Public Education | Participatory Democracy: After Neoliberalism

Filmmaker & Author

Public Education|Participatory Democracy after neoliberalism

Fran Huckaby is a teacher, scholar and filmmaker. She developed an interest in community struggle for education as a Peace Corps volunteer in Papua New Guinea, where she and her spouse assisted 6 South Foré villages in establishing schools for their children. Fran's scholarly work primarily concerns creating openings and spaces for anti-oppressive discourses and practices. She studies experiences and pedagogical sites where divergent worldviews coexist often in tension and struggles. These sites of power relations, she argues, are educational and political. She makes use of theory and film to understand and amplify the material conditions and struggles of peoples' daily lives.

As an educator, Fran wants to understand and share what she learns. She works to create experiences that engage students with the world and introduce them to the depth and breadth of pedagogy. In her classes, she invites students to explore established formal knowledge, as well as tacit ways of knowing informed by experiences--varied, multiple, and divergent experiences. When studied together, these forms of knowledge complicate each other.

This is difficult, often uncomfortable; beautiful, often invigorating work.

She facilitate student understanding by encouraging critical analysis entwined with generosity and sensitivities to the histories and constraints of people’s circumstances. Curriculum Studies critically explores education, within and outside school settings, with an ethic that honors diversity, respects all people(s), and encourages democratic community building and engagement.

The work of the teacher-scholar is not nuetral, apolitical work for Fran or other teachers and scholars. Knowledge and exploration is always already political for the study of any area draws attention to that area and away from other sites of understanding. Additionally, the ideas produced and shared frame specific and particular ways of knowing that can be beneficial or detrimental. All scholarship/knowledge is political in that it fuels some actions, but not others. Actions viewed as apolitical are in reality covertly political. For example, few people question the political nature of medical research to cure disease. After all, who would not want a cure for something like cancer. But to study one form of cancer and not another, to divert funds to cure cancer, but not other diseases creates the potential for prolonged life for some, but not for others. As human beings, existing in worlds we co-create, avoiding the political is practically impossible.

Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. ~ Paulo Freire

This work on public education is not apolitical. Attending to and amplifying the experiences of students, educators, and communities displaced due to the corporatization of education and policy is a choice that Fran made to offer counternarratives to mainstream stories that laud school choice, competition, and oppressive evaluation and testing practices; to show what happens to people in the wake of such policies and how they struggle for better futures.  

For this project, Fran embodied the extremes of the urban reporter and ethnographer. As an urban reporter, she hopped from event to event and between cities much like a reporter following a story since 2012; at times finding ways to collect data with quick efficiency because the moments were fleeting. In many ways, she also worked a documentary filmmaker. But this interactive web-documentary is not a news report or your typical documentary. This project is ethnographic as Fran situated herself within communities and organizations that do the work of protecting endangered public schools. While this project is not a traditional ethnography, it draws heavily upon ethnography and ethnographic filmmaking to explore an international phenomena in by focusing on the struggle in key locations. 

Both documentary filmmaking and ethnographic fieldwork seek to “document and understand” human experiences, attend to power and representation, and worry about the work and its ethical consequences. But film as scholarship requires the filmmaker to remain a scholar. This means that at times, Fran's films violate expectations of cinematic audiences. For example, she stopped asking people to repeat themselves for cinematic appeal. The second take was always more rehearsed, but express less feeling and sincerity. Fran worry more about the images and sounds recorded in the field than creating soundtracks to accompany films. In terms of cinematic appeal, the limited use of music slows down the films, which is risky as audiences are used to a fast pace. But sound vibrates through our bodies in such complicated ways and adds layers of emotion that a viewer may not experience without the added soundtrack. She is cautious about what she films and what she shows. Some footage may never be shown because she may not be able to offer enough context to fairly situate the footage for critical and biased audiences. She avoids filming in certain cases if her filming will interrupt or reveal private moments. She rarely films organizing and planning meetings.  

Scholarly filmmaking is an approach to arts-based research, which understands the “power of form to inform”, as it is grounded in recognizing social science as moral and political.

Fran's scholarship appears in the International Review of Qualitative Research, Qualitative Inquiry, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Educational Philosophy and Theory, The Journal of Curriculum Theorizing, Handbook of Public Pedagogy, Women and Pedagogy: Education through Autobiographical Narrative, and Duoethnography: Dialogic Methods for Social, Health, and Educational ResearchShe received the Outstanding Dissertation of the Year (AERA, Qualitative Research SIG) for Challenging the Hegemony in Education: Specific Parrhesiastic Scholars, Care of the Self, and Relations of Power. Additional awards include TCU Deans’ Teaching Award, TCU Mortar Board Preferred Professor, Straight for Equality from PFLAG.

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