Writing The World One Student at a Time

Bringing Freire to CUNY:

“Reading the word and learning how to write the word so one can later read it are preceded by learning how to write the world, that is having the experience of changing the world and touching the world” (Freire & Macedo, 2005, p. 12).

The year was 1947. 

The place? Northeastern Brazil. 

Young Paulo Freire faced a seemingly impossible task–teaching illiterate peasant workers to read. 

Freire empowered them beyond simply acquiring the life-changing ability to read. He also wanted his students to push against oppressive structures circumscribing their lives.

Freire was incredibly successful–by the 1960s, he inspired a movement to eradicate illiteracy across Brazil.

Freire’s efforts further benefited learners worldwide. This includes those we are incredibly fortunate to work with through CUNY and the Mellon Foundation’s Transformative Learning in the Humanities (TLH).

Transforming Classroom Practice:

Late-capitalism diminishes education, lessening its impact. Teaching can become narrow, desiccated, even detached from the world when we have little time for reflection. 

Imaginative scholars like Freire and Macedo (2005) broaden educational possibilities. They invite us to expand our conception of learning, whether in Brazil or New York.

Inspired by Freire and other educators we have studied collaboratively through TLH’s insightful seminars, we focused on writing the world. In short, how could we widen narrow classroom confines to positively impact the broader world our learners inhabit?

Manifold Folds in Many Media:

Our TLH scholar cohort is sharing student work on Manifold–a fantastic platform for multimedia:

Shawna Brandle–Choosing How to Write the World: Choose Your Own Adventure Assignments with public-facing outputs. It explores several options students can elect–from blogging on CUNY Academic Commons or personal websites, to teaching their own classes, and translating course materials. Privacy, safety, intellectual property, and licensing are discussed, so anyone adapting these assignments will be able to address ethical questions in their classes. 

Kate Culkin–Writing the World Through Memorials: Students develop projects that memorialize and teach the public about a person or group they identify as critical to understanding American history. This assignment is part of a semester-long investigation of the idea that history is an interpretation, not repetition, of facts and the power dynamics at play in those interpretations. 

Dino Sossi–Institutional Advocacy: Students share government petitions supporting crucial social movements and improved corporate practices to benefit the world.

Yan Yang–Art from My Perspective: Students research artwork from their culture and introduce them in an informative explanation in the style of Smarthistory, the leading art history website. Student writings serve as knowledge sources and example projects for future BMCC art history students.

Writing CUNY, Writing the World:

Talented CUNY learners produce incredibly thoughtful work despite demanding lives. Manifold amplifies vital student voices, celebrates their genius, and inspires them to write the world in their own fashion. Empowerment through the power of words. Hopefully Freire would be proud.


Freire, P., & Macedo, D. (2005). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Routledge.

Revisit Manifold as students continually submit new resources.

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