As a conference, FMFP is special for its unique intergenerational participation. From the conference planning and leadership to whose voices are lifted up by conference activities, young people and adults work together in exploring and executing liberatory education with our minds set on freedom. However, from the perspective of someone who works in the field of school-oriented family engagement and parent organizing, FMFP has struggled over the years to more fully integrate these parts of the collective struggle for educational, social, and economic justice. I have been intimately connected to FMFP since being part of the host committee from Providence in 2011, so this is a critique I make not from the outside, but as someone who owns responsibility for the continued development of FMFP over the years.
Thus, I was excited to attend Teaching for Change’s FMFP workshop session, “Family Engagement for Radicals.” First, how liberating to be at a conference where this session title could unapologetically proclaim its radical stance. At FMFP there is no need to disguise open and honest discussions about the realities lived by people and communities of color, women, queer folk, and anyone else who experiences the day-to-day grind against the institutional, interpersonal, and internal oppressions of the world. In other venues, this workshop title would likely be sanitized–“Family Engagement for Radicals: Partnering with Families Using a Social Justice Lens and Popular Ed Approach” would be washed out and instead be called something like, “Family Engagement for Practitioners: Partnering with Families Using a Community-Centered Approach.” Thank goodness for FMFP’s commitment to creating and protecting space for us to be our full selves as presenters and attendees.
The workshop itself was wonderful! The presenters from Teaching for Change (Allyson, Maybelline, and Andrea) were engaging and energetic. Through a healthy mix of interactive activities (whole and small group), presentation, and discussion our room full of 20+ participants got to dive deep into thinking about how to better support family engagement at our school and program sites. Aside from having the opportunity to meet and talk to other FMFP conference goers, which is always a treat, I had one perspective-shifting takeaway from the session that seems utterly important for informing my work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing moving forward!
As advertised, Teaching for Change approaches family engagement with a social justice lens and popular education approach. They’ve borrowed from the traditions of community organizing and popular education to develop their framework for doing radical family engagement. In doing so, the Teaching for Change family engagement framework, which they call “Tellin’ Stories,” borrows heavily from the work of Paulo Freire, author of Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Many of us who attend FMFP are probably familiar with Freire and those of us who consider ourselves adherents to critical pedagogy have certainly spent a lot of time with Freire’s ideas. Having written a dissertation and book about teacher activist pedagogy, Freire is certainly an intellectual antecedent for my thinking about education. However, even though Freire was an adult educator (!), until Teaching for Change made the connection for me, I had never linked my deep work with Freire’s ideas to my extensive work in the field of family engagement and parent organizing. Somehow, I had relegated Freire (and all the other education theorists and teacher practitioners who have done work in relation and response to Freire) to my thinking about teaching and teachers and had not allowed him to enter my family engagement and parent organizing work. In retrospect, this seems a major oversight. Personally, I’ve struggled with how to more explicitly connect what often seem like two worlds of mine: engagement with teachers/teaching and engagement with youth, parent, and community organizing. While it has never made sense to me that these areas should feel distant, in practice they are much too often separate. However, after Teaching for Change’s workshop, I’m excited to explore how the use of critical pedagogy and popular education in both arenas might help me draw them closer together in my work!
To learn more about Teaching for Change and their Tellin’ Stories Project, check out their website. If you’d like to learn more about grassroots parent organizing for educational justice, check out the Journey 4 Justice Alliance! They have a biweekly newsletter that is well worth signing up for. Finally, for some more basic primers on how to rethink school-oriented family engagement practices, a go-to resource that Teaching for Change highlighted and that I’ve used extensively in my work is the book Beyond the Bake Sale by Anne Henderson, Karen Mapp, Vivian Johnson, and Don Davies. And, of course, if you haven’t yet read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, you probably should check it out from your local library.
Keith C. Catone is associate director of community organizing and engagement at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and serves on the Education for Liberation Advisory Board. His first book, The Pedagogy of Teacher Activism, was published earlier this year!