The World's Problem's Are Your Own: Septima Clark, Elza Freire and Grassroots Freedom Education in the American Decade of Development 1960-1970

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2020

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Abstract

In the attempt to plan and mobilize teaching on a massive scale, literacy campaigns bring otherwise implied working theories of human and societal development out in the open. Aside from offering a lens into the role of ideas in political contest during the Cold War, the lessons of literacy campaigns in the United Nations-named “Development Decade” of 1960-1970 are useful for contemporary programs (such as the Algebra Project). This is in large part because literacy campaigns highlight how communities on the periphery of society can conduct planning and mobilize limited staff and resources to meet, replicate, and expand highly targeted goals, shifting the balance of power by setting an agenda when otherwise unable to wield state or monetary influence. The most important problems are which form of planning and which school of pedagogy.

This dissertation studies Septima Poinsette Clark (1898-1987) of Charleston, South Carolina USA and Elza Costa Freire (1916-1986) of Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil as activist-educators who formed—and with their colleagues mobilized—literacy methods as part of a pedagogy of liberation. Clark and Costa Freire represent a “grassroots” school of liberation pedagogy while the Cuban literacy campaign of 1961 represents a “guerilla” school. While Clark and Costa Freire’s methods can be localized to the settings of Charleston and Recife—and also considered apart from the methods of the Ministry of Education in Havana—each one’s process toward campaigning indicates a shared intellectual context of development planning, even “solving” the problems posed by the exact same pre-existing literacy methods. Moreover, these three cities, like distant sisters, each unevenly transitioned from “slave” and “free” society. In the Cold War’s turn toward the “Third World,” literacy campaigns experimented in the politics of freedom where communities once owned could take ownership of their education.

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Colston, Aaron (2020). The World's Problem's Are Your Own: Septima Clark, Elza Freire and Grassroots Freedom Education in the American Decade of Development 1960-1970. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/21435.

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