Activist Discourses

Focus

Raising awareness of power structures, potential imbalances, and shared obligations

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … power to act
  • Knowing is … acting
  • Learner is … a citizen
  • Learning is … acculturation
  • Teaching is … awareness raising

Originated

1970s

Synopsis

Activist Discourses are concerned with interrogating the entrenched narratives and structures that infuse, lend support to, and help to perpetuate social norms and cultural institutions. Oriented by the conviction that there are no “neutral” acts or ideas, and critically attentive to the collective roots of personal convictions, Activist Discourses aim for deep understandings in order to inform and orient justice-oriented thinking and acting. In effect, Activist Discourses tend to reframe discussions of and in education by focusing on “Why?” more than “What?” or “How?” Prominent foci among Activist Discourses include:
  • Achievement Gap – any instance of unequal attainment or inequitable distribution of educational benefits; usually used in specific reference to significant and persistent differences in educational achievement between learners of different races or with different socio-economic backgrounds
  • Learning Gap – the difference between one’s age/grade level and one’s achievement level – that is, the difference between what one should have learned and what one has actually learned, based on age and/or grade level
  • Opportunity Gap – ways in which differences that are outside the control of the learner – such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, bodily capabilities, language proficiency, and so on – adversely affect access to educational opportunities
Concepts and principles that are commonly invoked across most Activist Discourses include:
  • Acculturation – the taking on of values and customs associated with one’s social and cultural groups
  • Socialization – developing the habits and attitudes appropriate to a specific situation, such as an institution or a profession
  • Hidden Curriculum – non-explicit and not-necessarily-intended learning consequences of schooling, typically seen to include norms, values, and beliefs that are implicit in curriculum foci, classroom resources, institutional structures, grading practices, and teaching methods.
  • Hegemony – social and cultural means by which dominant groups maintain their power – through, e.g., positions of authority, manipulation of media, and influence on Discourse (see below)
  • Discourse – In broadest terms (and as used in the title of this website), a Discourse is a system of mutually dependent and mutually supporting statements. Among Activist Discourses, the word Discourse is often used more specifically, to refer to worldviews and systems of thought that are entangled in social practices and power structures.
  • Situationism – most generally, a theory that asserts one’s behavior is determined by contextual factors, not by personal traits. Among Activist Discourses, Situationism is often equated with the oppressive and exploitative aspects of modern capitalist societies.
Sites of engagement of Activist Discourses include:
  • Anti-Ableism (Disability Rights; Equality of Access) – “Ableism” refers to any form of prejudice that favors able-bodied individuals. Anti-Ableism thus encompasses all attitudes and efforts to ensure equality of rights and access on the basis of bodily capabilities.
  • Anti-Oppressive Education – Starting with the realization that formal education is not (and cannot be) “neutral,” Anti-Oppressive Education calls educators, first, to be attentive to ways that practices and attitudes can contribute to or mask oppressions and, accordingly, to work with all involved to enact more just alternatives.
  • Anti-Racism – Whereas being “non-racist” mean not making discriminations based on race), being “anti-racist” entails actively identifying, challenging, and changing the structures, practices, attitudes, and privileges associated with racism.
  • Diversity Education – In the context of this phrase, “diversity” refers to every possible means that humans use to distinguish from each other – including (but not limited to) race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, class, wealth, gender, physical capability, cognitive ability, age, and body type. Diversity Education is thus about ensuring that diversities are not deployed to exclude or diminish.
  • Inclusive Education (Inclusion) – In education, “inclusion” refers to the right for each individual to be respected and involved, regardless of traits, abilities, or needs. Inclusive Education thus an ideological movement, articulated as a right for all children to be in the same classrooms and schools.
Methods and emphases associated with schooling among Activist Discourses in relation to :
  • Excellence and Equity – a notion that encompasses any educational policy or structure designed to address matters of inequitable access or experience
  • Democratic Teaching – an attitude and/or approach to setting classroom norms that eschews teacher-centered practices (e.g., unilateral decisions, top-down management, pre-set curricula) in favor of rules, methods, and content that are negotiated among teacher and students
  • Radical Education – an umbrella notion that reaches across any approach to formal learning that rejects traditional aims and practices while seeking social and political reform
  • Conscientization (Critical Consciousness; Consciousness Raising; conscientização, in Portuguese) (Paulo Freire; 1970s) – the development of the ability to recognize and the inclination to interrupt any type of oppression or contradiction – social, political, cultural, economic, and so on

Commentary

Almost all Activist Discourses are articulated in terms of power – to act, to sway, to take, to withhold, and so on. While it might be argued that they have had little impact on the day-to-day realities of schooling, they have had the major impact of peeking under the false narrative that schools are great equalizers. On the contrary, Activist Discourses argue and demonstrate, schools are complicit in perpetuating (and sometimes amplifying) unjust structures, biased worldviews, and oppressive habits. In effect, then, Activist Discourses might be better described as “theories of unlearning” than “theories of learning.”

Subdiscourses:

  • Achievement Gap
  • Acculturation
  • Anti-Ableism (Disability Rights; Equality of Access)
  • Anti-Oppressive Education
  • Anti-Racism
  • Conscientization (Critical Consciousness; Consciousness Raising)
  • Democratic Teaching
  • Discourse
  • Diversity Education
  • Excellence and Equity
  • Hegemony
  • Hidden Curriculum
  • Inclusive Education
  • Learning Gap
  • Opportunity Gap
  • Radical Education
  • Situationism
  • Socialization

Map Location



Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Activist Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education. https://learningdiscourses.com.


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