Pioneered by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire, popular education is a people-oriented and people-guided approach to education.  By centering on participants’ life experiences, this approach affirms the dignity of all participants and recognizes that everyone in the room is both a teacher and a learner.  This creates horizontal relationships between teachers and students, rather than the more traditional, passive vertical transmission of knowledge from a teacher to students.

Popular education is characterized by participatory activities and learning methods that value participants’ life experiences and help develop their critical consciousness.  This approach attempts to inspire people to look at their world from new perspectives, empower people to think for themselves, and enable them to create change.  Critical consciousness fosters an in-depth understanding of the world and encourages collective action against oppressive elements in a struggle for human dignity and liberation.

Another unique trait of popular education is its use outside of traditional formal education settings.  By adapting to participants and their context, popular education may be used in the community, in people’s homes, or even in outdoor settings, to name a few non-traditional sites.  This approach meets people where they are at, both literally and with respect to their life experiences.

Primers and additional resources

Materials from Colectivo Flatlander include an overview of a popular education model and participatory methodologies, as well as diagrams and a discussion guide on the components of a learning experience from a popular education perspective.

A primer on popular education and an annotated booklist from The Encyclopedia of Informal Education (infed.org)[CS3]

The Popular Education News is a free email newsletter about popular education and community organizing resources for facilitators and practitioners. All back issues are archived on the site.

Catalyst Project focuses on political education and movement building with an emphasis on deepening anti-racist commitment in white communities and building multiracial movements for liberation.  It offers several political education workshops and panels.

Center for Political Education offers classes and events dedicated to building strong movements through political education.

Freire Institute  offers a range of workshops and events related to community-based learning.