Circles of Support: towards a liberatory pedagogy for community education

Timm, Chad
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The purpose of this dissertation is to examine a unique attempt at community education where a grassroots community based organization collaborated with a local public school system in order to help low-income families leave poverty. It explores the relationship between a private organization dedicated to eliminating the structural barriers low-income families face, called Circles of Support and a public school system dedicated to helping low-income students meet the proficiency mandates of No Child Left Behind.;Using interview and observational data, this critical institutional ethnography describes the 4-year collaboration between Circles of Support and a public school system, which ultimately ended in the public school assuming fiscal and operational management of the partnership. The foundation of the collaboration rested on pairing middle and upper-class volunteers, or allies, with low-income families in order to foster the creation of authentic cross-class relationships.;During weekly meetings, low-income families, volunteers, community organizers, and school representatives came together to build community and advocate for social change. Interactions between low-income participant families and their allies, both during and outside of these meetings, served the educational purpose of helping the families acquire dominant cultural and social capital. Simultaneously, the participant families' allies learned about the structural barriers the families faced in their struggle to leave poverty in addition to the non-dominant forms of cultural capital they possessed. I contend that within this negotiation, between acquiring dominant social and cultural capital and simultaneously recognizing structural barriers and validating non-dominant cultural capital, a Third Space exists where new forms of capital were created, what I refer to as liberatory capital. By teaching low-income families how to navigate middle-class society, allies and community organizers sought to liberate participants from poverty. Teaching allies to validate their non-dominant cultural capital and recognize institutional failings, participants sought to liberate allies and community organizers from their support of the dominant poverty discourse. In essence, allies, community organizers, and participants developed a pedagogy to potentially liberate each other from oppressive circumstances.

Curriculum and instruction;Education