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

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:

Power up!

A warm-up activity that raises (!) the question of power, what/who is powerful and what is not. Should be done quickly, but may lead to discussion that deserves time. This could be a good warm-up for a fuller discussion/analysis using, for example, the power line activity.


  • Group sitting in chairs, warn them that they need to ready to stand up quickly.
  • Joker starts by naming something s/he thinks is clearly powerful -- for example, "CEO" -- and pointing to the next (or another) person.
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Improve this box

How to make it easier for people to visualize the course content and then suggest improvements? How to stimulate thinking by making abstractions physical?

An idea:

Get a dozen cardboard boxes (or other 3-dimensional objects) of different sizes, label each so that it represents a different aspect of the course, for example one box could be tagged: "Writing journal entries on the course website" or "meeting with union activist" or "watching film Human Resources" or "student participation"...

Run-on story

A simple way to help people tell a story by providing prompts that keep the story moving and demand richer description and reflection.

Sitting in a circle, participants take turns telling a story with the facilitator (or as Boal says, the Joker) providing the links:

Participant 1: "My friend called me this morning and told me she was going to quit school..."

Joker: "because..."

Participant 2: "...she needs to make money and she feels like school has no meaning."

Joker: "But..."

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Games and roles

What makes games useful in learning is not just that they get people participating, that they involve physical movement and responding to a changing environment, that they require creativity and quick responses, that they create a kind of mini-world in which what we say and do has immediate and obvious relevance and measurable impact, not just that they are fun...

Talking Chits

This is a simple tool for equalizing participation in small group discussion and raising awareness of how much people speak. It's probably not original, but I can't recall seeing it before.

In a smallish group (ten people) in one of my courses, I prepared a set of chits -- small rectangular pieces of card stock (cut up index cards) -- and gave each participant five chits (including me).

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Making a learning strategy

In my current English for Activists (EFA) course in Tokyo for Labor Now, I have started out by having participants create a learning strategy for the course. I introduced the Que, Para Que, Como, Quien/Con Quienes, Con Que, Donde, Cuando format from Alforja, Vol 1. (El Camino Logico).

The WHAT is simply our course title: English for Activists (most participants are returning, so there is a pretty good sense of what EFA has meant. In any case, defining our objectives fleshes this out.


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