Introduction: Learning to Engage

Joe Curnow | University of Manitoba
Tanner Vea | Pennsylvania State University
Posted 20 February 2021

(Descriptive text follows the bios and recommended citation below.)

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Joe Curnow is Assistant Professor at University of Manitoba. Joe’s scholarship sits at the nexus of the learning sciences, social movement studies, and equity studies. Her research examines how people come to understand social problems systemically and how they learn about issues of race and colonialism, gender and patriarchy, and class and capitalism through their activism. Joe has worked as a social movement, labour, and community organizer.

Tanner Vea is Assistant Professor of Learning, Design, and Technology and Learning Sciences at Pennsylvania State University. He is also Affiliate Faculty with the Rock Ethics Institute. His research examines learning in the context of social and political change, as well as how political and ethical concerns shape design practices in educational settings.

Andrew Kohan can’t decide what he wants to be when he grows up, but for now he’s a working comics artist and illustrator regularly making trouble at Winnipeg City Hall. A trained community organizer with roots in the HIV/AIDS movement, he’s made art and noise with grassroots activists in DC, Chicago, Cleveland, and Toronto. More of his work is available at

Recommended citation:

Curnow, Joe, Tanner Vea, and Andrew Kohan. “Introduction: Learning to Engage.” Sequentials, vol. 2, no. 1, 2021.

Text descriptions of page images:

Page 1

Text: “In Summer 2019, we hosted the Learning to Engage conference, a place for learning scientists to collaborate on our work for justice-focused research that centres learning and civic engagement.”

Comic image: Polaroid photo of a multiracial group of 14 people standing on stairs at the Learning to Engage conference.

Text: “Funded by the Spencer Foundation, we spent a week thinking through how learning matters in community organizations, social movements, classrooms, and informal learning environments.”

Comic image: Three polaroid photos. Photo image 1: A group of six people sitting around a small table in front of a white board with flip chart paper taped to it. Photo image 2: Three people sitting at a conference table working. Photo image 3: Four people outside in a park talking. Two are standing, one is sitting in the grass, one is lying down.

Text: “At the end of the conference, we committed to creating a comic that translates the research work we have done with different activists into a more useful resource that explains sociocultural theories of learning and contextualizes how they can be useful in other organizing spaces. The comics in this special issue attempt to do this work.”

Page 2

Heading text: “What are the learning sciences?”

Image of Tanner Vea (co-organizer), a multiracial person with stubble & short curly hair, standing with one hand on his hip, one hand pointing to a speech bubble. Tanner says: “The learning sciences is an academic field interested in how learning works and how to design environments that support it. Often, learning sciences researchers research classrooms and technologies for teaching and learning in school subjects.”

Image of Joe Curnow (co-organizer), a white woman with curly hair and big glasses, standing with both arms up, bent at the elbows. Joe says: “But recently, some learning scientists have wondered: if our designs for learning always involve choices about particular ends for learning, whose ends are they? What consequences do these choices have for equity and justice?”

Comic image: A stack of four books at the right of the page overlaps a text box, which reads: “In conducting learning research with social movements, the authors of this special issue take up the promise of learning as a way of understanding social movements. Like schools, movements involve pedagogical practices.”

Text: “But more than that, learning offers productive ways for thinking about…”

A cluster of sketches, each with a bit of text.

Text 1: “how movements form”

Sketch 1: Image from Civil Rights Movement, Rosa Parks sitting on bus seat at the front of a bus. Image from Stonewall riot, image of police officer with baton raised against two gay men, image of police officer being punched by a person.

Text 2: “how ideas of justice are co-constructed”

Sketch 2: Image of paper with Black Panther drawn at top, with the Black Panther Party 10-point program. Bulleted items on the program read: “1. Freedom power, destiny. 2. Full employment for our people 3. End robbery by white man. 4. Decent Housing. 5. Education. 6. Exempt from Military 7. End police brutality 8. Free the jailed 9. Trial by peers, 10. Land, bread, housing, education, clothing, justice, and peace.”

Text 3: “how tactics get taken up”

Sketch 3: Image from ACT UP: Back of a person wearing a leather jacket with hand painted text on jacket which reads, “If I die of AIDS—Forget Burial—Just drop my body on the steps of the FDA.” Another person, a March for Our Lives activist, faces forward holds a sign that reads, “If I die in a school shooting drop by body on the steps of the CDC.” Image of Greta Thunberg, sitting on the ground with knees pulled to her chest next to a sign that reads, “SKOLSTREJK FÖR KLIMATET.”

Text 4: “how communities change through political struggle”

Sketch 4: Image from Hong Kong independence movement, of 7 umbrellas with 2 Hong Kongers with faces showing beneath. A cloud of tear gas wafts in background. Image from Oka Crisis: A white man in military uniform with helmet on, face-to-face with Kahnawake (Mohawk) man in camouflage with bandana covering his face, sunglasses, and hat, with gun across his back.

Page 3

Text box: “Our work here is to bridge the learning sciences and social movements. As academics, we think that the learning sciences bring really important insights into how people learn—”

Six images of comic book covers that are small versions of the first pages of comics in this issue.

Cover 1: Politicization. Description text: “how they become radicalized.”

Cover 2: Guided Emotion Participation. Description text: “how their emotion shapes their activism.”

Cover 3: Learning and Teaching in Youth Activism. Description text: “how young activists learn and collaborate with adults.”

Cover 4: Pedagogies of Organizing. Description text: “how small practices facilitate social movement action.”

Cover 5: Educational Intimacy. Description text: “how community is built among activists.”

Cover 6: Equity-oriented scale-making. Description text: “how activists learn to create systems change”

Page 4

Text box: “We know that learning theory rarely gets translated in ways that are useful to activists.”

Comic image: A group of protestors with placards on left. On right, a scholar in regalia shouting down from an ivory tower to the political rally below, “No, it's pronounced heh-GEM-uh-nee!”

Text: “The research presented here takes a sociocultural perspective. That means we see learning as not only about cognitive processing,”

Comic image: a human brain with 2 bubbles pointing toward it. One bubble says, “Justice,” and the other says, “Activism.”

Text: “but about meaning-making, shifting practices, and the uptake of identities.”

Comic image: A roleplay training where two Black men stand over a Black woman and a white man who are practicing nonviolent civil disobedience. At the front a Black woman facilitator points to a flip chart that says, “Civil disobedience: nonviolence.”

Text: “All learning happens in an embodied, social world and is shaped by culture and interaction.”

Comic image: A white man, a Black woman, and a Black man sit at a lunch counter while two white men yell and pour drinks on them.

Page 5

Image of Joe and Tanner together.

Joe speech bubble: “Our goal is to provide a small set of examples of how research on learning can help activists to think through learning and transformation.”

Tanner speech bubble: “We hope that with examples of learning concepts applied in activist contexts, these ideas and the arguments around them should be made clearer for movements.”

In the lower half of the page, a series of comic images connect in zig zag across the page to show progression.

Image 1: A person writes at a desk.

Image 2: A man reads a paper and stacks it on a tall pile of books.

Image 3: Joe holds scissors in one hand and paper in the other hand, saying: “Also, we hope to highlight some of the innovative work coming out of the learning sciences to a broader audience—”

Image 4: Tanner holds a paper in one hand, saying: “—Including education researchers, comics people, communities, and you!”

Image 5: Koko illustrates the paper contents onto an iPad.

Image 6: A printer shoots printed comic pages into the air. The trail of pages shows them folding and attaching into a comic book form.

Image 7: An activist with a placard sees the final comic book form. A question mark appears over her head.

Image 8: Another activist reads this comic, while a protest placard rests on the ground.

Image 9: A speech bubble from Joe and Tanner: “As this work shows, ideas are not just abstract entities in the mind—”

Image 10: An activist shares a comic with another person.

Image 11: Activists happily march with placards and comics in hand. At the front of the march, an activist holds a comic and speaks into a megaphone.

Image 12: A speech bubble from Joe and Tanner: “—but rather can be powerful tools for changing the world.”

Page 6

This comic is part of Learning to Engage: Movements and Sociocultural Theories of Learning.

For more, visit:

Edited by Joe Curnow (little sketch of Joe) (@LearnSolidarity, & Tanner Vea (little sketch of Tanner) (@TannerVea,

Art and lettering by Andrew Kohan (little sketch of Andrew) (@akohan,

This comic was made possible by a grant from the Spencer Foundation (Grant #201900131). The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Spencer Foundation.


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License