Heeding Heartivism at the Rock

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Heartivism. Were you of a mind to break it down, the term is the combination of three words:

  • Heart
  • Art
  • Activism

And within the Societies and Culture class here at Eagle Rock, our strategy for having students develop as individuals through learning skills for activism is to offer a course that uses historical context as a catalyst for exactly that. Each of these words — heart, art, and activism — is important in developing a new way of thinking about (and teaching) history as students grapple with creative processes and participate in the making of history itself.

The philosophical foundation of the class is rooted in the work of Paulo Reglus Neves Freire, Ph.D., and John Dewey, FAA. From Freire, we apply the notion that our students are not “empty vessels” waiting to be filled with knowledge. Instead, they come into the classroom with opinions, intuitions and values that drive their behavior, choices and thoughts.

Dewey talks about two concepts that are relevant: teaching the “life of downtown” — or in this case, moving from the textbook to what is happening in the news and the world — and the idea of co-constructing knowledge through experience, which is building on prior knowledge to create new forms of knowing.

We aim to apply these pedagogical stances to inform what we actually do in the course, which is to infuse historical examples as a means to talk about student agency (i.e., empowering students through curriculum approaches that engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions, give them opportunities to feel connected to school life, promote positive and caring relationships between all members of the school community, promote wellbeing and focus on the whole student, relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive — Source: Value Centered School… a guide on Student Agency [PDF]).

It’s never about just teaching facts, but creating a storyline that always leads back to the student. We begin and end with the student in mind.

We aim to build students as activists, and what that means for us here at Eagle Rock is moving them from being simply consumers of media, texts and facts to being critical co-creators through various mediums.

The power of the still image

For now, I want to focus on one powerful medium that we recently finished working on: the power of the still image. In class, we showed a series of photographs that have captured key moments in history and led to social change. Some examples include the visual journalism of Vietnam, U.S. child labor reform in the early 20th century, and examples of genocide across the world. We then turn from photography to discuss the power of posters and street art along with a discussion of private versus public space.

For one particular assignment, we challenged students to apply the concepts of Artivism (art + activism) to creating posters that communicate a strong message to the audience. What they came up with — see below — was astounding and outstanding:

The first is a poster discussing the effects of a declining bee population on our ecosystem. Essentially, if the bee population goes, so do various food chains on multiple levels. The student here has deftly used popular imagery from World War II recruiting efforts to engage the viewer:

The second example is about changing concepts of beauty and the conflicting messages about what is acceptable and desired, especially through media aimed at teenage female readers. Here, the student has used these same messages to restate the conversation on her terms, forcing us to consider the images we see everyday and our own notions of aesthetics:

Finally, one of our students decided to engage with the concept of mass consumption through the topic of obesity, in particular the hold that fast food has on our American/Western psyche and the difficulty that some communities face in finding affordable, healthy foods. His poster offers a stark reminder of the ultimate consequences of a poor diet. The viewer can’t help but pause and think about what often resides on our plates:


We promise more to come from Heartivism and the Societies and Culture class, as we develop critical, passionate and intelligent activists for a world in need of action.

In the meantime, using the Comment box below, please tell us what you think about our approach and early work in the area of Heartivism.

Comment (1)

  1. Sarah Bertucci says:

    Wow — powerful images. It’s so inspiring to see the statements students are making with these posters. Thanks for doing teaching so deeply grounded in critical and progressive pedagogy and student agency, and for sharing it as inspiration.

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