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Liberated Schools


“According to Rendon (1994, 2002), academically validating experiences occur when classroom environments are created that affirm underserved students’ possibility of academic success, convince students of their ability to contribute to the process of knowledge creation, build on students’ previous knowledge--often subjective knowledge acquired outside the traditional academic classroom, and encourage students to develop their own voices.” 

—Ronald E. Hallett et al., 2019.


  • Note to the educator:

  • Since its founding in 1981, educational equity has always been at the very heart of the Puente Project. A central part of our professional development requires self reflection that is guided by equity driven approaches, such as the Community Cultural Wealth as described by Yosso, Rendon, Kanagala, and Nora.This approach focuses on our student’s assets.

  • Puente students enter a system that was not designed for them. Facilitating discussion on educational equity and sharing experiences about navigating the educational system can be empowering.

  • Our objective is for students to understand that their insights are valid, valuable, and essential. “Rat Ode” is a great piece to frame this conversation with your students or share this poem the day before an essay is due to uplift and validate student voice.

  • Students of color, LGBTQ+ students, and disabled students are often treated as “problems” and offered strategies such as “growth mindset” or “grit” as ways to make up for incorrectly perceived deficits in knowledge, skills, and culture. This is because systems of oppression and negative cultural attitudes that paint students this way are pervasive.

Key Term / Definition

Liberation pedagogy is defined as:

“a pedagogy which must be forged with, not for, the oppressed (whether individuals or peoples) in the incessant struggle to regain their humanity. This pedagogy makes oppression and its causes objects of reflection by the oppressed, and from that reflection will come their necessary engagement in the struggle for their liberation. And in the struggle this pedagogy will be made and remade.” —Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Learning Objectives

These pieces have been selected as a way for students to: 


  • Gain a deeper understanding of their own educational experiences—past, present, and future—through personal reflection and evaluation.

  • Analyze the forces that have shaped inequity in school through multiple media and modalities.

  • Understand the challenges of education in their communities.

  • Gain the knowledge and tools necessary to advocate for themselves and their communities.

Essential and Guiding Questions

  • What are the forces that have shaped inequity in schools?  What does a fair and just educational landscape for all look like and how do we get there?

  • How have students of color been historically excluded from and/or discriminated against in educational spaces? 

  • How have LGBTQ+ and disabled students been historically excluded from and/or discriminated against in educational spaces?

  • What kind of challenges do marginalized students face when they enter higher education beyond high school? 

  • What are some of the circumstances that undocumented students face? 

  • How have marginalized students built collective power to address oppressive educational systems and improve their learning outcomes?

Suggested Activities

  • World Cafe: Selected Educational Equity Readings [MS, HS, CC]

    • The World Café method is designed to create an environment in which to intentionally connect multiple ideas and perspectives on a topic in several rounds of small-group conversation. Another way to do this activity is on a Jamboard, especially in a virtual setting. Curate the articles to reflect your class discussion. 


  • Friere “Banking Model of Education”  [MS, HS, CC]

    • Read Freire excerpt (linked above) together and have students identify strong lines and questions they have about the text in small groups.

    • Create a class definition of the “banking model” together.

    • Free-write Activity: Think about the structure of your previous classrooms. Describe the environment and/or activities of a classroom that helped you be more successful. Why was it helpful? Describe the environment and/or activities of a classroom that was challenging to your learning. What made it challenging?

      • Share out with a partner and/or small groups

      • Class Discussion Question: Based on our experiences, what similarities do our helpful classrooms have?

    • How can we shape our most ideal classroom from these similarities? 

    • Optional addition: connect with bell hooks “Teaching Community:” how do the values of our Puente community connect with Friere and hooks’s concept of liberatory education?

    • Poster or Jamboard session: What does educational equity look like in our Puente classroom?

  • Educational Autobiography [MS, HS, CC]

  • After studying Community Cultural Wealth, assign students the task of writing an educational autobiography to help you understand student strengths, needs, and goals. Consider a prompt such as:

    • Tell me the story of your educational journey, both the highs and lows. Choose specific moments to share which are meaningful to you. Upon reflection, what are two kinds of Community Cultural Wealth that you bring to the classroom with you? Were these assets frequently recognized in you as a student? Be as detailed as you can so that I can start to get to know you and learn about your experiences.

  • Malcolm X’s Education Journey [MS, HS, CC]

  • Ask students to briefly discuss what facts they know about Malcolm X. List his accomplishments as a class. This discussion may be informed by reading X: A Novel and The Awakening of Malcolm X or The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 

  • Inform students of Malcolm X’s contributions to the civil rights movement and his legacy. This does not need to be a lengthy lecture, but a few key points about why he was a significant historical figure can be found here via Brittanica.

  • Then, ask students to reflect on the scene in Malcolm X’s autobiography and biographies when as a child, he told his teacher he wanted to be a lawyer, and the teacher shot down his dream due to anti-Black racism. 

  • Discuss as a class how Malcolm X found his own way of educating himself while in prison. Consider the following questions for group discussion and/or a reflection paper:

    • Why is it significant that Malcolm X still found a way to teach himself? How did self-empowered learning make him feel? How did his own version of education end up helping him and his community? How did his learning influence his later accomplishments? What can we learn from Malcolm X’s journey of educational discrimination, self-empowered learning, and community building?

  • Education Reflections [MS, HS, CC]

  • Study and discuss the following poems as a class:

  • Then, ask students to read aloud Sins Invalid’s 10 Principles of Disability Justice. Ask students to rewrite the 10 principles in their own words. Ensure that their own definitions of each principle are accurate and in line with Sins Invalid. 

  • As a class, discuss the relationship between the 10 Principles of Disability Justice and the content of the poems above. How can we incorporate the principles of disability justice in the classroom to create educational justice?

  • Assign students the task of creating a reflection paper, visual artwork, poster board, short story, or skit answering the following questions: What are your past and present experiences in school? What has most impacted your educational journey? Has the classroom been a validating positive learning environment?

Text Selections




Reference materials for the educator, background, databases

Consider pairing this with the Puente Language, Identity, and Culture (Lengua) unit  or Michelle Gonzales' unit on Linguistic Justice and to consider how the hierarchy around language (esp “academic” language) is a major factor in educational experiences. [CC]

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