From the ground up...
A unique feature of IDG is that we foster and maintain a democratic learning environment. As stakeholders of a learning process, both community volunteers and inmates are empowered to take responsibility for their own lives and learning.
According to the Institute of Democratic Education in America, democratic education infuses the learning process with values of meaningful participation, personal initiative, and equality and justice for all. Democratic education sees individuals not as passive recipients of knowledge, but rather as active co-creators of their own learning. They are valued participants in a vibrant learning community.
Democratic education begins with the premise that everyone is unique, so each of us learns in a different way. By supporting the individual development of each person within a restorative community, democratic education helps people learn about themselves, engage with the world around them, and become positive and contributing members of society.
A integral component in a democratic learning process is the power of co-creation. In IDG, community volunteers and inmate participants work collaboratively to develop program curriculum and projects, in addition to serving as co-facilitators with each other during classes. The process of co-creation empowers voice, and fosters individual and collective accountability. Prison culture is one of deprivation, and dependency. Co-creation helps to end the cycle of deprivation and dependency by providing opportunities for personal responsibility, and engaged citizenship.
IDG is a reflective, needs based program. Although we are governed by an overarching philosophy and mission, our democratic and co-creative values allow us to grow from the ground up--adjusting and changing according to the needs of the populations we serve. This makes our program fluid, a feature which generates more participant buy-in, and long term participation.
Raising Critical Consciousness
The term critical consciousness is a popular education and social concept developed by Brazilian pedagogue and educational theorist Paulo Freire. Critical consciousness focuses on achieving an in-depth understanding of the world, allowing for the perception and exposure of social and political contradictions, in addition to taking action against the oppressive elements in one's life that are illuminated by that understanding. Freire identified how oppression can have a powerful emotional impact in the daily lives of learners.
In this way, individual consciousness raising helps end the culture of silence in which the socially dispossessed, internalize the negative images of themselves created and propagated by the oppressor in situations of extreme poverty. Liberating learners from this mimicry of the powerful, and the fratricidal violence that results, is a major goal of critical consciousness.
In IDG we facilitate difficult conversations on issues of social inequality and oppression, as a means for contextualizing crime so offenders and (facilitators alike) can deeply explore the nature of oppression and its corresponding psychological and emotional effects.
The term transpersonal is used by different schools of philosophy and psychology to describe experiences and worldviews that extend beyond the personal level of the psyche, and beyond mundane worldly events. It has been defined as experiences "in which the sense of identity or self extends beyond (trans) the individual or personal to encompass wider aspects of humankind, life, psyche or cosmos". The field of Transpersonal Psychology has defined the term as "development beyond conventional, personal or individual levels." It is related to the terminology of peak experiences, altered states of consciousness, and spiritual experiences.
IDG acknowledges the importance of the spiritual self, and/or peak experiences that often contribute to transformative experiences, especially in a prison setting. We believe that a healthy person is one where the mind, body, and spirit are equally attended. Although IDG is a secular organization, and we do not promote any one form of spiritual practice or religious tradition, we honor and respect how these may offer a unique support or pathway for expanded levels of individual awareness. We also seek to integrate the transpersonal as a valid means of experiential understanding.
Agents of Institutional & Social Change
With great knowledge comes great responsibility. It is not enough to merely learn about restoration and social justice. Full transformation of the self, and higher levels of empathy and compassion call us into action. IDG facilitates and encourages nonviolent action for social and institutional change. We integrate skill building into our curriculum so that we all may become better allies, bridge builders, and activists for a paradigm shift. In a culture of deprivation and oppression it can become too easy to remain in a state of personal despair, cynicism, and even apathy. We instead offer opportunities of empowerment, and hope for a better future.