Tuesday, October 25, 2005

1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling Marches On

Well, it's Halloween weekend, followed by All Saints Day and Dia de Los Muertos - a storied time, if ever there was one. Consider coming out to the weekly 1,001 Friday Nights of Storytelling this week. Also, if you'd like to help spread the word, I've re-done the flyer for the 1,001 Friday Nights which you download here (MSWord version or PDF version). Feel free to print a few for friends, family and colleagues. Or simply e-mail this link to folks.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rabble Podcasting Network LAUNCHES! YAY!

Check out the Rabble Podcasting Network - a wonderful collection of Canadian shows.

And there's my podcast of stories: Comeuppance

And Matt's and my podcast: Occasionally Disturbs Others

Happy listening...

Monday, October 17, 2005

Podcasting Plato

The launch of the Rabble Podcasting Network is imminent. Stay tuned. In the episode of Occasionally Disturbs Others that Matt and i did this weekend i include a version of this remarkable little piece from Plato. A story about the dawn of literacy. I love the irony of this piece:
There once dwelt, in the region of Naucratis in Egypt, one of the old gods, an inventor, named Theuth. One day he came before Thamus, the king, and presented his newest inventions of calculation, astronomy, geometry and more. But when he came to the invention of writing and said: "Here, O king, is a branch of learning that will make the people of Egypt wiser and improve their memories: my discovery provides a recipe for memory and wisdom," the king answered: "No, Theuth, you have declared the very opposite of its true effect. If people learn this, it will implant forgetfulness in their souls: they will cease to exercise memory because they rely on that which is written, calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks; what you have discovered is not a recipe for memory, but for reminder." Plato, Phaedrus, R. Hackforth,tr.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Gramsci in Toronto - Wish i had the time

There's an interesting conference in Toronto today, tomorrow and Saturday on the work of Antonio Gramsci and a friend of mine Peter Mayo will be presenting.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Against School: How Public Education Cripples Our Kids, and Why

Not sure about the legality of this Harper's article being published on the net but as long as it's here, it's worth a read. I remember reading it when it was published a couple of years ago and i was sadly reminded of my own time in high school in Quebec: an unrelentingly horrible four years. How i managed to survive even now remains something of a mystery to me. One year there were 4555 students (grades 7 through 11). Gatto's article is a near perfect description of my experience of primary and secondary school. I used to think that all high school was as bad as what i had known. I've since met many people who had better experiences that i did and my neices and nephews are in pretty good situations now. But Gatto's analysis and advice is worth heeding:
Now for the good news. Once you understand the logic behind modern schooling, its tricks and traps are fairly easy to avoid. School trains children to be employees and consumers; teach your own to be leaders and adventurers. School trains children to obey reflexively; teach your own to think critically and independently. Well-schooled kids have a low threshold for boredom; help your own to develop an inner life so that they'll never be bored. Urge them to take on the serious material, the grown-up material, in history, literature, philosophy, music, art, economics, theology - all the stuff schoolteachers know well enough to avoid. Challenge your kids with plenty of solitude so that they can learn to enjoy their own company, to conduct inner dialogues. Well-schooled people are conditioned to dread being alone, and they seek constant companionship through the TV, the computer, the cell phone, and through shallow friendships quickly acquired and quickly abandoned. Your children should have a more meaningful life, and they can.

First, though, we must wake up to what our schools really are: laboratories of experimentation on young minds, drill centers for the habits and attitudes that corporate society demands. Mandatory education serves children only incidentally; its real purpose is to turn them into servants. Don't let your own have their childhoods extended, not even for a day. If David Farragut could take command of a captured British warship as a pre-teen, if Thomas Edison could publish a broadsheet at the age of twelve, if Ben Franklin could apprentice himself to a printer at the same age (then put himself through a course of study that would choke a Yale senior today), there's no telling what your own kids could do. After a long life, and thirty years in the public school trenches, I've concluded that genius is as common as dirt. We suppress our genius only because we haven't yet figured out how to manage a population of educated men and women. The solution, I think, is simple and glorious. Let them manage themselves. (Harper's, September 2003)
Thanks for the link, Erin.

Joss Whedon Rules

Just saw Serenity last night and it was worth the wait. That's right, i'm a huge Joss Whedon fan (Buffy rocks!). If you wanna see well-written, well-crafted sci fi adventure then treat yourself. I never get tired of Whedon's witty dialogue. And there's lots of quotable Whedon lines to pass along. Speaking about it with my friends afterwards, someone brought up the list: The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became An Evil Overlord. if your a sci fi and fantasy fan you should treat yourself and have a read.

Meetings, meetings, meetings...

I've just started reading Freedom Is an Endless Meeting by Francesca Polletta. And, having just spent 4 out of the past 5 days facilitating meetings for a variety of organizations, i've got meeings on the brain. Then a friend sends me links about meetings: The Real Agenda in Boring Meetings and Get The Best Out of Meetings. It's certainly worth thinking about the pervasiveness of meetings in social and political life. And these articles do touch on some important facets of meetings. But, typically myopic ( in a Taylorized kinda way), they focus on the minutiae of meeting dynamics or, alternatively, the micro-acts of rebellion which, of course, play into the very dynamics that these articles implicitly challenge. It would be nice if the Guardian, of all papers (and The Observor, as well), saw fit to address the problem at its roots - or at least, in these somewhat amusing articles, tip their hat to them, i.e. the relations power in a corporate capitalist hegemony.

The conclusion from these articles should either be that meetings are often being used for the wrong purpose or that they are examining the wrong piece of the puzzle. Instead they myopically share tactics of manouevre which keeps the focus off the real problem.

These articles give me a strong feeling that there's a need to analyse (in a dialectical, popular education kind of way) so-called "meeting culture" from the point of view of a thorough analysis of power (a la Foucault, Gramsci, et al). Not to come up with better technocratic (perhaps even rebellious) "skills" and "techniques" but rather to structure and exercise real strategies of resistance. Not sure what that would look like.

This resonates for me with what i've long-believed is a major weakness in the way that popular education was brought to Canada (with the important exception of Quebec). Lots of well-intentioned mostly middle class white activists went to Latin America (me being one of them) and witnessed and participated in the revolutionary pedagogy and politics that make up popular education. We were understandably enthused by it and thought, with good conviction and solidarity, that we should bring this practice home. We did so. But i think something important was left behind. What came home was mostly the better "process" of learning and meeting and so on. What was left behind was mostly the revolutionary engagement with power relations or, more simply put, the resisting oppression stuff. Those who returned to Canada with popular education in their starry eyes, did not, needless to say, have the experience of oppression (nor the risks of choosing to confront and resist oppression) that gave rise to popular education in the first place (albeit popular education has roots as far back as the French Revolution as well as overlaps with many other forms of radical learning). And, i've long suspected that related to this lack of experience was a relatively naive understanding of power relations. We've gotten better. But slowly. And thus the popular education movement in Canada is unfortunately weighted towards it being a practice that is simply better process. And that counts for something. It is more just. But unfortunately it's weak when it comes to promoting the radical, even revolutionary, politics of social change which also includes the necessary reinvention of the person (or "subject" in the Foucauldian sense). Yeesh, i can wax on, can't i....

(Thanks for the links, Corvin.)