Activism Beyond the Classroom is a course taught at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, which explores “activism” in theory and praxis. In the first part of the course, students examine theories of power, resistance, and liberatory social transformation. The notion of praxis, a guiding principle of the course, signals the processes through which “theory” is both embodied and realized. As such, in the second part of the course, students experiment with how theory can be brought to bear on contemporary political struggles around education--and, conversely, how the practices of activism can inform scholarship and pedagogy.
The work of Activism Beyond the Classroom crosscuts three areas: (1) collective working groups, (2) community engagement, and (3) public forms of scholarship.
Students co-design and co-teach the second, inquiry-oriented part of the course, by selecting a set of four “problem areas” to investigate collectively. Activism Beyond the Classroom covers a broad range of issues, including: the school as a site of political struggle for diverse interests, school-community relations, and local, national, and global policies. It also encompasses other timely contemporary matters such as the school-to-prison pipeline, student protests, school closures, critical pedagogies, queer theories in schooling, among others. The working groups that form around each problem area develop a set of resources to guide our exploration over a two-week period, and identify community-based organizations or local experts that are working in this area. Among these grassroots networks, we invite local experts to a class meeting to dialogue further about their work. Each working group also develops an episode of ABC Podcast related to the problem area, which will introduce the topic to a wider audience. As of 2019, working groups are formed with and around community partners.
The third iteration of the course introduced established community partners that students collaborate with in the formation of inquiry-based working groups, the development of teaching and learning practices, and the production and dissemination of public scholarship in the chosen areas of exploration. The goals for this partnership are two fold: (1) For students, this provides a more substantive form of engagement with community organizations. (2) For partner organizations, their participation shapes the course’s inquiry and provides an opportunity for public-facing scholarship to support and amplify the work they are already doing.
Class participants participate in or observe two local community actions around an issue of their choosing. Past community engagements have included: public demonstrations, neighborhood association meetings, community or student organization meetings, art shows, among others.
A major objective of the course is for class participants to explore methods of public scholarship. With the availability of social media and free, or open-source publishing, there are more opportunities than ever for researchers to contribute to public as well as academic discourses. Yet, graduate training rarely provides avenues for students to cultivate a more “public” voice around their fields of expertise, grapple with the risks public scholarship presents in today’s political climate, or be held accountable to broader publics. To this end, in addition to the class podcast, class participants each craft an op-ed article intended for broad consumption.
ABCS Course and Development
The third iteration of Activism Beyond the Classroom enlisted the support of the Netter Center in expanding the course’s reach and capacity. Dr. Strong received an ABCS course development grant for the Fall of 2019 to deepen the course’s collaboration with partner organizations engaged in community advocacy and inquiry. Additionally, this expands the course’s offering to undergraduates.