Saturday, November 17, 2007

Ethics for Activists - 16

Dan Yashinsky put me onto this story which can be found in Chinua Achebe’s novel The Anthills of the Savannah.

Once there was a turtle who was walking along a path when a leopard jumped in front of him. The turtle knew he was doomed and he looked at the leopard and said, “Sir Leopard, would you allow me a moment to prepare myself before you kill and eat me?” The leopard thought this an odd request, but saw no reason not to grant the request. He was hardly in danger of losing his meal. The leopard said, “The prepare yourself.” The turtle scurried back and forth across the path. He scuffed the dirt, raised the dust and made a mess of the path. After doing this for a few minutes he stopped and looked at the leopard and said, “I am ready.” The leopard looked at the turtle and asked “Why did you do this?” The turtle answered, “So that when others come by and see what is left of my body, they will say, ‘a great battle happened here.'”

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Riding Bicycles

A Zen teacher was walking in front of the monastery when he saw five young monks riding their bicycles as they returned from the market. When they had dismounted, the teacher asked them, “Why are you riding your bicycles?”

The first monk replied, “The sack of potatoes are heavy on my back and so I let bicycle carry them.”

The teacher praised the monk, “You’re a smart lad. When old, you will not walk as I do, hunched over.

The second monk said, “I love to watch the trees, fields and sky pass by as I roll along.”

The teacher said, “Your eyes are open, and you see the world.”

The third monk said, “When I ride my bike, I chant nam myoho renge kyo.”

The teacher praised the monk, “Your mind will roll with the ease of a newly aligned wheel.”

The fourth monk said, “Riding my bicycle, I live in harmony with all sentient beings.”

The teacher said, “You are riding on the golden path of non-harming.”

The fifth monk said, “I ride my bicycle to ride my bicycle.”

The teacher sat at the feet of the fifth monk and said, “I am your student!”

Montreal-based Middle East Popular Education Project

Just found out about this new popular education project in Montreal: Middle East Popular Education Project They write:
This popular education initiative aims to build collective knowledge on Canada’s role in the Middle East, while creating spaces within the context of Quebec’s student movement for developing collective strategies to confront war and racism both at home and abroad.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Participatory Budgeting in Toronto

Participatory Budgeting (PB) is a popular democratic process that has been growing around the world inspired by the success in Port Alegre, Brazil. Modeled on that process is our very own (here in Toronto, Ontario, that is) PB process that the Toronto Community Housing Corporation (TCHC) has been doing for a few years. Josh Lerner, a PB researcher now living in New York (we miss ya, Josh) just sent me this link of a new webpage on TCHC's PB process. We developed a popular economics course at the Catalyst Centre within which we included a module on PB that i plan to post here this week Meanwhile if you're interested in learning more about participatory budgeting you can join a fairly active discussion list here:
as well as check out this resources page:

An Unusual Manual for Everyday Life

Not what you might expect of Gilles Deleuze's and FĂ©lix Guattari's Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1983), but i was surprised in re-reading the introduction by Michel Foucault to find the list below that he coyly offers as a list of principles to guide everyday life that he suggests can be found in the book.

As some of you know, i'm a bit of a theory geek and i've been munching my way through french poststructuralism (as well as a variety of other theoretical lands) for some time. I've long had a suspicion that Foucault and others provide indispensable theory for the practice (or praxis) of popular education. Now, this may seem a bit far-fetched to some, but i would suggest that the forces that gave rise to the practice and theory of popular education are the same as those that gave rise to much of twentieth century critical theory (postcolonialism is one name for these forces). And while popular education has been developing in the contexts of grassroots struggles, critical theory has been pretty much the exclusive domain of the academy. I'm determined to bring the worlds of popular education and the worlds of critical theory into closer dialogue with each other. Something tells me this is both an important and an urgent task. One name i give to this relationship (or encounter) is trickster pedagogy, something i've been working on for some time and about which i plan to write more soon. Meanwhile, i continue to work on understanding Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari and many others. (Incidentally, here's an interesting explanation of a D&G concept, lines of flight, from Josh Lerner who used it as inspiration to name his website.)

It is unusual to find in Foucault's work something as concrete as this list of principles i refer to. And they may not seem what you are used to as concrete. But I suggest they are and as a popular educator i feel they provide challenging advice about how to act as well as be in the work. (It helps to understand what Foucault means by "Truth" with a capital "T", but i think you can get the gist of it regardless). Here's what Foucault writes:

This art of living counter to all forms of fascism [which is what Foucault is saying Anti-Oedipus is all about -c], whether already present or impending, carries with it a certain number of essential principles which I would summarize as follows if I were to make this great book into a manual or guide to everyday life:

  • Free political action from all unitary and totalizing paranoia
  • Develop action, thought, and desires by proliferation, juxtaposition, and disjunction, and not by subdivision and pyramidal hierarchization
  • Withdraw allegiance from the old categories of the Negative (law, limit, castration, lack, lacuna), which Western thought has so long held sacred as a form of power and an access to reality. Prefer what is positive and multiple, difference over uniformity, flows over unities, mobile arrangements over systems. Believe that what is productive is not sedentary but nomadic.
  • Do not think hat one has to be sad in order to be militant, even though the thing one is fighting is abominable. It is the connection of desire to reality (and not its retreat into the forms of representation) that possesses revolutionary force.
  • Do not use thought to ground a political practice in Truth, nor political action to discredit, as mere speculation, a line of thought. Use political practice as an intensifier of thought, and analysis as a multiplier of the forms and domains for the intervention of political action.
  • Do not demand of politics that it restore the “rights” of the individual, as philosophy has defined them. The individual is the product of power. What is needed is to “de-individualize” by means of multiplication and displacement, diverse combinations. The group must not be the organic bond united hierarchized individuals, but a constant generator of de-individualization.
  • Do not become enamored of power.
And just in case you're disappointed with this list here's another - the four rules of Dinotopia:
  1. give more, take less
  2. do one thing at a time
  3. dance every day
  4. exercise imagination

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Duncan Williamson 1928-2007

I've just learned that one of the world's greatest storytellers has died. Duncan had a stroke a few days ago and had been paralyzed and unable to speak. And i've just received word that he passed away last night. Condolences to all, friends and family alike. Duncan will be missed. Though his stories will live on. In 1998 he visited Toronto along with David Campbell and they performed at the annual Toronto Festival of Storytelling. I was lucky to have been his chauffeur while here and got to spend many hours chatting and listening while we drive around Toronto and the region. My friend Nicole Bauberger and i did an interview with him as well as recorded numerous stories and songs which Duncan was pleased to share with us. I'll see if i can find that interview and add it to this blog. Here's Duncan profile page on the Scottish Storytelling Centre's website. My heart is saddened this day.

Here's a piece written in the Scottish daily Newspaper The Herald:

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Migrations Across a Fall Sky

Walking along a tree-lined path this morning i heard the familiar sound of geese honking. It was early, just after sunrise, the sky was as grey as it looks in the photos above and i suppose i was barely awake. I looked up and saw through the mostly bare branches of the trees the chevrons of Canada geese flying south. I don;t know how to describe the feeling it evoked in me except to call it joy. Chevrons of birds have always made me feel that way. Perhaps it reminds me of the ancient rhythms of winged migrations. I stood on the beach this morning underneath the grey ceiling of clouds (photo above) and watched chevron after chevron of geese making their annual southward journey.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Notes from CAW Workplace Training Workshop

I'm sitting here in the CAW Port Elgin Family Education Centre on a beautiful Fall evening after a having facilitated a session on "dealing with conflict in the classroom". The workplace training program is a remarkable accomplishment. As he CAW writes:
In 1996 Big Three bargaining our union successfully bargained training time for every member in the workplace during working hours. In 1999, eight more hours were added expanding the workplace training program to 24 hours over the life of the agreement. The courses are designed to give our members an opportunity to learn more about their union, review developments in the industry and deal with workplaces issues ranging from building respect to ergonomics and stress.
Every couple of years there's a Workplaces Trainers Conference - there's over 125 trainers, i believe. This is the second time i've been privileged to offer a workshop at this event. Today's workshop was overflowing with stories of people's experience of conflict in the workplace. So much so that i didn't need to do all the pieces i'd designed. You can download the original design here (a 46K PDF). In reflecting on the workplaces trainers' experience we were able to create a pretty damn good list of helpful advice and techniques for dealing with conflict in the classroom. We began the workshop by listing one expectation of the workshop from each participant. You can see those expectations here (a 20K PDF). And here's what we created in our discussion of advice, techniques, what works (of course, not everything works in every situation all the time - also, some of this might seem a bit mysterious as i comes from discussions we had which would take more time than i have to convey):
  • Keep open mind
  • If someone comes looking for a conflict, don’t give in
  • Don’t let them rattle you – it helps to know that we’ve all had the same experiences
  • Many different ways to earn respect
  • agreeing with someone
    • Admit that you don’t know, commit to go and learn and then move on
  • You can earn respect from the rest of the class when you do challenge a disrupter
  • Always have a script – develop formulas that you can apply
  • Take time to sit down informal and shoot the shit with people who are potentially disruptive
  • Give participants an “out”
  • Throw it back to the class
  • Ask a person to leave
  • If you think you’re going to have a bad class, then you probably will. Be positive.
  • Talk with participants, not AT
  • Let co-facilitator know how you feel – rely on your co-facilitator
  • “You’re entitled to your own opinion”
  • Be authoritative, not authoritarian
  • Stay away from Tangent City
  • You can be strong like an oak or strong like grass
  • Give a potentially disruptive participant something to do (e.g. prepare the handouts, help set up the room, be one of the small group discussion leaders)
  • Involve participants in the process – get them to “own” the process (e.g. by starting session with getting them to suggest guidelines for behaviour that will help them)
  • Have water available at all times
  • When confronted with someone who says, “It’s boring,” you can respond with, “It can’t be boring. It’s a class based on participation including your participation.”
  • When confronted with, “This is another union brainwashing session,” you can respond with, “If I can brainwash you in eight hours either I’m really incredibly powerful or you’re kind of susceptible.”
  • “I” messages
  • “You” messages, i.e. when people say “You guys….” You can respond with, “We’re all “you” guys.”
  • Respect with co-workers
  • Relying on co-facilitator, e.g. “back comments”

Good Thoughts for Oliver Schroer

Just listening to CBC this morning as i prepare a workshop for CAW workplace trainers i learned that Oliver has had to go back into hospital for further treatment for the leukemia he has been living with for the past while. Apparently, there are problems with a scheduled bone marrow transplant. Oliver is a local (i.e. Toronto) and national wonder of the fiddle. His most recent album, Camino, is a magical collection of pieces he composed and recorded along the Camino de Santiago in France and Spain. I'll be listening to it and thinking good thoughts for Oliver as i drive up to Port Elgin this morning.

I found this video of Oliver's score to this fellow making noodles. It's called Bazoku Noodles.