PeopleSkool, Escuela de la gente: Education for ALL peoples outside the institution!

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Register NOW for the Summer Session that starts June 15; details below

by Kate Elston, PNN Community Journalist Trainee

The PeopleSkool graduation was a joyous occasion: To the sound of maracas, guitar and tambourines, each student shimmied, danced and grooved to the front of the class to receive a hard-earned certificate amongst beams and cheers. Six weeks’ worth of learning had come to an end.

It doesn’t sound like a typical graduation ceremony, but nothing about PeopleSkool is typical. Co-teacher and revolutionary journalist Lisa Gray-Garcia aka Tiny will be quick to point out, though, that just because PeopleSkool is different doesn’t make it a less valid form of education. In fact, it’s some of the best education I’ve ever had.

PeopleSkool is a six-week seminar of Poor Magazine, an indigenous, community-based, revolutionary news organization. A group of eager students of all races and ages met twice a week and shared from one another. We learned about migration, about disability, about poverty.

PeopleSkool’s core belief is that knowledge is equal. That’s why we sat in a circle and shared our stories, and no one was the professor. PeopleSkool believes we must flip who is the educated and who are the educators, diverting away from the formal institutions of learning.

Here, at PeopleSkool on 16th and Mission, we all recognize our own power, knowledge and scholarship. If you’ve lived through it, you can teach about it. If you’ve lived it, you’re an expert. The revolution begins with I, as Poor Magazine’s motto goes, and PeopleSkool urges its students and journalists to draw on personal experience in reporting on the news.

Over the course of the two months, the faces of my classmates became more familiar and more family-like than any university class I had ever taken. I was learning more about poverty than I had before — and not from people who study it in a big fancy building but people who live through it every day.

Here, at PeopleSkool on 16th and Mission, we all recognize our own power, knowledge and scholarship. If you’ve lived through it, you can teach about it. If you’ve lived it, you’re an expert.

As part of PeopleSkool we heard presentations. Poverty Scholar Muteado Silencio showed us a documentary from teens talking about ancestor worship: “If we remember we are our ancestors, that makes us live for a lot more,” one of teenagers said.

Disability, Class and Race Scholar Leroy Moore taught us about the history of disabilities and hip-hop. Disabilities cuts across all peoples, and some of the best art has come out of the repression of people living with these disabilities, he said.

Maria Molina sang a beautiful song about mujeres inmigrantes (women immigrants) in this country and the struggles they face every day. All along the way, Co-director, Co-madre Tiny shared her struggles as a poor mother and homeless teen, and others shared their struggles of being marginalized and oppressed.

PeopleSkool also focused on news making. We learned crucial tools of being literate in the media. Tiny told us we can’t be good media reporters if we’re not good media consumers and instructed us all to check out a news outlet we hadn’t read before — like El Tecolote, the SF Bay View or the Block Report.

We also deconstructed images in corporate media and were trained how to interpret and resist these images. We spent every Thursday writing blogs that focused on struggle, because in writing about our struggles, we come to empathize with others in struggle and in turn become a better reporter and supporter of the many obstacles that all peoples face.

Poor and PeopleSkool also advocate reporting in the first person, using yourself as a primary voice and not hiding behind a veil of objectivity. We can give ourselves a primary voice because we have experience and thus power. We also learned radio and video blogging, editing and scripting from teacher-reporters like Vivian Hain and Tony Robles.

PeopleSkool was also lucky to have the renowned Jose Cuellar come in for a series of akademik-in-residence sessions and teach us about shared knowledge in different cultures and how, in criticizing the dominators and colonizers, we must be constructive, ask questions and never assume we know everything. One must always keep an open mind.

After graduating from PeopleSkool, I would whole-heartedly recommend it to everyone out there, of any gender, race, class, age and ability. I’m lucky to not have experienced much marginalization in my life, and PeopleSkool has taught me to identify and empathize, not just sympathize, with everyone around me.

After these six weeks, I feel closer to my city and the people in it. In my future career as a journalist or wherever I go, I will use the tools PeopleSkool has given me in being a better empathizer, listener, student, reporter and person.

The Summer Session of PeopleSkool, Escuela de la Gente, will feature guest teacher-media revolutionaries JR Valrey, Solange Echeverria and many more. Classes begin June 15. Email deeandtiny@poormagazine.org to register. Scholarships are available for low-income youth, adults and elders. Healthy meals and on-site child care are offered for all classes. All classes taught bilingually. In addition to radio production, video editing and blog training, the Summer Session will also offer an English and Spanish conversation class for revolutionary journalists.

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