When education doesn’t liberate

In Santa Maria Tzejá, the village described in my book, there was a time before the village was destroyed in 1982 by the Guatemalan army when the state sent a pair of abusive male teachers to the village’s school.  People thought they were probably soldiers passing as teachers.  Whatever their background, they were abusive.  One day a girl named María was in her math class when the teacher said students would get whipped with a stick for every mistake they made that day.  María made 13 errors.  He offered her one option, “Where would you like the blows to hit you?”  She said, “All over my body.” The memory of that day pains her to this day, now that she is a teacher in the village with a very different teaching style.  But it is obvious that a steady diet of that kind of treatment over time would condition students to be submissive in class and to have low self-esteem as learners.

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Funciona! Cosecha de la Libertad de Educación Libertadora!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Publicado 23 de febrero 2015 por clarkedson en Sin categoría. Deja un comentario
Semillas de Libertad: La Educación Liberadora en Guatemala. Este es el sexto puesto semanal sobre las cuestiones planteadas en mi libro, que es un caso de estudio de la educación liberadora en una remota aldea en el norte de Guatemala. Continue reading

It works! Liberating Education’s Harvest of Freedom


The three first graders in the photo, are, in the metaphor of the book, “seeds of freedom” who are “planted” by their parents in the kindergarten of the Santa María Tzejá (SMT) village school to be nurtured by the school through the years of their schooling.  What then of the “harvest” of these seeds?  If the goal of liberating education is to produce catalysts of change working for freedom from oppression for themselves and others, how is it going?  Very well, it is fair to say. Continue reading

Allies are often necessary but beware of the baggage they bring!

The three first graders in the theme photo don’t know a thing about allies, but the powerful form of education they received wouldn’t have been possible without a host of allies that worked with the village in a variety of ways.  From Padre Luis Gurriarán, the Spanish priest who provided the initial support and training for the settlers of the new village, and on into the future, allies have played vital roles in the development of liberating education in the village.  Randall (Rolando) Shea first became a middle school teacher to SMT refugee students in Mexico and then joined the reunited community in Guatemala in 1994 and became the organizing principal of the new Santa María Tzejá middle school and drew on his US funding network to support the school.  My church in Needham, MA became a partner ally of the village and provided the money to make it possible for the teachers to work full-time in the village schools.  A Roman Catholic agency, PRODESSA, provided amazing training in liberating education for the teachers drawn form the village population.  There were many others, but these were the key to the unfolding educational process of the village.  But there is a down side, as well.

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The crux of the matter: WHAT IS LIBERATING EDUCATION?


Consider the three children in the theme photo once more:  They don’t know it yet but they are on an educational path that is powerful in awakening their curiosity and sense of self-confidence–a path of liberating education that deserves to be better known and practiced.  In brief, liberating education inspires students who understand themselves to be oppressed to have such perspectives in their learning and skills–and confidence in themselves–that as they mature, they will demand human rights/justice for themselves and for others.  Such learners understand themselves to be change agents working for a just world and they take satisfaction, at times joy, in doing that work. Continue reading

“Not in our wildest imagination!–full education for our children?”


These three first graders were obviously enjoying their studies enough to stay in from recess to continue their learning.  Reaching back a few years to a time before the village was settled in 1970, the community’s future founding generation could not have imagined such a picture of excited happiness about learning on the part of their children.  To test that idea I asked one of the founders, “imagine when you were working in the plantation fields as indentured servants/slaves a prophet appeared like a ghost of the future to tell you that one day all of your children would be educated through the middle school level and a very substantial number would graduate from high school, with a significant group continuing on to university studies.  What would you have thought?”  He said without hesitation, “We would have had no idea what to think.  It was beyond our wildest imagination!”  What makes this account so significant is that right up into the 1960’s the founders of Santa María Tzejá were land-poor or landless compesinos–peasant farmers–who were nearly all illiterate.  Many had never set foot in a school and in their childhoods had hardly known what education was.  The men were trapped by their own families’ survival needs in a kind of slavery to the country’s owners of massive cane, cotton and coffee plantations during the harvest season.  Further, as indigenous people they were a despised population, not capable or worthy of any education.  They were thought fit only for hard manual labor and were appropriate subjects for terrible abuse.  Yet, within a relatively short span of years they would experience what would previously been imagined by them as an educational miracle for their children.  This is a remarkable story described in the book.

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Seeds of Freedom: Liberating Education in Guatemala–third weekly post on my new book

Can theory help us see how education can liberate in powerful new ways?

The three first-grade children from the remote village of Santa María Tzeja in Guatemala, shown here, don’t study theory, but theory can help us understand why they chose to stay in the classroom while their classmates were playing outside in their recess period.  No knock here on recess.  Kids this age learn a lot of what they need while they play and their bodies crave exercise.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABut something had been happening in the learning atmosphere of the classroom that bubbled over for these three that was so enjoyable that they wanted to keep at what had turned on their curiosity. Continue reading