Thursday, April 19, 2007

Paper Spiders & Lucky Frogs

I'd like to tell you (and brag a little, on behalf of the 17 co-authors) about a new popular education manual. Paper Spiders and Lucky Frogs aka Re:Frame is a collection of 46 annotated descriptions (plus two 'zine inserts) of popular education methods. This was the assignment for the participants of the Popular Education for Social Change i teach at York University's Faculty of Environmental Studies. This was an experimental assignment that has worked better than i had hoped.

Having taught (and, at times, co-taught) this class since 2001 i have perpetually wondered about the contradictions inherent in "teaching" popular education in a university classroom. Not to suggest something simplistic such as one cannot (nor should not) teach popular education in the university classroom. Rather, i'm interested in how a university classroom engagement of popular education participates in the history of relationships - a history which has, for the most part, taken place outside of the university and, often, in resistance to the very power relations of knowledge-production that universities have been a large part of promoting. There are, of course, many dissident spaces within universities and FES is onesuch. And the Popular Education for Social Change class is yet another. There's much that could be said about this dissidence and i don't expect you to take my brief (and probably cryptic) statements at face value. I'm currently working on a manuscript for a book provisionally called Trickster Pedagogy in which i discuss some of the complexities of dissidence in our hegemonic, post-structural and rapidly warming world.

One objective of this manual assignment was to make a contribution to the popular education community. Of course, the individuals in the course may well go on to become popular educators or otherwise advocates and supporters of popular education. But the individualistic nature of university experience means that there's little if anything that can hold people to account for how they apply (or not) their learning. So, what people do with their learning has more to do with individual ethics than with collective ethics. And, while many individual ethics are just fine, they are also disorganized from the point of view of building community. So, it occurred to me that if we could collaborate on a material project such as a manual, it would enhance the community-building aspect of popular education for both the participants of the course and for the popular education community(ies) around the world.

Having been inspired by June Jordan's Poetry for the People class that she taught at Berkeley i got the idea of producing a book together as part of our experience of the popular education class. Each year that June did her class she would have the students produce a book of the poems that they had written and they would do a public performance/launch as well. I've loved June's writing for over 20 years and when i learned about Poetry for the People i immediately wanted to see something like it in Toronto. That dream persists though i've done little about it (and there are a number of writing projects in Toronto that are excellent - projects with immigrant women, with literacy and/or ESL learners, and more). Meanwhile, using June's work as a model i thought that it might work to have participants of the pop ed class research the methods of the work, try some of them out, write them up so that others could replicate and adapt them and annotate these descriptions with their own practitioner reflections as well as some critical discussion of how these methods fit in the theories of popular education. The result is remarkable. And good enough to brag about. As well as sell. I've proposed that we sell this manual for $20 (to be confirmed) and that the proceeds be donated to the dian marino fund. I'll keep y'all posted about this. And we'll probably do some kind of launch at the beginning of the Fall semestre at FES.

The beautiful cover artwork, which i've included with this post, is by Shuxia Tai, a student in the MES program who is, as you can see from her work, very talented. It was also Shuxia who proposed the title for the book which refers to some origami that was shared during the course and stories about frogs.

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