or give examples of timelines I used, I will just refer you to their website and urge you to order the handbooks.

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