Building Community Projects Through Literacy and the Arts

by Matt Oppenheim

Matt Oppenheim is the Title 1 Family and Community Coordinator for the Albuquerque
Public Schools in New Mexico, USA.
Shrii P.R. Sarkar in a deep personal meeting asked me to devote my life to the facilitation of social prama. Prama is the equipoise and equilibrium underlying all the aspects of personal and collective harmony. My path since then has been to merge a Proutist practice of social transformation with Neohumanist education. Education is a social flow that happens everywhere in cultural life. It is not just isolated behind school walls, or just the responsibility of school-teachers. The Western colonial model places social institutions in isolated cells in an attempt to thwart genuine social movements.When we critically examine our own notions of education, and the colonizing influences that inhabit our own consciousness we begin the path to liberate education from its ensnarements. Paoulo Freire helped liberate the poor of Brazil by first having them reflect upon the forces that oppress them. Then he had them draw pictures about their ideal lives in order to reflect upon the values and processes that gave them a sense of liberation.

The next step once our minds elevate above those ensnarements is to flood our thoughts and actions with universal love. I believe in knocking down the literal and metaphorical walls of schools, encouraging educational cultures to lead by the aspiration of samaj samaja tattva, the principal of social equality and the spirit of collective social movement. What then can we do to integrate education with a flow of social transformation?

Understanding how community members and educational leaders come together in a path of transformation has been my focus of research and practice for quite a long time. This has led me to question a long-standing assumption that many Proutists have made in their own research. This assumption is that Prout work is primarily intellectual and that research is carried out by a lone researcher.

The field of participatory research inspires collective research that foregrounds the talents and skills of the collective and research that liberates and empowers the researcher through a cycle of action and reflection. Several scholars in this field emphasize indigenous research; or research that is founded on the spiritual philosophy, values and social processes of indigenous peoples. Here the leadership and wisdom of elders is recognized and social processes such as community rituals, collective problem-solving, and actions in harmony with the earth are transferred to the process of community research. I believe that our own quest for an ideologically based research paradigm has a lot to gain from indigenous based research; which like our own philosophy foregrounds the intuitive and creative; the collective and the processual.

I believe in liberating this unexamined colonizing paradigm by introducing proutists to a process I call transformative research, as well as introducing educators to transformative processes. On a very basic level, we know that our personal and collective flows are physical, psychic and spiritual. On a deeper level, we know that the expressions of our chakras and related kosas not only manifest in personal expression but in collective expression as well. The field of critical education foregrounds an experiential learning cycle that mirrors many of the highest expressions of our chakras and kosas, integrating the intuitional with the creative and innovative; the practical, the conceptual and somatic; the emotional and the psychic.

It is in this spirit that I offer the following exercises as a step in evolving an integrated practice of social transformation with experiential education. Our social flow becomes vibrant, vital and resilient when artistic aspirations and social expressions merge together; when we flow together through creative and somatic processes that heighten and give purpose to our intellectual and psychic skills.

I welcome the reader to experience the following projects and practices as an experience in the creation of education and social transformation as one project. Time and time again I have used this in mutual projects between schools and their communities. Here we can integrate the often demanding pressure to develop literacy skills with a natural process of inner joy and creative expression. As Proutists, we can paint the sometimes dry work of the Proutist researcher and intellectual with a heightened spirit of social pranah dharma, a movement in which all of our expressions come to life in social movements.

Each of these projects encourages the participant to think about their individual and social lives as integrated. The first step is reflecting upon the cherished values, experiences and cultural life of their ancestors; their present lives, and then to consider what values, experiences and culture they want to pass down to future generations. Each of these projects also inspires people together to create a collective social flow as a way to return back to the spirit of community that was once an integral part of their heritage.

Let me know if I can help you and the schools and communities you work with in any of the following processes. And I hope you feel the joy and deep inspiration for both social change and education reform that comes out of experiential education.
Matt Oppenheim <>