How do new critical pedagogies develop? Educational innovation, social change, and landless workers in Brazil

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Background: Over the past 30 years, the Brazilian Landless Workers' Movement (MST), one of the largest social movements in Latin America, has developed a series of pedagogical practices for public schools that support the movement's struggle for agrarian reform in the Brazilian countryside. The MST's educational initiatives can be viewed in terms of their place in the debate about how grassroots movements develop alternatives to dominant educational practices. Purpose: This article examines the diverse pedagogies and educational theories that MST activists have drawn on, while also assessing the political implications of this participation in the public schools. Setting: Research took place in Brazil, in several dozen public schools located in MST communities. Population: Research participants included MST activists, students attending schools in MST communities, teachers working in these schools, administrators, and public officials. More than 150 people were interviewed. Research Design: This research is an ethnographic, qualitative case study, examining the MST's educational initiatives in four different regions of Brazil. Field research took place over 15 months, between October 2010 and December 2011. Research methods included semistructured interviews, classroom observation, participation observation, analysis of primary documents, and focus groups with teachers and students. Findings: Although the MST initially invested only in informal, popular education, by the late 1980s activists began to realize that transforming public schools was necessary for the realization of the movement's social and political goals. By drawing on their previous experiences with popular education, as well as the theories of several outside intellectuals, activists developed educational utopias that allowed them to solidify their educational proposals in practice. Conclusions: This article provides insights into the process of grassroots educational innovation, illustrating that communities draw on a diverse set of educational theories that resonate with local practices and beliefs to develop alternative proposals for their schools. The article also suggests that certain questions arise about the purpose of public education when social movements with particular visions of societal transformation demand participation in the public school sphere. The article argues that this social movement participation is appropriate if activists can mobilize parents, students, teachers, and other community members to implement this vision through a collective process of participatory governance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalTeachers College Record
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education


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