Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

Building Learning Communities for Social Action: Swingshift College, A Model for Social Justice Education and Citizenship

Prof Ruth Needleman, Cathy Iovanella, Dorine Godinez, Charlie Brooks, Prof Chuck Gallmeier.

For 10 years, Swingshift College has provided access for blue-collar workers to university education, through a process of customization. Classes are offered morning and evenings, video-taped, and designed to draw on workers' experiences, affirm working-class values, and instill confidence and self-esteem. Initially modelled after popular education programs such as Highlander Folk School in the U.S. and the workers' schools in Brazil, Swingshift selects teachers who love learning and see the classroom as a center for mutual learning and knowledge-creation.
This workshop will discuss Swingshift College's experience with popular education pedagogy, its use in higher education, and will raise problems for collective conversation, including: integration of anti-oppression education in all courses; the search for new answers to the evaluation of learning; the difficult challenge of reconciling the learning process with the scheduled content; approaches that make globalization a local reality; methods for rebuilding class consciousness and collective communities among working people.
The focus of presenters will be to share experiences in creating community in the classroom as well as extending that community to social and social justice activities in Northwest Indiana. The Region, still a steel-making center of the world, has suffered directly from global restructuring and downsizing. High unemployment, disinvestment and urban flight have created devastated, minority centers like East Chicago and Gary. Racial tensions, exacerbated by job competition, have eroded any sense of community among workers, and a radically conservative political and social environment in the U.S. has fostered hopelessness and demoralization and increasingly turned workers toward individual and self-destructive alternatives, ranging from a jingoistic patriotism to widespread scapegoating of immigrants, African Americans, women and other vulnerable populations.
In this context, Swingshift College offers a solidaristic approach in courses, whether history, sociology, composition or labor studies. The instructors learn from students and their work experiences, and enable them to learn from each other.
The workshop will include instructors as well as students from the program.


Prof Ruth Needleman  (United States)
Professor, founder & chair, Swingshift College
Professor and coordinator, Division of Labor Studies; Professor and Chair, Swingshift College; professor, Women's Studies, Indiana University
United Association of Labor Educators; Organization of American Historians; Labor and Working Class History Association

Ruth has been involved in labor activism for the past 35 years, working as a rank-and-file organizer, editing the farmworkers newspaper, serving as Education Director for the Service Employees International Union, teaching labor studies and founding Swingshift College, a customized degree program for working students. Her recent book, Black Freedom Fighters in Steel: the Struggle for Democratic Unionism, examines the impact of grassroots black workers on industrial and democratic unionism. Her many articles explore issues of leadership development, union education, racism and sexism in unions and workplaces. She has received teaching and service excellence awards for her work.

Cathy Iovanella  (United States)

Dorine Godinez  (United States)

Charlie Brooks  (United States)

Prof Chuck Gallmeier  (United States)

  • Building learning communities
  • Popular education
  • Critical pedagogy
  • Education for social action
  • Anti-oppression education
  • Evaluating learning
  • Linking global and local realities
Person as Subject
  • Horton, Myles Freire, Paolo Martin, D'Arcy Thomas, Barb Needleman, Ruth

(60 min Workshop , English/ part in Spanish)