On Monday evening a small group of Free Minds alumni gathered in a conference room behind the Texas Music Museum for a three-hour session of of Introduction to Sociology. Camp Fire USA kept the students’ children noisily entertained upstairs while the students began a lively discussion of Joe Feagin and Hernan Vera’s Liberation Sociology.
Professor Jerry Shepperd started by explaining what liberation sociology is all about – empowering people to change their own lives, getting them to understand the underlying causes behind the complex social and economic problems that confront them. The students debated this back and forth across the table. They discussed a number of reasons why it’s so difficult for people in poverty to understand the underlying causes – some brought up the “poverty mentality” that develops after a lifetime of having doors slammed in your face – how people stop believing that they’ll ever make it, that they’ll ever achieve the American ideal of self-reliance and independence. “You can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps when they take away your boots,” joked Antonio Bustos, a Free Minds ’09 alum.
“But,” said Kellee Coleman ’08, “You have to have some optimism, especially if you have kids.”
It’s important to move away from the myth of self-reliance, students argued. Start teaching children about the importance of community and role models and strong social networks. Teach them that they can’t expect to make it on their own. “We should change what ‘make it’ means,” said Kellee.
“I think I’ve made it,” said Professor Shepperd.
“I think I’ve made it,” said Abbie Navarrete ’07. “I’m changing the way I think. Liberation Sociology talks about values and conditions that are so entrenched, we’re not even aware of them. I’m becoming more aware.”