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Reviewed by:
  • Classroom Action: Human Rights, Critical Activism, and Community-Based Education ed. by Ajay Heble
  • Dorothy Woodman
Ajay Heble, ed. Classroom Action: Human Rights, Critical Activism, and Community-Based Education. University of Toronto Press, 2017. 236 pp. $25.95.

For some, community-based education (cbe) both offers pedagogical possibilities to "break[] through the false construction of the corporate university as set apart from real life and seeks to re-envision schooling as always a part of our real world experience, and our real life" (hooks 41) and produces its own set of concerns. Experiential learning, wherein "members of both educational institutions and community organizations work together toward outcomes that are mutually beneficial" (Gemmel and Clayton 1), is attractive. Yet implementing a cbe project raises questions about language, process, and outcomes. What do service, social activism, facilitation, and collaboration mean within academic discourse and practices? How can we ascertain that we are not producing another version of elitist intervention? Are student learning outcomes overshadowing community assessments of the work? And, finally, how do we address ideology when linking learning to activism? Thankfully, for those of us implementing cbe, recent publications are offering critical appraisals. Ajay Heble's Classroom [End Page 139] Action: Human Rights, Critical Activism, and Community-Based Education brings perspectives of both instructor and students into the conversation.

Heble, Director of the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation and Professor in the School of English and Theatre Studies at Guelph University, has, together with former students, compiled a set of critical essays on community-based education. Heble has substantial expertise as a researcher and community innovator, and his students critically reflect on juggling two constituencies while implementing "community-facing" projects. His introduction, if one reads no further in this collection, is a useful summary of the issues and some of the thinkers in this field. Student essays offer project ideas and cautionary tales for both instructor and student.

For readers of Paulo Friere, bell hooks, and Henri Giroux, Classroom Action explores how instructors might "make [their] work more socially and ethically responsible" because "pedagogical activities […] are connected […] to issues of resources, power, and public interest" (5). Moreover, Heble argues, these activities "can generate alternative ways of seeing (and being in) the world" (5); his "community-facing" pedagogy "encourage[s] opportunities for students to activate their knowledge, to intervene purposefully in the broader communities in which they work and live" (15). Following classes on social activism and pedagogy, his students enter the community to "make interventions" within it (8). For this collection, student contributors describe and reflect on their "activist community-based interventions" and "discuss how such initiatives have shaped and energized their own current research and teaching practices" (8). However, community-based education is a fraught process: both Heble and his students point to the constraints of academia's fixed terms and semesters, the limitations of academic grading requirements, and the hierarchies of instructor/student and academy/community. Additionally, cbe is messy and complicated work; even well-received projects are fraught with struggles, failures, and conflicts.

The first student essay forms the lynchpin for those that follow. Elizabeth Jackson and Ingrid Mündel's group created and mounted a day-long symposium "that explored questions of access to and access within education" (39); the project quickly raised pressing concerns of defining terms, identifying and working with and against the realities of an educational institution, and addressing the systemic constraints that affect access to and engagement with "educational processes" (40). As they explain, the larger question of community-based education as fundamentally a "pedagogy [End Page 140] of the privileged" (40) quickly came to bear on how the group would conceptualize and implement the project. Their parenthetical question—"why weren't 'they' a part of our conversations"? (41)—is a concern that I experienced throughout the book.

In "The Guelf Speaks! Anthology: Storytelling as Praxis in Community–Facing Pedagogy," Ashlee Cunsolo, Paul Danyluk, and Robert Zacharias developed an anthology as a "gathering" of community stories (57). Like Jackson and Mündel, they express concern with social activism in the community that is, at the same time, a project for which students will be assessed and graded, and therefore...


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