Welcome to Rolling Earth

This website offers tools for education for democratic self-organization and reflections on their use. I hope it will provide a space for discussion and exploration of the use of "popular education" in movement building -- guided by a commitment to equality and democracy. See the website guidelines for more about the mechanics of the site. - Matt Noyes

Um, what is that? (aka alien communication)

(I learned this at Kani Club, the great "Yes, and..." improv group in Tokyo.)

This game, done in pairs, challenges the listener and the speaker alike to clarify the meaning of words and phrases used. Like all games it is, as Huizinga says, "pointless but significant." The fun is in the pointless interruption and unnecessary explanation. The significance is in the verification of mutual understanding of even the simplest terms.

The flow:

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This is not what democracy looks like...

In an English for Activists class on Occupy, Aki Owada had an idea for how to discuss the question: "What is democracy?" Instead of asking people to talk about what democracy is, she asked everyone to give examples of experiences they have had that were not democratic. (This is the same basic idea as the nightmare scenario, using the opposite as an entry way into a discussion.)

Here's what we came up with:

  • Police telling me I can't cross the street at a demonstration. The young activists said, "be patient Grandmother!" But I don't want to be patient!

Horizontal Pedagogy

What is the problem tree for?

Had an interesting conversation about the problem tree activity with some people who are using it in the context of a migrant worker organizing project. As part of a series of monthly worker assemblies, they are facilitating a three part problem tree activity -- one session for generating the leaves, another for the branches/trunk, a third for the roots. Where to go after that is not settled, it seems, but they seem to be thinking of some kind of discussion of solutions.

The People's Microphone

It's an obvious idea, but seeing video of people using the People's Microphone, I decided to teach the technique in my English for Activists course and use it for language practice.

The Flow

  • Introduce this as a technique used at Occupy Wall Street as a solution to a very simple problem: no sound permit. (Could lead to an interesting discussion about laws regarding speech and assembly in different countries.)
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Liar, Liar

This is a fun way to get people talking with each other and to help them loosen up. Good for a group where people already know each other and may find it hard to strike up a conversation that isn't stale. Going deeper: this activity frees us from the usual sense of obligation/desire to tell the truth, which may conflict with our feelings of shame or just a sense of privacy. Taking the liberty to lie, to betray our principles, to espouse reprehensible beliefs, may free us from inhibition and help us find new truths.

The Flow:

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Technique and Content

It is often said that popular education is not about the participatory techniques that we use (or not just about the techniques), it is about the content. One argument is that techniques are just tools that can be used for good or bad purposes, to liberate or to enslave. I remember Neville Alexander making this point in Education and the Struggle for National Liberation in Southern Africa. He writes that after Freire was exiled from Brazil the military junta used some of his techniques to conduct pro-government literacy education.

Regarding games

Reading Ranciere on Jacotot (Ignorant Schoolmaster) I have been thinking about the idea of constraint, of force, or the subordination of one will to another without sacrificing the equality of intelligences. ("Entre l'eleve et le maitre s'etait etabli un pur rapport de volonte a volunte..."p25) The student's will is subjected to that of the teacher, but the intelligences of the teacher and student are separate and equal.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln...

I made this one up for the English for Activists class I teach. The first class of the new season came one month after the 3/11/2011 great Tohoku Earthquake and resulting nuclear disaster, on the day the disaster was rated a Level 7 -- the highest level of nuclear accident on a global scale.

I wanted a way for the group to share about this enormous disaster that we all confront and all share. Inspired by the "Head, Heart, and Hands" activity in Educating for a Change, I drew six icons on index cards: a heart, an ear, an eye, a hand, a mouth, and a question mark. (I made three sets.)

Oni ha soto! (Demons out!)

This role play activity is based on setsubun, the Japanese festival of the coming spring, held in early February. One feature of setsubun is the mamemaki, ritual bean-throwing to chase away demons. I learned from a local shinto priest that the practice is based on the peasants' struggle to survive the winter. The demons represent hunger, death, disease and the beans -- the most nutritious food available at that time of year -- represent health and potential growth, the power to survive until spring.

The flow:


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