Mannheim's sociology of knowledge approach is used to study the educational role of movement activities in three radical democratic movements: the British Chartists, the American Populists, and the Industrial Workers of the World. Educational practices in these movements constituted an alternative democratic ideology. The educative role of strikes, free speech and press struggles, the cultural life of jungle camps, and cooperatives created a movement identity and an opening up possibilities for a new democratic political economy; that is, their purposes were educational and ideological. Such activities were at once organizing practices, but were also integral to envisioning a more egalitarian society and fomenting change toward such ends. Pedagogically, the study of the educational role of movements is important because it illustrates that human dignity is not simply utopian. These movements were real world examples of egalitarianism, dignity, and democracy, sometimes in brutal contexts. For each of the movements studied, education was class-based in that it was directed at identifying a producerist interest within a monopolized and hierarchical societal structure that impoverished their members and excluded them from politics. This contrasts with traditional education more often aimed at socialization into existing class, gender, and racial hierarchies.

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