Last year (2011) I wrote my thesis for my honours year in my undergraduate degree called ‘Social and Community Studies’. I decided to pick a social justice topic close to my heart: animal rights. I also have a passion for education and looking at effective empowering educational approaches for activists in social justice movements. From then on the thesis came about by discussing radical forms of education which have existed historically in most social movements, for example, the feminist movement and the civil rights movement. The heart of the thesis looks at more radical forms of education and how this can be effective for activists in the Animal Liberation Movement (ALM).
The major challenge facing the ALM is a lack of collective awareness over strategies for promoting meaningful political change over animal exploitation, particularly in the context of a globalised capitalist agenda. Consequently, the movement is in need of a method for educating its members to overcome the social and political challenges unique to its context. Arguably, the educational approach used in the ALM is of great importance as it influences the decisions the activists take, and use, within the community to influence the momentum of change on behalf of animals.
Importantly, there is an assumption that activists involved in social movements are already educated and emancipated individuals. Little attention is given to the educational methods used to further empower activists engaged in grassroots community campaigns (Whelan, 2002). Of those methods that are used, most are considered to be traditionalised/typical models of education. These models are problematic, because they often reinforce or reflect the very types of power relations the ALM is campaigning against (Torres, 2007).
For example, the well known educational theorist Paulo Freire referred to traditional/typical models of education as ‘banking’ models of education. Freire refers to this as an act of “depositing information” into someone else as though they are “empty vessels to be filled with knowledge” (Freire, 1972). Using an authoritarian approach in the format of ‘depositing information’ into others can perpetuate types of hierarchical or top-down structures which often restrict rights thus reducing participation in learning (DeLeon, 2008).
In terms of activist education it often takes place in a lecture style format, for example, learning about how to campaign effectively by listening to what ‘experts’ in the ALM have to say (Torres, 2007). This is often very one sided and prevents and resists effective dialogue, and blocks creativity creating a reliance on experts rather than empowering activists (Torres, 2007). Torres (2007) argues that in the ALM there is a disempowerment felt among activists as they often wait for someone ‘more expert’ or ‘experienced’ to decide how to act on the issues that present themselves.
On the other hand, radical education gives control of learning to the learner and the teacher in this case is the facilitator. It contrasts with traditional/typical forms of education where the teacher has absolute control over what is learned and through the teacher the state has control over what you learn via curriculum. In traditional/typical forms of education, the idea of social change is influenced and structured by the dominate power relations. This gives legitimacy to current social structures which often serve to disadvantage us, the environment and animals; whereas, in radical education the focus becomes transformation of the social systems themselves (Giroux, 2001).
For example, in traditional/typical styles of education we often encourage a focus on animal welfare as opposed to animal liberation. A focus on animal welfare is working within the system and the system tolerates it, whereas animal liberation is outside the acceptance of the social structure. Radical education allows the learner to investigate a topic for themselves without being forced to have a particular interpretation of something.
Lastly, my thesis draws upon elements of Paulo Freire’s Radical Education theory and how that might assist in developing the political understandings, strategies and actions of the ALM. Freire’s theory has long been linked to activism and social movements such as the feminist movement. His approach to learning is participatory, democratic, exposes injustices and is aimed at social and political transformation. His educational methods encourage critical dialogue so people can in-turn become active in the learning process to truly emancipate those within the ALM and the sentient beings they in turn seek to liberate.
Lara Drew is currently doing a PhD in education on animal rights and tutoring at the University of Canberra. She is an animal rights activist currently running a community education campaign on the factory farming of turkeys in Australia with Animal Liberation ACT called ‘Big Birds, Big Cruelty’ which is funded by Voiceless – the animal protection institute. For more information visit the website, watch the documentary and find the campaign on Facebook.
DeLeon, A. (2008) Oh No, Not the “A” word! Proposing an “Anarchism” for Education. American Educational Studies Association, 44, 122 – 141.
Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Great Britain: Penguin Books.
Giroux, H. (2001). Theory and Resistance in Education. Towards a Pedagogy For the Opposition. USA: Bergin & Garvey.
Torres, B. (2007) Making a killing. The political economy of animal rights. Oakland: AK Press.
Whelan, J. (2002) Education and Training for Effective Environmental Advocacy. (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation). Griffith University – Australia.
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