Education Liberation Commons Grow
at the Speed of Trust
In this future, highly interconnected affinity groups and place-based communities take the lead in bridging their differences to create and sustain anti-oppressive educational opportunities. To build trust and foster social cohesion, people from all walks of life, but especially those in positions of power and privilege, commit to active listening, along with empathy and perspective taking and power sharing. Through this work, they are able to come together to identify shared interests and build shared education liberation commons – teaching and learning resource networks that serve as alternatives to public education’s rigid institutional structures, which no longer recognize nor serve their needs.
In the decade following the 2020 Presidential election, growing disappointment in the lack of transformational movement in fighting climate change, labor automation, social injustice and anti-oppressive structures convinced many community organizers, families, educators and students to tackle issues directly rather than through the polls.
As a result, mutual aid societies, neighborhood affinity groups, formal and informal place-based community networks, and local businesses and agencies have built trusted webs that provide services supporting families and buffering against climate-related disruptions. They coordinate across multiple social services, including food, housing, education and health. This new, community-driven localism has enabled many robust education liberation commons to grow within and across structures, creating alternatives to, and sometimes replacing, traditional public education systems. Non-commercial social media platforms that are locally governed and managed provide a safe, robust infrastructure for this work.
A local region’s education liberation commons is a cooperative web of community agencies, services, learning resources, tutors, community elders and volunteers. These contributors help build vibrant learning environments and experiences, promote critical consciousness and encourage social action among those who have for decades been underserved and marginalized by traditional educational institutions. Experts, mentors and learning guides come from the neighborhoods, regions and social networks that comprise the education liberation commons. These individuals know their learners deeply and vice versa. For example, the West Valley Rural Education and Liberation (REAL) Commons used its local and global 4-H network to create a dynamic liberatory education environment focused on climate justice and food security. Over the years, more and more independent schools, home school networks, youth development organizations, museums, libraries, parks and science and technology centers have aligned with the education liberation commons in their regions to further their respective missions related to human dignity and flourishing. These organizations and networks contribute resources and direct learners to the commons.
Education liberation commons emerged to address in flexible ways the unmet and changing needs of multiple affinity groups and diverse place-based communities and to make sure that each child was known, loved and attended to with the care, respect and dignity that they deserve. Some families rely on them for all their learning needs, while others use them to make up for what the traditional public education system lacks. Generally, caregivers turn to their region’s education liberation commons to find experiences and connections that provide their children with emotional and psychological safety, support for developing authentic identity and love to drive their curiosity and talents.
Many education liberation commons grew their networks by leveraging existing open education resource platforms that provided shared curriculum and content. With oversight from families and educators, they added applications, such as digital ledgers and recommendation engines, to create alternative ways of managing, sharing and protecting the privacy of educational data, resources and financial transactions. For example, smart contracts help catalog learning experiences and credentials. Augmented and virtual reality applications help connect geographically remote learners to rich media resources, as well as tutors, disciplinary specialists, practitioners and mentors. An education liberation commons’ interconnected social network also build bridges with non-profits and benefit corporations to raise funds to pay for learning experiences and educators, as well as to help credential learning. However, the alternative credentialing system often competes with the authority held by traditional, public school districts, confusing parents, postsecondary institutions and employers who still see a high school diploma as being standard.
Despite this residual authority, public education systems are passively coasting and maintaining the status quo. They continue to focus on academics using traditional, 20th-century curricular standards and pedagogies. While some schools have implemented project-based learning or personalized, competency-based learning, states and districts remain heavily divided on the extent to which curricula are culturally responsive and school cultures are anti-racist. Schools are more equitable than in the past, but they are not liberatory. Many states continue to dismiss acknowledgement of systemic racism as a political talking point. In other states, whitewashed versions of African-American history and “culturally relevant” pedagogies are taught. Many public schools are simply not willing to devote the time and energy to work through the discomfort and challenges of becoming anti-racist. In contrast, education liberation commons are inherently rooted in multiple ways of knowing, diverse forms of knowledge and culturally responsive curricula. They represent education in service to its communities.
Black, Indigenous and youth of color leaders, as well as LGBTQ+ and disabled youth, cultivate innovation in local education liberation commons and in the design of learning priorities and experiences. They help set social norms by modeling cross-cultural and racial literacies with peers and community members. For example, the West Valley REAL Commons Youth Hive designed a collaborative online forum to inform people about, and mobilize action on, issues shaping their futures, such as climate change and social justice.
Voices from This Future
These quotes from fictional personas show what it might be like to live in this scenario.
“The magic is in seeing how queer liberation can act as a blueprint for innovation to not only inspire the world, but also to save it from the oppressive patriarchy embedded in White supremacy.”
“I know that a collaboration involving our corps members and alumni can help students in the MetroATL commons learn and flourish. In this deeply community-based environment, I need to make a strong case to the youth leaders who have high expectations of us and our role in collaborating with them.”
“Even though it’s pretty nerve-racking to have a leadership role in my community’s education liberation commons, it’s also really cool. The health clinic in our community is underfunded and stretched thin. So last week our medicine and social justice class held a dialogue with local elders to learn about health and healing practices in different cultures. They shared how their ancestral food rituals promote good nutrition and healthy behaviors.”
“After seeing Jenni interact in my class at school and facilitate her Queer learning pod for the commons, she seems like two different people. With her peers in the commons she is becoming a self aware, community leader.”
Key features of “Education Liberation Commons Grow at the Speed of Trust” are listed below.
Status of Liberatory Education
In this scenario, liberatory education exists where people have invested in the work of building positive social interconnection to solve shared educational challenges. However, its growth and spread are limited to the pace of trust building and understanding within and across groups.
People and groups who remain entrenched in narrow perspectives on educational issues block change and prevent their own and others’ needs from being met effectively. In contrast, the people who are willing to do the work of personal growth and transformation benefit. Place-based communities and affinity groups that seek ways to broaden their perspectives and foster trust manage to cooperate to identify, attract and organize resources. They create culturally relevant and responsive educational experiences that serve as work arounds to oppressive public education systems and structures.
Potential for Liberatory Education to Spread
Since public institutions are either unwilling or unable to respond to the educational needs of diverse families, a key strategy for building meaningful alternatives to available public education options is to aggregate grassroots power by bridging differences across groups and neighborhoods. Liberatory education has the potential to grow through networks that create new systems and structures for supporting young people.
Signals of Change
Signals of change are happening now. They help us see possibilities for this scenario, including what liberatory education looks like in it.
A parent-driven, community-centered organization in Oakland, California, Oakland REACH trains, supports and empowers parents to create radical change in the educational opportunities available for their children.
The Black Freedom Fund
This $100 million fund sustains Black power-building and movement-based organizations, with the goal of eradicating systemic and institutional racism in California.
An in-person community and resource network of over 6,000 Black mothers in the Pittsburgh area, Brown Mamas combines the wisdom of Black elder women and new mothers to create resources to support the well-being of Black families. Areas of support include mental health, homeschooling and guidance on city resources.