Student-Centered Learning

Many great thinkers have informed our approach to learning at JBI. One big influence is Paulo Freire. Freire was an educator in Brasil who taught peasants in small villages to read and write in the 1960's. Beyond literacy, these workers began to question, they began to organize, they began to vote. They became empowered, and in 1964, the year I was born, the facist government jailed him for 70 days, and then he lived in exile in Bolivia and Chile. His approach to learning, the democratic classroom, was a threat to the existing power structure.

For an introduction to Freire I recommend reading "Pedagogy of the Oppressed". In the book's introduction Donald Macedo writes "I found comfort in the immeasurable hope that Paulo represented for those of us who are committed to imagine a world, in his own words, that is less ugly, more beautiful, less discriminatory, more democratic, less dehumanizing, and more humane... He teaches us he meaning of a profound commitment to fight social injustices in our struggle to recapture the loss of our dignity as human beings." 

Here are some of the ways we apply his principles to our workshops. First, we see all learners as coming to the learning experience FULL of experience and knowledge. They are not empty vessels, passively waiting to be filled with knowledge by an all-knowing teacher. We build knowledge on the foundation of what the learners already know. We respect them as capable, creative and resourceful. Second, we see our role as teachers to be GUIDES. We introduce new concepts, we engage the learners, and we follow them according to their interests and their energy. The teacher responds to the learners, and the teacher is a learner her/himself, always curious. Third, the space is student-centered. The students face one another, rather than the teacher. Students sit in circles, rather than rows. The teacher moves around the room, guiding, responding, listening. The teacher always addresses students at eye-level, sitting down if students are sitting, facing students if they are standing. The architecture of any learning space is very fluid; desks, tables, chairs can all be moved. Learning can happen anywhere.

For thousands of years the caste system in India has been ugly, discriminatory, undemocratic and dehumanizing. Its effects are still felt among youth today. But like Freire we are doing something very small, which might have an enormous impact. Something beautiful. Something humane.


Jai Bhim. Dayamudra