The future has to start sometime. Over the next decade, those of us working in and working to influence education will have opportunities to make decisions, shape policies and implement new strategies and approaches. We can be guided by bold visions of liberatory education that is unconstrained by oppressive systems and structures, or we can continue to make change within the contours of current systemic constraints. We cannot achieve visions of liberatory education without looking beyond today’s constraints and imagining what new realities could come to pass.
Bold visions for liberatory education may seem impractical given current needs or unreachable in the span of two decades. However, we must put in place today systems and structures that will keep ourselves and others focused on and progressing toward liberatory education over the long term.
These eight insights and implications reflect current tensions and dilemmas that will impact the extent to which anti-oppressive systems and structures take hold in education and sustain systemic change. While not an exhaustive list, they are important areas for us all to engage with as we work to develop strategies to support the growth of liberatory education.
Social Cohesion Is Critical for Transformation Towards Liberatory Education
Developing social cohesion is a pre-requisite for moving toward broader systemic transformation and enabling the rise of new systems and structures. Institutional responsiveness alone will not be sufficient to bring about liberatory education. Where social cohesion is high, it is more likely that education stakeholders will be able to develop strategies to build liberatory structures and systems and dismantle oppressive ones. Where social cohesion is low, education stakeholders will need to rely on more adaptive, work-around strategies.
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Strategy
Liberatory education strategies will need to evolve over time. They will depend on many factors, including the variable ways in which the key uncertainties and forces of change described in this forecast evolve in specific places and education contexts. Instead of relying solely on strategies for pursuing liberatory education implementation at scale, education stakeholders will need to attend to local conditions. They will need to identify holistic local strategies that are flexible short term and capable of change over time.
It’s Not Either, Or; It’s Both, And
An equitable education system can still be oppressive if the assumptions underlying it are based on privilege, exclusive power structures and othering – thereby excluding and marginalizing people with identities that differ from those of the dominant group. Many approaches to educational equity, such as shoring up resources or improving academic outcomes, are important in providing immediate relief and benefits to specific groups. However, they do not disrupt the systemic patterns and behaviors that created the inequities. Education stakeholders must strike a balance between continuing to provide short-term relief for impacted groups while also working to transform education systems to be liberatory.
Liberatory Education Is Critical for a Healthy, Just Democracy
Grounding public education systems in liberatory principles can help make them systems of renewal. By cultivating critical consciousness, or a deep understanding of the dynamic interplay between self-concept and society, liberatory education would help learners and educators see themselves as agents of change and develop the skills necessary to pursue it. If education systems fostered skills in social analysis, political agency and social action, they would help create an informed citizenry, thereby contributing to the flourishing of a healthy and just democracy.
Narratives Hold Power
Public education has tended to prioritize the voices and interests of White-dominant culture at the expense of those whom that culture others. As the stories and perspectives of historically marginalized yet resilient populations become more widely heard, they are challenging traditional narratives about race, education and opportunity and complicating understandings of education systems’ purpose and what success looks like within them. To clear a path toward liberatory education, education stakeholders need to find ways to amplify more voices and to create counter narratives about teaching, learning, knowledge and freedom. They also need to broaden perspectives about what education is aiming to achieve, how it will approach that charge and how education systems and learners will demonstrate success.
Technologies Can Be Channeled for Liberation
Digital technologies reflect the values of their creators and users and create and enable human behaviors. They should be considered as a means to specific ends. Addressing issues of technology access in the context of today’s education system is critical. There is also opportunity to create new technologies, and to leverage existing ones, to support liberatory education. Such technologies could foster new types of connections and relationships among educators, learners and community members; provide access to expanded sources of knowledge; and enable new ways for learners to show what they know. They could help foster new behaviors around teaching and learning.
What Happens in One System Will Impact Another
Because human systems are interconnected, the ways people address challenges in other intersecting systems and sectors, such as climate and environment, food systems, housing and criminal justice, will affect the extent to which education is liberatory. In turn, as liberatory education expands, it has the potential to influence the creation of liberatory structures and systems across other sectors. Systemic interconnection can be leveraged to expand – or to stymie – the pursuit of liberatory systems and structures across society. Finding the triggers and catalysts that create positive intersectional impacts will be critical for creating a more just society.
Liberatory Education Is Not a Zero-Sum Game
Liberatory education requires a shift in power dynamics that can be viewed as a threat or challenge by those who currently hold power or who reap the most benefits from today’s approaches to education. Like any change, shifting toward liberatory systems of education introduces inherent uncertainty, which can also feed opposition. However, the move to liberatory education is not a zero-sum game. While current education systems feed notions of scarcity by limiting and hoarding power and accruing very uneven benefit to learners, liberatory education systems would encourage the sharing of power and would confer broad benefits to each learner. Learners would receive the targeted supports that they needed and would have many ways to engage in learning and show what they had mastered. Education systems would move from being fixed to nimble, changing and being shaped by learners and the outside world.