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Learning Community: Popular Education and Homeless Women
Women's Studies Quarterly (2004)
  • Lorna Rivera

In this essay, I present the voices of homeless women to illustrate the empowering impact of popular education on their lives. Popular education is a methodology of teaching and learning through dialogue that directly links curriculum content to people's lived experience and that inspires political action (Beder, 1996; Freire, 1985, 1990; Williams, 1996). On the basis of 5 years of ethnographic research in a shelter-based popular-education program, I describe how popular education approaches inspired a sense of community among a group of 50 homeless women of color. I also examine some of the barriers to literacy faced by women who returned to school during a time of crisis. I argue that in order to address the social injustices that oppress poor women, we should invest more in popular-education programs for women. In 2001, 54% of participants in the adult education and literacy system (AELS) were women (Murphy, 2003, p.5). Many of the homeless women I met initially blamed themselves (and other individuals) for their poverty-related problems, but popular education helped them understand and address the root causes of their problems. According to Clover, Follen, and Hall (1998), "Feminist popular education seeks to understand and challenge the processes, functions, as well as structures which are responsible for particular social and gender inequalities" (p. 12).

In my research, I observed how the women's participation in popular education enabled other positive changes in their lives (beyond the acquisition of basic literacy skills). The women engaged in healthier lifestyles, invested more in their children's education, improved their socioeconomic status, and increased their civic participation. Furthermore, the popular-education program at the Family Shelter addressed the women's material needs: It provided housing and legal advocacy, shelter, a food pantry, child care, health care, and other social services that supported the women's personal and community goals.

  • women,
  • education,
  • homeless women
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Citation Information
Lorna Rivera. "Learning Community: Popular Education and Homeless Women" Women's Studies Quarterly Vol. 32 Iss. 1/2 (2004)
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