Archive for April 2013

Challenging Immigration Policies

Photograph showing two men seated in chairs. Two women pretending to be police officers stand on either side of the men.

Participants act out a scene using Boalian theatre techniques during the JoLLE Spring Conference.

 Challenging Immigration Policies through Critical Performative Pedagogy

Reflections on our Workshop for JoLLE Activist Literacies Conference

 Ruth Harman, Kinga Varga-Dobai, Monique Evans Newsome and Brittany Bogue

 Anti-immigrant discourses and policies have posed daunting challenges for immigrant students and their communities in the Southeast of the United States in recent years (Allexsaht-Snider, Buxton, & Harman, 2012).  A ban instituted by the University System of Georgia Board of Regents in October 2010, for example, prevents undocumented students from gaining admission to selective universities in the state regardless of high achievement records (Board of Regents Website). Senate Bill 160, recently approved in April 2013, may well prevent mixed-status immigrant families from accessing Medicaid and food stamps for their children.


Photograph of two men

Workshop attendees engage in a sculpting activity.

As multicultural educators very troubled by these civil rights issues, we conducted a theater workshop at the conference where we used performance and critical discussion to embody and challenge these immigration policies.  After engaging in warm-up Boalian games for actors such as body sculpting and mirroring activities, participants were asked to do free writes on personal experiences related to immigration (e.g. their own stories or those of their students). With three other participants they negotiated which story they would improvise for the whole group. In one mesmerizing scenario, the performers enacted a potentially very dangerous encounter between a Mexican immigrant driver and an overzealous police officer. Using Boalian techniques, members of the audience were encouraged to break into the scene and take on the role of the protagonist. One member of the audience, for example, changed the dynamics of the scene by enacting culturally responsive policing strategies.

In reflecting on our work for the conference, we believe that the ways in which our workshop participants engaged in the performance showed powerfully both the deep embodied knowledge they had of immigration issues and how the embodied re-enactment of painful experiences related to immigration helped us as a group to engage more deeply with the issues.  This type of critical performance work can be used by educators and activist groups for social justice education (Enns & Sinacore, 2005; Nieto & Bode, 2012). In alignment with the main principles of social justice education as described by Enns & Sinacore (2005) critical performance enacts and affirms the experiences of those peoples who have been marginalized and opens discussion about resistance strategies and pedagogies that can be used to counteract egregious policies. In the context of teaching, critical performance allows for perspective taking and valuing of diversity, and promotes classroom climates built on equity.

Workshop attendees act out a scenario.

Workshop attendees act out a scenario.

Economically disadvantaged, undocumented residents, refugees, middle-class, struggling readers are all labels stamped upon our students’ educational passports. Critical use of performance supports teacher researchers to partner with students in collaborative youth participatory research that challenges institutional oppression (Cahill, 2007).  Indeed, presenting Boalian scenarios to those who traditionally hold power allows students to have voice and dialogue with existing power structures.  In sum, this work empowers educators to teach within the context of culture and to challenge the institutional structures of learning. Below we outline a sample lesson of activities for teaching in K-12 levels.




Our demonstration lesson for the conference:  So far from the sea and Japanese American Incarceration during World War II


By imaginatively and experientially delving into scenarios that relate to specific socio- political and historical events, students begin to understand the complexity and multi- dimensional nature of history. Perhaps, the results of participatory and performative instruction will generate interest in readdressing issues of social justice.

  • Students will be able to experientially connect to the concept of incarceration without trial.
  • Students will explore strategic and tactical responses to social injustice and racial discriminatory practices related to immigration issues.

Questions to ask students after they sculpt their scenes:

Who are you? What is your story?

Where were you?

What did you want from the situation?

Was your story similar or very different from the sculptor’s master story?

Sequence of Activities in CPP Workshop

  1. Name Game and other Theater Games (Do regularly in class before workshop day)
  2. Reader’s Theater to activate discussion of key issue for group (e.g. immigration policies)
  3. Voting on emotions and counter emotions (Group vote on what emotions they would like to embody in their work)
  4. Body Sculpting and Museum Walk
  5. Debriefing with partner (What did you notice? What did you feel?)
  6. Journal write about personal experience related to immigration (or social issue being discussed) and triggered by the body work
  7. Story sharing and negotiation with three others on which story to tell
  8. Rehearsal of scene through silent sculpting of scene and verbal improvisation
  9. Jokers (facilitators) help groups to rehearse their scenes and encourage spect-actors to become involved in the scene as alternative protagonist
  10.  Discussion of the scenes and strategies used by spect-actors
  11. Returning to the readings on immigration (connecting the theater work to the class curricular unit).


 Allexsaht-Snider, M., Buxton, C., & Harman, R. (2012). Challenging anti-immigration discourses in school and community contexts. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 14(2).

Boal, A. (1974/1979). Theater of the oppressed. New York: Theater Communications Group.

Bunting, E. (1998). So far from the sea. Boston, MA: Clarion Books.

Cahill, C. (2007). The personal is political: Developing new subjectivities through

participatory actions research. Gender, Place and Culture. 14(3), 267-292.

Cahill, C. (2007). Doing Research with Young People: Participatory Research and the

Rituals of collective work. Children’s Geographies, 5 (3), 297-312.

Cahnmann-Taylor, M., & Souto-Manning, M. (2010). Teachers act up! Creating multicultural learning communities through theatre. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Conrad, D. (2004). Exploring risky youth experiences: Popular theatre as a

participatory, performative research method.  International Journal of

Qualitative Methods, 3(1), 1-24.

Enns, C. & Sinacore, A. (2005). Teaching and social justice: Integrating multicultural

and feminist theories in the classroom. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Freire, P. (2002). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, Continuum International.

Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a blue guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute lectures on aesthetic education. New York: Teachers College Press.

Harman, R. & French, K. (2004). Critical performative pedagogy: A feasible praxis in teacher education? In J. O’Donnell, M. Pruyn & R. Chavez (Eds.), Social justice in these times (pp. 97–116). Greenwich, CT: New Information Press.

Harman, R., & McClure, G. (2011). All the school’s a stage: Critical performative pedagogy in urban teacher education. Equity & Excellence in Education, 44(3), 379-402.

Harman, R. & Dobai-Varga, K. (2012). Critical performative pedagogy: Emergent bilingual learners challenge local immigration issues. International Journal of Multicultural Education,14(2), 1-17.

hooks, bell.(1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New

York: Routledge.

Maher, F. & Tetreault, M. K. (1994, 2001).  The feminist classroom: dynamics of gender,   race and privilege, the expanded edition. United States of America: Rowman &

Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Nieto, S. & Bode, P. (2012) Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of ulticultural education. 6th edition. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Nygreen, K. (2009). Critical dilemmas in PAR: Toward a new theory of engaged

research for social change. Social Justice, 36 (4), 14-35.

Speed, S. (2006). Indigenous women and gendered resistance in the wake of Acteal. In V.

Sanford & A. Angel-Ajani (Eds.), Engaged observer: Anthropology, advocacy, and activism (pp. 170-188). New Brunswick: Rutgers.  

A 2nd grader reflects

Painting of large eye.

“Ojo Vigilante” oil painting by Christian Faltis, 2011.


From Jack (age 8). Jack typed his reflection using Write:OutLoud and CoWriter software.

What did attending the conference make you think that you had not thought before?

It made me think about art. It represents most of the things in the world and people’s imagination. It makes us heavy thinkers. Whenever I look at art it make me really think about it and what it means. Not everyone thinks the same thing when they look at the same art. It made me think about the world and how there are so many different people in it.

What was one of your favorite things from the conference?

The piece of art I really liked was the person’s close up of the eye where you could see all the details. It make me think about ninjas. It also made me think about all the homeless people in the world and my town. It felt like somebody hiding in a deserted house couldn’t afford their own home. It made me feel sad. It made me want to help the world. It made me want to build shelters around town. It made me want to provide food and water.

What will you always remember?

I remember [KC] Nat Turner’s talk. He talked about lots of things, but I remember drones and how they are killing people and a lot of them are children. It made me feel sad. Why would people want to do that? It made me want to make signs that say stop the drones. It made me want to make posters. It made me want to start a legion. Our posters would say stop killing people for no reason. Stop killing children. I thought the music the students created was very truthful. I told Nat he was lucky to know such amazing students.

Photograph of adult male at a podium with PowerPoint presentation behind him.

Keynote speaker, Nat Turner.
All photographs courtesy of Steven Landry unless otherwise noted.

It made me want to to make music about political rights. I could make music with my friends and we can post it to youtube and twitter. People will listen because it is important. Even though I am a kid they will listen to it because kids can make art and music about political rights the same as adults.

What did it inspire you to do?

I was inspired and excited and felt like I could do anything. It made me want to do what I can do to stop drone strikes, to help people, to help my community. I hope other people are inspired to do this too.

Community Literacy Collaborations

Logo with the words "Literacy is a Lifestyle."

Athens Clarke Literacy Council was one of several community partners involved in the JoLLE Conference.


by Mandy Seigler, Executive Director of the Athens-Clarke Literacy Council

When the Athens-Clarke Literacy Council was approached about being a local partner with the JoLLE Conference, we were excited to participate.  After some discussion, we moved forward to define our role.  The vision presented to us was to have various facets of literacy come together to share in an interactive conference focused on using those literacies in the capacity of activism.  What a great fit, as our purpose is to promote and support adult literacy.

Our main participation came in having three adult learners come to share their story of how literacy affects their lives.  Two of them have obtained their GED and the third is lacking the last test of five. Their stories were digitally recorded and compiled into a powerful video.    Two of the students attended the reception Friday night at which their stories were showcased during the Gallery Walk.  The most exciting thing to me was that we were all exposed to the keynote speakers who presented their art, research, and findings.  It was quite enlightening!!  I know that Chris really enjoyed it.  He came dressed to a T–in a suit, along with his step mom.  Amy brought her son with her and they enjoyed the atmosphere.

On Saturday, I attended the entire day and went to various workshops.  While many were not pertinent to my daily work, my mind was still expanded and I really enjoyed them!!  It was great to hear about various literacy activist projects around the state, nation, and world.

Literacy Video

Reflections from Rosemarie Goodrum, Emeritus Board Member of the Athens-Clarke Literacy Council

First, the title of the conference immediately intrigued me: “Activist Literacies.” I loved the idea of activism or “doing” and also had never thought of MULTIPLE literacies. From the Friday night reception to the last hour of the conference where we reflected on the day’s events, I was inspired and engaged. In fact, I had planned to leave at noon on Saturday and stayed until 5:00.

There were many outstanding presentations, but the one that transformed my thinking was A WEEK AT THE MUSEUM: Extending Literacy Through Creative Arts. The session made me realize the possibilities for a similar collaboration in Athens, and I will work to make this happen in the next few months or so.  Finally, as I said in the reflection session, Tobie and Lindy brought me into the 21 Century with this conference, and I am so happy they did.


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