The Critical Consciousness of Cooperators

Previously I asked the question of why and how do we educate within the cooperative sector.  It is absolutely critical to do education “right” in order to remind individuals why the cooperative movement exists.  This is especially critical to guarantee the movement stays true to its roots and grows.

If I had to condense my philosophy on the matter of co-ops, I would say they exist to institutionalize community development.  That means building an interconnected network of autonomous organizations dedicated to social system change, localized control, and most importantly for building individual civic capacity.  

We do this through education.  How we do education (pedagogy) matters.

Margaret Ledwith’s most recent book, “Community Development: A Critical Approach (CDACA),” most recent book should be in every cooperator’s library.  Ledwith dedicates a chapter to the educational approach of Paulo Freire, the renowned Brazilian activist whose work would influence Myles Horton's Highlander Folk School, a school who played an integral role in the American Civil Rights movement (two of its students were Rosa Parks and the Reverence Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr).

A critical education

is a continuous process of what they (proponents) call “unlearning,” “learning,” and “relearning,” “reflection,” “evaluation,” and the impact that these actions have on the students, in particular students whom they believe have been historically and continue to be disenfranchised by what they call “traditional schooling.”

The critical approach attempts to make the student think deeply about the norms and biases they bring to a social movement.  For example, a white student may not realize they are internalizing anti-white racial biases, and a wealthy child may not be able to empathize with the poor due to their upbringing.  The idea is that by engaging the students to think about their own norms, they development a strong critical consciousness.  Part of this consciousness is meant to engage the student to think about how social structures and systems effect their day to day lives, and how such system can be influenced by the individual.  

A critical education is about how educators empower the powerless to do for themselves via working with others.  

I must then ask the obvious question: how do cooperatives do critical education?

[NEXT: Doing critical education in co-ops]

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