What is Popular Education?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2019
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Popular education is a form of, typically, public education that seeks to reinforce the importance of education regarding the political responsibilities of an educated populace. The basic idea is that students should be educated in a way that is free of any religious or political bias, allowing students to learn in a way that produces critical thinkers and future leaders. There is something of an anarchistic or rebellious tradition within various popular education movements, and this can often be tied to the time and place in which such movements have occurred. Popular education, by itself, is not innately revolutionary but it does tend to enforce or emphasize personal freedom and responsibility in gaining autonomy.

One of the most important tenets of popular education is in the responsibility it places on citizens to be empowered and enact change they wish to see in the world. Some of the more radical aspects of this educational approach often come from this idea, and the extension of it toward anti-governmental feelings or notions. A great deal of emphasis is placed on how an educated citizen can make a difference in the country around him. Some of these ideas of popular education are therefore also closely tied to the idea of public education and its importance within a society.


Popular education and public education are often seen as critical to successfully building a free, democratic society. Many social commentators see democracy as being heavily dependent on the fact that its citizens are meant to be educated and aware of the troubles afflicting the country. This is why public education is considered the backbone of democracy; without it, the populace is not informed enough to make the decisions asked of them in a democracy. Popular education is often seen as a part of this as well, since it strives to reinforce in students the importance of their place within society and how they can change the world around them.

In order for this type of popular education to be effective, however, it is meant to remain unbiased and free from religious or political intervention. Students are meant to build their own knowledge base from what they learn and come to their own conclusions. This allows them to become critical thinkers and have a greater awareness of the problems in the world and how they may be able to help solve them. The educational philosophy of critical pedagogy is often connected with this type of education and similar movements.


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