What is a Teach-In?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A teach-in is a form of nonviolent protest which uses one of the most powerful protest tools of all: educational empowerment. At a teach-in, attendees can sit in on forums, discussion panels, lectures, and free debates about a topic. Typically, controversial and under-reported topics are chosen for a teach-in, with the goal of increasing awareness about these issues and encouraging people to act on them.

Mahatma Gandhi was a leader of nonviolent protest.
Mahatma Gandhi was a leader of nonviolent protest.

The concept of the teach-in arose in the 1960s, when students and staff at many universities wanted to participate in the growing anti-war movement, but found protest actions difficult on university grounds. When groups were told that protests would be met with stiff opposition, the Students for a Democratic Society organized the first teach-in, which took place on a college campus in Michigan in 1965. The organizers of the event thought that since protest would be too difficult, they should try using education to engage the community, and in the process, they created a very effective tool.

Teach-ins, which are focused on educating on an issue, can occur in connection with a large organized protest.
Teach-ins, which are focused on educating on an issue, can occur in connection with a large organized protest.

Teach-ins are often held on college campuses, and they sometimes occur in conjunction with mass protests, allowing protesters to attend teach-in events and put their knowledge to immediate use. Teach-ins are also hosted at other sites such as libraries and community centers. The guests and panelists at a teach-in are often drawn from a wide community, incorporating traditional professors, people with experience in the field, and notable commentators on the topic.

The topic of a teach-in can vary widely. At many large organized protests, for example, teach-ins are held in the days leading up to the event, allowing people to become educated about the issues being protested. Protest teach-ins may also cover topics like nonviolent protesting, passive resistance, and other protest tactics. A teach-in may also be used to raise community awareness about issues like ongoing wars, genocides, and other social problems; on university campuses, a teach-in often attempts to highlight the direct links between the university and the ongoing events.

Organizing a teach-in is easiest with a large group, and it helps to network with people who have connections. For example, if a group of high school students wants to organize a teach-in about draft resistance, they might want to network with a local draft resistance advocacy groups, as well as veterans and current members of the military to get a broad cross-section of information and opinion about the issue. Many leftist organizations are happy to assist people who want to organize teach-ins, and these organizations can provide advice derived from their own experiences.

Lectures about controversial topics may be given during a teach-in.
Lectures about controversial topics may be given during a teach-in.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I like the idea of having teach-ins that draw from the whole community, rather than just on a college campus. If the teach-in is organized and led by academics, students may be intimidated by the opinions, and possibly narrow opinions,of the professors.

I like teach-ins that bring a big diversity of people from the community, who can really confront the issues from many different avenues. I vote for more teach-ins to tackle the quest for economic equality a.k.a Occupy Wall Street.


@summing - I agree with you completely. I was not aware that teach-ins were a big part of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement. However, I have not seen any evidence of teach-ins or many organized efforts to discuss and educate about the issues in my city, Portland, OR.

The occupation of city parks seems to consist of too many who have little interest in the protest issues. There are many problems with unhygienic conditions, crime,and drugs.

Glad to hear St. Louis is ahead of the game and making some progress in understanding and confronting the issues.


@Summing- I agree that teach-ins are great tools for people to develop more in depth knowledge of important issues. My only concern remains that students should learn all sides of an issue before they commit to a cause because they should not blindly follow a professor that may have different values then their own.

Students in college should really learn to think for themselves and if the protest movement falls in line with their values then participating in a teach-in would really empower them and make them realize that there is power in numbers.

However, if the subject of the protests is not in line with the student’s values they should refrain from participating in the protest. For example, if I were a college student, I would not be protesting and participating in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement because I feel that it would not solve my problem if I were unemployed. I don’t see how causing crime and mayhem elevates the cause of the protestors. I understand the frustration of not being able to find a job, but violent protests are not the answer.

I think that many of the protestors of this movement have lost sight of why they are protesting and should find more creative solutions to solving their unemployment problems.


When I was in college there was a guy that would set up in the campus quad every Friday afternoon. He was a former professor. Rumor was that he had been fired but no one really knew for sure.

Anyway, he would sit at a table and talk endlessly about just about any subject you can imagine. His talks would range from art to science to history to politics all seamlessly and with a pretty thrilling logic. This guy was kind of crazy, but his mind was full of knowledge and it was amazing to hear him speak. He actually had a crowd of Friday regulars.

I guess that he thought the eduction we were getting in the class room was incomplete. He took it upon himself to teach us about some of his own ideas, however far out they may have been.


Teach-ins are a big part of the "Occupy" movements in the US. I have been participating in some of the activities here in St. Louis and have been lucky enough to sit in on a few teach-ins.

It has been a thrilling experience. Not only have I heard some incredible speakers with some really interesting and unexpected ideas, I love the idea of taking education out of the class room and bringing it to the streets. You do not need a fancy building, an expensive projector and a stuffy academic to bring up important and exciting ideas. You just need passion and an audience. The occupy movement is about discourse and fresh ideas. They teach-in is a great tool for giving these ideas momentum.

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