This document is drawn from wallsheet notes from a discussion session facilitated by Don Adams, Arlene Goldbard, and Holbrook Teter at the Pedagogy of the Oppressed conference at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, 21-23 March 1996. This session, entitled "Second Thoughts," offered participants a chance, near the end of the conference's final day, to express and explore questions, ideas, hesitations or inspirations that emerged (but could not be addressed) during earlier presentations. More than two dozen people participated in the "Second Thoughts" session. It commenced with all participants introducing themselves and offering for consideration one or two key issues on their minds.
As our introductions concluded, it became evident that most of the participants wished to discuss topics having to do with the conference itself -- format, funding, content, and so on. So part way through the allotted time, perhaps a third of the participants (those wishing to discuss specific questions of practice such as classroom teaching) adjourned to another location, and the balance of participants remained to talk about ways to design a conference so that its culture and format were themselves reflective of the principles of liberating education.
Each bulleted paragraph below indicates a new speaker. We began by going once around the circle for issues from each participant, as follows.
What needs further exploration as this conference ends?
What questions, ideas, hesitations, issues and/or inspirations are you left with?
What suggestions do you have for future conferences?
Fostering democratic dialogue is a problem at all levels, from the smallest group to the national arena. I would like to see Freire's and Boal's ideas applied to the culture of politics. Since Boal is doing this through his own legislative role, I was hoping it would be on the conference's agenda, and was disappointed it was not.
Hero-worship is a vexing issue. I was drawn to the conference in part to be in Freire's and Boal's presence. My disappointment is forcing me to confront the contradiction of this. Hero-worship seems behind some of the least successful sessions of the conference; it seems like a question we should all take up in relation to this work.
The conference itself should incorporate more Freirean ideas. Hierarchies of position and prestige are pervasive, and have been evident here. There should be more understanding of our commonalities. Not enough critical spirit here, so it's somewhat self-indulgent.
There have been lots of paper presentations, and not enough participation. We need a balance here, allowing people to make mistakes without giving offense or causing pain. I don't like the dismissive attitudes toward students: they've been surprising and inappropriate.
I've read all of Freire's work. My personal agenda is to be of help to Blackfeet people: the conference had nothing to offer me along those lines. We were all put in one basket, as if we were all the same. Some workshops were profound and full of content, but there was no record made. In the future, these should be captured for the record.
Conference cost was a barrier and prevented full participation. Most presenters were not compensated, so where did the money go? Native aboriginal people and topics were lacking, although they are the most oppressed people on this continent. There were too many topics and activities. Should have been more focus on teaching, learning, and interpersonal communications. The problems were clear: 15-syllable words, audiences befuddled, but people didn't question this, so the result was no learning. How to address this?
It was a worthwhile experience despite problems, chiefly an absence of what Giroux calls the "language of possibility." Ways of articulating the dream are weak on the Left. The conference planning created an "architecture of domination."
Many participants were from communities of resistance, while others were individuals without community connection, so they had different needs. An academic approach excludes expressive approaches to communication. We need both.
The language was dense. We need to recognize where the audience is. It's inconsistent with pedagogy of the oppressed: the ideas are really simple, as are the approaches. (Even putting chairs in a circle like we have here would have helped.) We need more discussion on racism education -- how to have different viewpoints and interests and talk with each other (e.g., teachers and anti-racism activists).
I was surprised at the lack of critique, especially of Boal. Some was implicit, but there was no discussion. How have people revised his ideas in their practice? The conference offered an opportunity for a "rehearsal for reality," but the traditional way it was organized reflected a failure to take that risk.
I wanted to confront Boal's techniques more deeply, especially Forum Theatre, and deal with the issues (although maybe I missed them because I chose the wrong sessions, I don't know). The sexism/heterosexism of the conference was problematic: gay, lesbian, and cross-gender concerns were not reflected in the program.
I agree with what's been said about the language and format of the conference; it needs to reflect what we do. Access to food was an issue, the invisibility of gay and lesbian people. There was also very little time for reflection, processing, and dialogue about what was happening.
Interpersonal dialogue and expressions of feeling were missing. It felt isolating.
I wanted to talk about how to deal with issues of race arising in grassroots theater work. Also, is it possible to use Forum Theatre as a means of getting at larger, more complex issues such as multinational capitalism? I have doubts, and wanted to discuss them.
I wanted to discuss how we can use institutions such as schools as centers for mobilization. Also, I'm concerned about the cultural politics of the conference.
Young people's performing groups -- "Young Blood" by The Edges Ensemble and "Cut the Line" by KEHEWIN Native Performance -- needed financial support, got no fees or expense reimbursements, were uncertain about affording the trip. Poor people are poorly represented here. Many academics, few from theatres for the oppressed. Also, we should take performances out of the conference buildings to involve people in the larger community.
I wanted to bring people from a project in Zimbabwe, but there was no money. People leapt to quick judgments based on skin color, appearance, age, whatever. People need to ask questions to find out who others are. It takes time to get to deeper levels of communication, but there was no time for discussion. There should be more time and focus for communication.
There were so many sessions, no coherence. Should be longer and fewer, or the ability to keep certain groups together for a sequence of sessions, to build.
The question that interests me is do people who are "asleep" have the right to remain so? How do we have a dialogue with those who don't want to talk. There's been lots of trashing people here.
I felt some viewpoints have been dismissed here. You can only pour so much coffee in a cup before it overflows: there was too much one-way presentation. I come from a community where every theory of education has been tried out. No matter how great work sounds, it is often trivialized in practice to a few techniques. We need to talk about that.
Several participants toward the end of the circle simply indicated their agreement with points raised by earlier speakers: their comments were not recorded separately.
At this point, some participants adjourned to another site to discuss common issues which emerged in our first exchange. Those remaining (and others who joined the session late) focused on how the conference could be improved next year:
The fact that Henry Giroux and Ira Shor have been invited to be next year's keynotes makes me wonder about returning. They're great writers, but I foresee some of the same problems about dialogue. I want to have frequent opportunities for small group discussion. There could be interest-based or level-based "home" groups that participants return to throughout the conference, creating a more dialogical experience.
There should be evaluation in process from the first day, so people can discuss these questions and make changes while the conference goes on. I like the "tracking" idea based on interests. Now it's confusing where to go, due to the chaos of the plan.
I would like more brainstorming about the specifics of teaching. I'd like to keep in touch with other teachers in similar situations if I knew them.
We should all practice self-reflection. It's easy to blame the structure of the conference, but we also need to ask "How did I collaborate in this architecture? How can I act more effectively in the future?"
It's important to pick good speakers. Good writers aren't always good speakers. Also, speakers should represent more diverse viewpoints (e.g., Native American speakers, environmental activists)
There was much more diversity this year than last year, but much less tolerance. The process of developing tolerance for diversity should be part of critical pedagogy. This year's conference was four times as large as last year's. We need to ask how we can keep this spirit alive in a larger, more inclusive crowd.
The conference focused a lot on headwork. We need to do more active stuff, especially at the beginning.
I would like to see the conference's first day as a day of creation for the whole group, creating and dialogue to help define what we will do at the conference. Also, class issues should be addressed: some academics get institutional money to attend, while other participants don't. These groups also have different needs and expectations.
The spirit of the conference was eroded by issues of structure and frustration at the fact that there was no outlet for them, so it's essential to work on structural questions before the next conference.
Internet technology can be used to help many participants keep in touch, although not everyone is online. It was agreed that these notes would be posted here in Webster's World of Cultural Democracy (
http://www.wwcd.org/action/UNO.html). Participants are welcome to use Webster's World as a focal point (send e-mail to
People who are online should keep in touch with those who aren't. Also, maybe some online participants can teach others how to use the Internet and the Web. There's an approach to working with a large group called "Open Space Technology" which enables people to create their own agenda; we could try that.
There should be a sliding scale of fees (with university people paying more), and a fund for contributions to defray the costs of low-income people attending. There should be scholarships. There should be food for all, so that everyone is welcome to come and eat. There should be a communal sleeping area, where people who bring sleeping-bags can stay overnight.
All should be aware that Mary Macchietto and the other conference planners are receptive and willing to listen. Don't take a fatalistic approach. Instead of perceiving these people as oppressors, we should find ways to speak to them.
There's an unforgiving spirit here, with unrealistic standards, too much criticism without respect. Also, I suggest that next year the conference operate a roommate-matching service, to match up individuals who want to share hotel rooms, and also help find community hosts for people who can't afford hotel rooms.
Often, people who feel frustrated at their seeming powerlessness in the "real" world use opportunities like this conference to enact their frustration where it is relatively safe. There should be chances to talk about this, break it open and look at it. Also, the conference incorporates different agendas: academics need to present papers to get funding or career credits, to legitimate their work in academia; activists need to talk about their issues and strategies. Need to create separate tracks so no one agenda swamps the others.
I'm wondering how the conference organizers can stick to a human scale. What is the optimum size for an event like this? It cannot necessarily grow indefinitely. Maybe needs to be smaller.
We should find examples of people who have worked with larger-scale events (as with some Latin American organizers). Also, allow more generous group fee structures, so can bring a whole group of people involved in a youth theatre or whatever.
I'm unclear how scholarships and subsidies are awarded. I asked about scholarships very early and was told no. There was no money for the youth performing groups, but some speakers were paid. It colored the kids' whole experience to be eating peanut butter while other people had paid $20 or $30 for a lunch. Conference organizers need to look at this.
Not having financial information (conference budget) leads to speculation and resentment. Conference organizers should share the budget, so people know where money is going. Resources should be invested where needs are the greatest.
We should send a lot of love to the conference organizers. They have invested so much, given us so much, and are so open, even as we criticize the fruit of their labor. Our love to you all!
If you attended the conference and have other observations or ideas to share, please send e-mail to us here at Webster's World. We'll post them here.
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