Friday, September 30, 2005

Meant To Read That

I teach a popular education graduate class at the Faculty of Environmental Studies of York University in Toronto. This summer as i was considering which texts to base the course on i was, as usual, uncertain which of Paulo Freire i should use. Last year i assigned Pedagogy of Hope - a 20-years-on reflection on Pedagogy of the Oppressed. But this year i remembered my own encounter with Pedagogy of the Oppressed over 25 years ago. I use the word "encounter" because "reading" just doesn't come close to doing justice to that period of time when i wrestled with word and world. A world that was swimming into the ever clearer focus of my young adult eyes. Pedagogy of the Oppressed hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. As did a few other books.

So, i've been thinking about that book and a number of others that i would argue are part of a 20th Century canon of anti-colonial literature. Or perhaps "post-colonial" or "emancipatory" literature would be a better naming. I've read many of these books and have yet to read as many more. And i know that there are many of you out there who have thought, like me, "wouldn't it be nice to read some of those classics?"

So, i've got this idea about a community-based popular education course in which participants would read some of this dissident canon. Matt, with whom i work at Catalyst, as usual had a great name for this course right away: "Meant To Read That." I gotta think about what the criteria would be. I think they should be "classics" which is to say they must have continued to be relevant to subsequent generations. Or, perhaps, have survived the death of their author. I'm thinking that they should be mostly so-called non-fiction works, but i do want to include at least some fiction such as Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. At any rate, i would like to create a good criteria that has a bit of flexibility.

Here's an initial brainstorm list. Feel free to send a suggestion or two.
  • Wretched of the Earth - Franz Fanon
  • Borderlands/La Frontera - Gloria Anzaldua
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed - Paulo Freire
  • Talking Back - bell hooks
  • The Educated Imagination - Northrop Frye
  • Orientalism - Edward Said
  • Open Veins of Latin America - Eduardo Galeano
  • Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
  • What Is to Be Done - Lenin
  • The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir
  • The Dialogic Imagination - Four Essays - Mikhail Bakhtin
  • A Fate Worse Than Debt – Susan George
  • A Peoples History of the United States – Howard Zinn
  • Rules for Radicals – Saul Alinsky
  • In the Spirit of Crazy Horse – Peter Mathiesson
  • The Communist Manifesto – Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
  • God is Red – Vine Deloria
  • The Port Huron Statement - SDS
  • On the Poverty of Student Life – The Situationists

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

On Broken Hearts, Courage and a Life of Activism

Here's a piece i wrote last year about my take on popular education:

On Broken Hearts - MSWord version

On Broken hearts - PDF version

Ethics for Activists - 9

I learned the following story from fellow storyteller Alec Gelcer with whom i shared a love of Jewish (as well as many other traditions) wisdom tales. I'm particularly fond of the legends of the Lamed Vov Tzadikkim - the 36 Just Men or 36 Just Sages, kindly souls who commit acts of anonymous kindness throughout their lives. I've heard two versions of these stories: one has it that these kindly souls are anonymous their entire lives but they know that they are of this unique three dozen; the other version says that these souls are unaware that they are of this group - which means that any one of us could be one of these kindly souls. I also like to think that in the 21st Century this 36 includes women.
The Thirty-Six Just Men

There was once a young boy who lived alone with his grandfather. Every day the boy would wake and take care of their two goats, Rachel and Leah. One day the boy noticed that the goats no longer bounced around as much as when they were smaller. He mentioned this to his grandfather who nodded slowly and said, “Yes, they are growing older and someday they will die.”

“What does it mean to die, grandfather?” asked the boy.

The grandfather explained about life and death, birth and growth and how all things had their time on earth. We each had a lifetime, long or short, deep or wide – we each had a time that would one day come to an end at which time we would journey into the mysterious realms beyond life. Such was the fate of the boy’s parents, his grandfather explained.

The boy thought he understood and went back to tending the goats. As he sat in the sun watching the goats and shooing away flies he pondered what his grandfather had said. Suddenly a thought occurred to him and, in a panic, he ran into the house. “Grandfather, Grandfather, are you going to die?” the boy shouted as he ran.

The boy found his grandfather in the kitchen laughing. “Of course I will die,” he said gently. “We will all someday die. But I will not die just yet.” This calmed the boy and once again he returned to tending the goats.

That night the boy woke to strange sounds in the house. He followed the noise to its source where he was shocked to see his grandfather sitting at the table in the middle of the kitchen which was a chaos of swirling pots, pans, dishes. Every object in the kitchen save the table and chairs was flying crazily about the room. The boy was afraid and managed to dodge his way to his grandfather’s side. There, in the centre, all was calm. “What is happening, grandfather,” the boy asked.

“One of the Thirty-Six Just Men has died,” the grandfather said.

“Who are they?” the boy asked.

“Once, long ago,” the grandfather explained, “after God had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He made a promise not to do it again as long as there were thirty-six just men alive on earth. You see, at any one time there live amongst us thirty-six just men and these people carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. They live anonymously and commit acts of kindness and compassion. Some say that even they do not know who they are. And now one of them has died and, until a new one comes forth, the world is out of balance. Now, off to bed with you. All will be well soon enough.”

“Are you one of the Just Men, grandfather,” asked the boy.

“No, I am not. Now, to bed with you.”

The next day the boy was sitting on the doorstep watching over the goats when a fly came buzzing near. And, as little boys often do, he caught the fly in his hand. He held it tightly and could hear its buzzing. He shook it beside his ear. But suddenly the buzzing changed. The boy could hear the panic and fear of the fly. He let it go. But it was too late. In that moment, the fear of the fly cracked open the boy’s heart. And into that heart poured all the suffering and sorrow and loss of the world. And in that moment that boy became the new thirty-sixth Just Man.

How Popular Education Works -4


Word came to the Jews of a small Russian town that a much beloved and very wise Rabbi was to pay them a visit. The whole town prepared. The wise men and the talmudic students polished their questions. Foods were prepared for a feast.

The Rabbi arrived in the town which was fairly vibrating with anticipation. All the townspeople gathered in the village square. Some of the talmudic students were so eager and worried that their questions might go unasked and unnoticed that they simply blurted them out. Very quickly there was a clamour of voices directed at the Rabbi.

The Rabbi raised a hand and quickly all were silent. He held his hand steady and all listened. The breeze stirred the leaves of trees. Birds chirped in the warm sunlight. The Rabbi began to hum a tune. He closed his eyes and swayed back and forth. First the children followed suit, humming the gentle melody and swaying on their feet. Soon all the villagers were humming and swaying. The Rabbi began to dance, first in slow, measured steps and then quicker and quicker until he was spinning around the square. The villagers all joined in until the square was a mass of dancing and spinning and singing people. The joy of the dance and the song reached out and touched the trees and the birds, the sunlight and the clouds in the sky. The entire earth seemed to be vibrating in time with the dancers.

Hours passed before the dance was done. All sat in the square, tired and still. They looked to the Rabbi who said, “I trust that I have answered your questions.”

How Popular Education Works -3

I learned the following story many years ago in Montreal from a palm reader.
Stop Eating Sugar

There was once a father who was told by doctors that his son had diabetes. The father was told to tell his son to stop eating sugar or else he would die. The father, obedient of the doctor’s instructions told his son to stop eating sugar. But the boy refused saying, “can’t and won’t!”

The father thought about forcing his son to stop eating sugar but knew, as he thought this, that enforcing this would be an impossibility. His son could eat sugar the first time he was out of sight of his father and thus endanger his life.

The father loved his son very much and was at his wit’s end when the boy suggested: “You know, father, there’s that wise woman who loves a few valleys over. If she were tell me to stop eating sugar, I would.”

The father thought this an odd situation, but, if that’s what it would take to save his son’s life, he would do it. They packed their few belongings and made the long journey to the home of the wise woman.

Once inside, the father told the wise woman the reason for their visit. The wise woman nodded, then said, “Come back in fourteen days and I will tell you what I must.”

The father was irritated. After all, their request was simple enough. But, he had little choice and left.

After fourteen days they returned to the home of the wise woman. Once inside, the wise woman looked at the boy and said, “you must stop eating sugar or else you will die.”

“Okay,” said the boy and he turned and left the room.

The father looked at the wise woman and said, “I mean no disrespect, but you can see we are poor and that the journey was long and costly. I must ask you why you could not have said those words fourteen days ago?”

The wise woman was smiling and she nodded and said, “Ah! you see, I felt that for me to tell your son to stop eating sugar, I had to stop eating sugar first.”

Storytelling Events and Courses in Toronto

The Legless Stocking - Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 7:30 p.m.

1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling - every Friday at 8:00 p.m.

Storytelling Courses from the Storytellers School of Toronto

Shadowlands performs The Lost Supper

Check it out folks. Some wonderful puppet theatre by local Toronto group Shadowlands.

The Lost Supper

a feast of stories around the communal meal

Tarragon Theatre Extra Space, 30 Bridgman Ave.
Preview Thurs. Sept. 22, Opens Fri. Sept. 23, runs to October 9, 2005
Performances: Tues.-Sat. 8:00pm & Sun. 2:30pm

"beautiful, provocative, everything a puppet show should be" Jamie Ashby, audience member

Directed by Mark Cassidy/ Music by David Buchbinder/ Lighting Design by Rebecca Picherack

Created by Performed by Anne Barber, Brad Harley, Mark Keetch, Noah Kenneally and Clea Minaker

Preview/Sundays PWYC
Tuesday/ Wednesday $15

Friday $20
Saturday $25

Tarragon Theatre Box Office: 416 531 1827

A group of strangers has been invited to attend a dinner. The table is the one civilized place in an uncivilized world. Taste memories, childhood habits, etiquette and desire abound as the assembled guests tell their stories, but true glory is found in a simple meal shared.

In a culture obsessed with food issues and eating habits, Shadowland uses its unique, visual theatre style to shine a light on the fundamentals of dining and the communal meal.

For more information visit or call 416 203 0946

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Puppets Against Fear

I saw Halloween things in the store this week. Yeesh. One of the great things about halloween here in Toronto is that it means it's time for another Night of Dread as organised by Clay and Paper Theatre. If you around Saturday, October 29th come on down to Duffering Grove Park and be part of a unique parade!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Back in the Swing

Ahh, it's been many weeks since i've had the time and peace of mind to post. But the Fall season is upon us (though it's a week to the autumnal equinox and it's gonna be over 30 degrees C today in Toronto - what's that about!). Tomorrow i start teaching the Popular Education for Social Change class at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University once again. Here's this year's syllabus.