The fifth annual Community as Intellectual Space Symposium: Critical Pedagogy and Community Building



by Eric Johnson

The fifth annual Community as Intellectual Space Symposium was held on June 12-14, 2009 at the La Estancia Building (2753 W. Division St.).  The theme was Critical Pedagogy and Community Building.  Critical pedagogy is an education methodology that challenges mainstream cultural practices and beliefs while encouraging students to become conscious of their own culture and history.  The symposium explored how different organizations can come together in solidarity to transform communities through dialogue and practice.  The events highlighted the importance and role of critical pedagogy in the Paseo Boricua community.

Antonia Darder, Professor at the University of Illinois delivered a thoughtful and emotional keynote speech on the importance of critical pedagogy within the educational structure. Her written works include Reinventing Paulo Freire: A Pedagogy Of Love and The Critical Pedagogy Reader: Second Edition.

Students and teachers from Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School (PACHS), along with Troy Harden, Dr. John Fritsche, of Illinois College, and Michelle Torrise, a graduate of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science, presented on the empowerment of critical consciousness and education.  Other topics included critical inquiry and community health; critical engagement; critical literacy; and how asset-based community service can produce collaborative and long-lasting relationships between students, faculty, universities, and communities.  The presentations included a short documentary showing how students from PACHS used creativity and life experience to learn in an urban environment.

Workshops highlighted several projects between the Puerto Rican Cultural Center (PRCC) and the University of Illinois, including efforts to catalog the PRCC library using LibraryThing. Dr. Laura Ruth Johnson and several of her students from Northern Illinois University talked about their practices and experiences in community based research at Paseo Boricua. One student worked at a local café, another learned about traditional Puerto Rican music. The students shared what they learned, and how community engagement transformed their research experience during the panel.

Ann Bishop, of the University of Illinois, led a panel on Community Inquiry and Informatics with Victor Benitez and Licia Knight.  The panelists discussed their experiences working in and with the people of Paseo Boricua.

A Café Teatro Batey Urbano performance, entitled “Crime Against Humanity”, followed.  “Crime Against Humanity” is a dramatic play depicting the struggles and joys of several Puerto Rican political prisoners lives behind bars. The play is based on interviews with released prisoners.

Artist Pablo Marcano García opened an art exhibit at the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture, a museum in Humboldt Park. His artwork uses bold Caribbean colors, and he is known for his mural artistry. He later showed a video depicting a recent art project of his in which the homes in a small hillside village in Puerto Rico were re-painted with Caribbean colors to reflect the town’s heritage.

Sunday afternoon ended with symposium goers sharing their thoughts and feelings about what they learned and saw over the course of the three-day event.  The symposium brought together people of different backgrounds to share in a united experience of transformation through the dialog of critical pedagogy.

The author is a 2009-10 UIUC Graduate Research Assistant
Community Informatics Initiative, Graduate School of Library and Information Science.

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