Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Some poems by Antonio Machado

Still more about the bittersweet: the popularity of the phrase "we make the road by walking" finally compelled me to do my own translation of the Antonio Machado poem from which it comes. While i appreciate the way the phrase is used as a pithy statement making-it-up-as-we-go-along of self-organizing, the phrase, taken out of context, is seen as an optimistic and hopeful sentiment. However, the poem in which this phrase is found, is a melancholic lament about impermanence. Here's Machado's poem followed by my translation:

Caminante, son tus huellas
el camino y nada más;
Caminante, no hay camino,
se hace camino al andar.
Al andar se hace el camino,
y al volver la vista atrás
se ve la senda que nunca
se ha de volver a pisar.
Caminante no hay camino
sino estelas en la mar.
Wanderer, your footsteps
the road, and nothing more;
wanderer, we have no road,
we make the road by walking.
As you walk you make the road,
and to look back
is to see that never
can we pass this way again.
Wanderer, there is no road,
only traces in the sea.

A friend sent me a Robert Bly translation of "Anoche cuando dormía", another of my favourite Machado poems, and i was so upset by his translation that i had to do my own. I like a lot of what Bly does, but i think he really blew it on this one. I'll let you read the poem before i point out Bly's flawed interpretation.
Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una fontana fluía
dentro de mi corazòn.
Di: ¿por qué acequia escondida,
agua, vienes hasta mí,
manantial de nueva vida
en donde nunca bebí?

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que una colmena tenía
dentro de mi corazòn;
y las doradas abejas
iban fabricando en él,
con las amarguras viejas,
blanca cera y dulce miel.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que un sol ardiente lucía
dentro de mi corazòn.

Era ardiente porque daba
calores de rojo hogar,
y era sol porque alumbraba
y porque hacía llorar.

Anoche cuando dormía
soñé, ¡bendita ilusiòn!,
que era Dios lo que tenía
dentro de mi corazòn.
My translation:
Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
a fountain flowed
within my heart.
I said: why this hidden channel,
water, coming to me,
spring of new life
from which I’ve never drunk?

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! -
that a beehive
within my heart;
and the golden bees
were making,
from my bitter disappointments,
white wax and sweet honey.

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, - blessed illusion! –
a burning sun blazed
within my heart.

It burned because it gave
the heat of a warm home,
and sun because it illuminated
and because I cried..

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt - blessed illusion! -
that it was God that I had
within my heart.
The thing that bothers me about Bly's translation is that he translates amarguras as "failures" when the word Machado uses actually means "bitternesses". Of course we don't have such a word in English and so i choose "bitter disappointments" as the imperfect choice. Bly's choice of "failures" is a far cry from what Machado is speaking of here. Which is, to my ears, the bittersweet. The juxtaposition of the bees making honey from his amarguras seems to make this obvious. This poem beautifully evokes the notion of the bittersweet which is something much more generative for me than "failure". Machado is not talking about failures but rather about losses. Which echoes the great loss of his life (Leonor) of which most of his poetry speaks. What of life is not bittersweet? That our lives are so short, that there is death and dying (even though we know there is renewal and rebirth) makes of the bittersweet, one of the most profound truths of our humble existence. I think this is one of the aspects of Machado's poetry that makes him still one of Spain's favourite poets.

Finally, one of my colleagues at the Faculty of Environmental Studies sent me this video of Catalan singer Joan Manuel Serrat singing about Soria (from where Machado hailed) and which includes some recitation of Machado's verses (thanks, Tania).

Ahh, the bittersweet

I just learned of Neutral Milk Hotel from a friend (thanks, Rani) who says that they're lyrics are wonderful. And i agree. I am struck by the bittersweet (hardly surprising for me) nature of this short piece. And i am once again amazed and enchanted by the human capacity to make beauty from pain and suffering. This is a complicated truth about us wordy creatures. The philosopher David Spangler catches some of this truth when he writes:
In telling stories, we obey certain principles and laws of drama and melodrama, of crisis and resolution, of impact and silence. We generate an energy through our stories that helps to define who we are and where we are going. We are all creatures of narrative, and these narratives are important to us even if they are tragic narratives. It certainly has been my observation for many years that individuals would much rather have a tragic narrative than no narrative at all, and they will cling to suffering in order to discover the material for such a narrative.
The person on YouTube who did the illustrations writes a small apology and claims "
that this isn't funny at all". I hope by now he realizes that it is actually very funny. And the illustrations are perfect. The simplicity and silliness of them remind me of Corita Kent's work and approach to art and creativity and which was passed on to me by dian marino. (I just did a google image search using "corita kent" and it brings up many wonderful images of her work.)

I'm guessing that the illustrator also wrote the dialogue that accompanies the illustrations. And the dialogue on the "Secret Place" illustration kills me! There's something very touching about this video that reminds me sadly and sweetly of my childhood.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Writing Life? Writing a Life?

My life has been turned topsy turvy in the past couple of years. If you'd told me two and a half years ago that i would be rounding out 2008 with a new born child, two step-children and a brilliant and beloved partner, calling you crazy would have been the merest hint of my skepticism. This year has been one of learning to live with many more people in my life. While yet keeping up with the exigencies of earning a living, continuing to contribute to making a better world and writing. I live through reading and writing. My mind and heart soars through the worlds of text and image and our shared imagination. The coming year now includes adventures in parenting, which i expect i'll be writing a good deal about. And yet, i still see the world largely through the lenses of popular education and storytelling. How these two praxes fit together is something that i am forever sorting out. And this blog is a place that i can test ideas and, hopefully, "be of use" as Marge Piercy writes.When it comes right down to it, the only thing about which i am certain is that i am uncertain about what is popular education and storytelling. This blog is my exploration of that uncertainty. And i have an enduring curiosity that drives me to explore anything and everything. to connect and collage, to seek and create pattern. At times i accumulate such an abundance of information and knowledge and experience and emotion that it gets traffic-jammed. And this year has been one very traffic-y year - a year of remarkable and surprising abundance. Now, on to the sorting of that abundance into useful (and often playful) meaning. Happy New Year and a wonderful season of revels to all!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Well, i'm still on strike

Yup, things aren't looking great for the strike at York University. With the newborn to care for, i'm feeling the pinch like i've never imagined i might. Alas...

i"m reposting this Australian video about unions that i simply adore. It's as funny the 50th time as it was the first. Humour is such a wonderful weapon. and we need to speak truth to power as the Quakers say. As well as being mindful of Oscar Wilde's advice: "If you are going to tell people the truth, you had better make them laugh, or they will kill you."

Well, the following article is not so funny, but it has much truth in it.
The Neoliberal University: Looking at the York Strike
(from T h e B u l l e t - A Socialist Project e-bulletin, #165, Dec 5, 2008)

Eric Newstadt

Placed neatly in the middle of a global economic maelstrom, it is near impossible to understand or predict what, if any, consequences the strike by 3500 odd teaching and research assistants and contract faculty at York University in Toronto (represented by Canadian Union of Public Employees Local 3903) will have for higher education in Ontario and throughout Canada. While there are some early indications that the strike – which began in early November and continues to shut down the university – at York is aiding (at least mildly) in negotiations at the University of Toronto (whose teaching assistants, research assistants and contract faculty are all presently in negotiations), the strike seems also to have engendered the anger and vitriol of the public such that the viability of similar strikes in the sector are in question. And while the tenor of the action was and remains pitched firmly at rolling back the "neoliberal university," it is questionable whether even outright victory at York would or could have such far-reaching consequences across the university sector.

Of course, there is only so much that can be accomplished in a single round of bargaining. Even if it may not yet be possible to outline how history will record the current work action, there are nonetheless some very definitive things that we can say about the particular conditions which have produced the strike of 2008. And we can also weigh and measure the degree to which the strike holds the promise of ameliorating those conditions (at York if not throughout the province), either temporarily or on a more lasting basis.

The Political Economy of the Neoliberal University

It is simply not possible to understand the present labour conflict outside of some consideration of neoliberalism in general: the educative capacity of the state has been deployed in service of a program of accumulation that relies on a highly "flexploitable" and disciplined workforce. Out of the ashes of the Bretton Woods system, through a process of inter-class negotiation and conflict that neither put entirely to rest the practices of the Keynesian state, nor left any aspect of the postwar order entirely intact, a "new world order" built upon the flexibility of labour markets emerged in the 1980s. There is not sufficient space here to go over the details of this historical transition.

What needs to be understood, however, is that the crisis of Keynesianism, which was as much a political as an economic crisis, saw capital, and particularly a re-emergent finance capital, work with the capitalist state to respond to the crisis through a series of efforts that culminated in: (1) the complete transformation of the state apparatus and the state's capacity to do things (i.e. in severe cutbacks to government spending on virtually everything including colleges and universities); (2) the acquiescence to such restructuring by the bulk of the population, and progressively; and (3) the emergence of broad based public support for the logic of "fiscal restraint" as well as for a program of economic growth premised on labour market flexibility, within which the neoliberal university factors very largely.

The neoliberal university began to take shape in the early 1970s, when hiring was frozen while tuition-fee and support generating enrollments were grown, as short-term stop-gaps to what were perceived as temporary fiscal cutbacks. Later, in the 1980s and 1990s, the neoliberal university began to take on more definitive dimensions, not because fiscal restrain had "hardened," but because what amounted to a form of structural adjustment, drew increasing support from university administrators, an ever larger portion of the professoriate, and a good number of students as well. Thus, the neoliberal university has come to rapidly and rabidly pursue a closer articulation with industry and an educational methodology that focuses more on training than on educating.

Neoliberalism has involved "belt-tightening" and "fiscal restraint." But its unfolding has also been underwritten by a more expansive logic than mere fiscal restraint could possibly entail. The university is now seen as a useful tool in the reproduction of a pliant working class and as a huge, publicly subsidized, research complex that can be deployed to further socialize the research costs of private capital accumulation and thus economic growth in its neoliberal form. In other words, through various forms of public-private partnerships, particularly at "research intensive" universities, private corporations can have taxpayers pick-up 90% of the costs associated with R&D, while they can maintain ownership over the bulk of whatever profits such research generates.

This kind of extensive logic is precisely why the neoliberal university is a massive and expansive morass of highly specialized departments, programs, research centres, laboratories and administrative offices, a huge and immensely diversified corporation with arms in almost every field of study. It is also why the fields of study themselves have become more cut-off from one another, even as we've seen the emergence of so many cross and sub-disciplines, like physical biology, or cultural studies, or urban and environmental planning (such growth makes meaningful forms of "interdisciplinarity" difficult to undertake).

This logic is also why the ideological scope within the neoliberal university is more limited than in previous eras. The space for critical scholarship has shrunk enormously in the social sciences. In part, this is a result of concerted efforts to purge so-called radicals (mainly from the right but also from the post-structural left), but in the main it is a result of state policies that either openly or tacitly endorse such an ideological closing, through conditional forms of finance. The neoliberal logic is also why much the same kind of ideological closing has happened in the natural sciences – there is increasingly less room devoted to basic and curiosity driven research because the drive to "research and innovate" favours the production of commercializable research and of intellectual and property rights.

The extensive logic of neoliberalism is even writ large spatially across the university, as university administrators, ever in search of new revenue-streams, offer-up any useful space to the signs and symbols of corporate accumulation. Buildings and classrooms are named after capitalists (and corporations) who have nothing whatever to do with scholarship, and even the bathroom stalls of the neoliberal university have become advertising opportunities.

Neoliberalism has also seen universities vie for precious market-share in large and growing national and international markets for higher-education. Each university is a competitor firm in the race to seize valuable customers from emerging economies ahead of competitor institutions. All of this has meant that the neoliberal university works hard to cultivate a brand, a particular kind of reputation, an orientation that potential customers understand will help them generate returns on their investments. The neoliberal university is also internally classed: a small cadre of elite academic "stars," who are nonetheless terrifically over-worked, are offered high levels of academic and financial support, they enjoy relatively smaller teaching loads, social-status, and an ability to access some level of control within the institution. A much larger cadre of part-time and/or contract faculty are denied even basic – or any – perks, even as they undertake a terrific – and increasing – proportion of undergraduate teaching.

Not surprisingly, these changes have in turn required that the university become an expansive administrative bulwark with a large and growing cadre of career bureaucrats and administrators, many of whom move from university to university. There are also new kinds of offices opening up all the time, or old ones being re-branded as it were – from technology transfer offices to offices of research and innovation, to registrar cum customer-service departments, to in-house legal departments. The growth of this section of the university has been spectacular (squeezing down academic budgets while expanding general administration budgets). Students are en masse taking from the neoliberal university a general familiarity with the rigours of life under contemporary capitalism: an ability to understand and negotiate a large and expansive corporate environment, a sense of how to work the "system," in the most instrumental way possible, as precisely that is what employers are looking for.

read the rest of the article here: http://www.socialistproject.ca/bullet/bullet165.html#continue

Jack Black Rules - Prop 8 Should Die

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

I was deeply disturbed to hear of the success of Prop 8 in California this past election cycle. It amazes me to hear that homophobic society is as strong in California as it seems to be. With the film about Harvey Milk coming out soon i am reminded of how deeply moved and influenced i was by the documentary The Times of Harvey Milk. I am anxious for the new film to be great. We'll see. Meanwhile, this video of Jack Black, John C. Reilly and others is a wonderful humorous fight back against hate and fear.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Why we fight

Michael Franti is a god!

On strike - Keeping the union strong

As some of you know, i am on strike with CUPE 3903 at York University. It is a perennial struggle. And it reminded me of this video which i posted last winter and is worth re-posting.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Collective Murals

I've extracted some descriptions of collective mural activities from a 'zine i'm working on about art and popular education. You can download the murals descriptions here. You can use this document to guide your production of any one of a variety of mural methods. They are good both for popular education work as well as political action.

Murals have a long and respected history in social justice struggle. Producing them collectively can be an important means of engaging in dialogue as well as a means of documenting our struggles. The photo in this post is from a bankelsang production i did with some friends many years ago. We simply took a passage from Eduardo Galeano's Walking Words (Norton, 1997) and created a series of panels that illustrated the words. A bankelsang is a form of street theatre practiced in medieval Germany. Literally meaning "singing banner" it's a means of sharing a short narrative with a sequence of images to focus people's attention. It's a great thing for guerilla art, being very portable.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Popular Education Toolkit - Jobology

Some years ago we developed a popular economics course. It's about 40 hours of activities over about ten sessions (of three hours each). And it barely scratches the surface of the topic. We developed a number of tools for that course including this one here which we call JOBOLOGY. I used it a couple of weeks ago in the popular education class i teach at the Faculty of Environmental Studies and i was once again amazed at how well it works to share information about the history of work across the generations. It's also a tool that can be used to begin a discussion of class - what people think it is, what a marxist notion of class is, where people feel they might fit in a class structure. I'm hoping to develop this tool further so that it can be used in the context of the theory of diverse economies that J.K. Gibson-Graham are working on and which includes conceptualizing class as something akin to a verb rather than the noun (or thing) it is characteristically seen to be (i.e. class is more dynamic than it is normally thought to be). Meanwhile, if you have a context for using this exercise, i highly recommend trying it out. You can use it as a simple discussion provoking tool or you could use it to guide a discussion about class and the history of the changing world of work. You can download activity descriptions here: MSWord or PDF.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Art that makes you want to do art!

Here's a couple of videos from Old Crow Medicine Show (whom i have Matt to thank for introducing me). While i have an expansive love of all music, i have a special place for the those types of music that catch the bittersweet of life: acadian fiddle, cajun zydeco, bluegrass and bagpipes. A cajun or bluegrass waltz can transport me. And a lament played on bagpipes will often bring tears to my eyes. The stuff of music legend, OCMS have gone from busking to the Grand Ole Opry. Their music makes me happy. And there's also that about it that inspires my own urge to create. It's one of the mysteries of art, whether painting, writing, music, theatre, that some works reach into your soul and light a fire (or perhaps fan flames already alight). And that fire is only satisfied when it pours out as your own art. I recall seeing an exhibit of Van Gogh's work at the Met in New York - It was the Van Gogh at Arles exhibit that my friend Carey brought me to as a birthday present. I'd seen pictures of Van Gogh's haystacks before but i had never imagined i could be so moved by the massive canvasses that confronted me. I was surprised by their size as well as by the subtleties of light that seemed miraculously caught in the the two dimensions of canvas and pigment. I recall returning home and filling two sketchbooks with stuff. OMCS's punky old-timey bluegrass does the same thing to me. I want to learn (and sometimes relearn) all these songs and i want to be in a bluegrass band. But, that being unlikely, i'll just sing to myself. And now i have the opportunity to learn these songs to sing to this new wee critter that is in our lives and who is teaching me that lullabies are a wonderfully effectgive technology. Who knew?

Saturday, October 04, 2008

I'm feeling Churchillian about democracy these days

Check out www.voteforenvironment.com (see below for explanation).

Okay, Stephen Harper scares me. But it is less anything that he says that scares me than what appears absent, i.e. some humanity, a bit of doubt, perhaps. While U.S. vice-presidential Sarah Palin performs a blithe, arrogant and contemptuous certainty about her conservative values with a winking (vapid) vim and vigour, Harper performs a similar certainty about similar values but with a lack of emotional affect that makes me think Body Snatchers. And as i caught one of his campaign ads this afternoon in which he says we "need certainty" and not "risk" i remembered these words from Eduardo Galeano (from an interview he did in NACLA-Report on the Americas many years ago):
...I do not have a bad opinion of doubt. I think doubt has been a factor in the movement of history. I have grown to appreciate doubt more and more and, at the same time, to distrust those compañeros who only offer certainty. They seem too much like the wooden men which the Popul Vuh in Mayan mythology describes as one of the mistakes the gods made when they attempted to create man and didn't know how to construct him and finally they made him out of corn and he came out alright. But one of those attempts consisted of creating him out of wood.

The wooden man was just like a man except that no blood ran through his veins; he had no spirit or courage and didn't speak a word. I believe he had nothing to say because he had no courage and therefore was never discouraged. The proof that one has courage lies in the fact that one can be discouraged. And the proof that one can arrive at certainties that are truly capable of transforming reality lies in the ability to entertain fertile doubts before arriving at certainty; doubts that buzz around in one's head, one's conscience, one's heart, in the imagination, like tenacious flies. We need neither fear doubt nor discouragement: they are proof that our endeavors are human. And we are fortunate that these endeavors are human. Otherwise, these would be the endeavors of false men, men of wood, that is to say bureaucrats, dogmatic men, people who choose models over reality. Discouragement and doubt indicate that one sees reality as it really is.

Well, Harper is as much a poster-boy for the Popul Vuh's "wooden man" as i've ever seen. And this "certainty" he speaks of is as treacherous a disposition as i've seen in Canadian politics. And i think we could use some of this ancient Mayan wisdom about doubt and uncertainty. How else do we learn anything? H.G. Wells once said, "Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe." When i watched Harper in the debates this week (and Palin as well, for that matter) i felt that he was not a person open to learning anything new. And to hear him speak of his "certainty" makes me feel like "catastrophe" is not far off.

As for feeling Churchillian about all this: after the leaders debates this week i couldn't help but feel underwhelmed by the whole thing. While I'll vote NDP, i do not feel like they will avert the catastrophes that lie before us, nor the Greens who are just too neoliberal for me. And the Liberals are less-bad Tories. So as Churchill said in 1947:
Many forms of Government have been tried and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
So, i received a forwarded e-mail from friends (thanks, Lorne) from Bob Bossin of Stringband fame in which he appeals for some strategic voting. And as i was listening to the news this evening i was thinking how bloody annoying our voting system is - that a party can form a government with as little as 30% of the populace voting for them. And if the Liberals, Greens and NDP split the vote and let the Tories ride up the middle to a majority, i will be very sad (and mad). So here's Bob's e-mail in which he recommends a website that is tracking ridings and predicting which are the ones most vulnerable to vote-splitting. You know, they could be right.
Dear Fellow Canadian:

This letter is blatantly political, but it is also personal. And urgent. I've been watching the federal election campaign with something bordering on despair. In all my 63 years, I have never known a government less in tune with my values than this one - and that is going some. By the polls, most of us feel kinda the same way. But we are divided among four parties, and that may allow Harper and his cronies to waltz back into power.

Skip to the next paragraph if you like, but I gotta get this 100-word rant off my chest: "In two years under Harper, Canada has become one of the worst heel-draggers on global warming. Our military has shifted from peace keeping to war making. Where we once welcomed war resistors, we now turn them away. In April, the Conservatives de-regulated and privatized food inspection, and we know what happened in August. They plan to do the same for the airline industry. Prisons, they say 'are for punishment.' And
for 14 year olds. They don't much like the arts and they don't get the internet. I could go on. If Harper wins his majority, I shudder to think how, well, American, Canada will become." End of rant.

What - as William Bendix used to say - a revolting development this is!

And yet, something is afoot. I don't know about you, but I have been receiving dozens of messages from friends and strangers talking about what amounts to do-it-yourself proportional representation. I can't say I've become optimistic, but I do believe there are two effective things we can do.

The first is to make our votes count. We may not have rep by prop (we are one of the world's most backwards democracies in this regard) but we can fake it. If I lived in Central Nova, I would vote for Elizabeth May in a heartbeat. But here in Nanaimo-Cowichan, to vote Green (or for that matter to vote Liberal), is, de facto, to vote Conservative. Lucky for me, our local MP, Jean Crowder, is good people, and anti-Harper through and through. I don't have to hold my nose when I vote. (I just have to roll my eyes at Jack's car-salesman style.) But if the best way to stop the Conservatives was to vote Liberal, this time I would. With glowing heart. (Registered trademark, 2010 Olympics, all rights reserved.)

Fortunately, voting strategically has just gotten a whole lot easier. There is now an amazing website, www.voteforenvironment.com, that is tracking every riding in the
country and making up-to-the-minute suggestions on how best to fight Harper. It is the coolest example of Canadian grassroots democracy since the Free Trade comic book.

So that is the first thing to do: check out www.voteforenvironment.com

And there is another thing just as important. This happens to be a time when our ability to communicate with one another has never been greater. To contact you with this message, I just had to overcome my reticence about doing it. (I'm Canadian, after all.) The rest, nowadays, is easy. If you do it too, if you contact your friends and colleagues, acquaintances and list-mates, and let them know what you are thinking, we could actually affect the results in some key ridings and, who knows, we might even affect more than that. It's worth a try.


Bob Bossin - Old folksinger - Old folksinger's homepage: www.bossin.com

Whiner alert: who knew Harper was right?

As some of you may know, outgoing prime minister (i hope) of Canada Stephen Harper thinks that artists are whiners. As reported by the Canadian Press, Harper said:
I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see ... a bunch of people, you know, at a rich gala all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know those subsidies have actually gone up -- I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people. Ordinary people understand we have to live within a budget.
Well, Alon Nashman, a Toronto-based actor, has added his two cents. And what a two cents they are.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's the Questions that Bring us Together

Well, i'm well into a new season of teaching and work and, of course, baby-raising (Oy!). And this year, in addition to the Popular Education for Social Change graduate class that i teach at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University i am also teaching an undergraduate class called Perspectives in Environmental Studies. It's a very popular class that my colleague Peter Timmerman has been teaching for several years and is currently on what i'm sure is a well-earned sabbatical (thus the contract work for me).

I design and write and/or c0-write a syllabus every year that i produce as a 'zine. This year i collaborated on the syllabuzine with Tina Lopes, an educator with whom i worked in the Doris Marshall Institue for Education and Action. Unfortunately, the enrollment numbers were unusually low this year and FES had to cancel the section that Tina would have taught. Alas. Tina and i decided that this year's theme would be "The Arts of the Self in Culture, Classroom and Community" and i had looked forward to exploring the many meanings that this could have with Tina. Now i'm on my own with it - albeit accompanied by 22 graduate students. You can download of PDF (2.6 megs) of the syllabus here: http://www.web.net/~story/RC/syllabuzine6150-2008.pdf (send it to your printer for double-sided copying and you should end up with a foldable booklet.veb

As for the undergrad class, one huge challenge for me is how to practice some of the ideals of popular education in an environment that is designed both in form (line-of-sight lecture hall, 500 students, one weekly two-hour lecture plus a one-hour tutorial) and expectation (of the 500 learners) to practice authoritarian pedagogy. Ouch! Not that i haven't got a lot to say that is worth listening to. But i wonder skeptically about the quality of learning in such circumstances. Thus i have discussed with the TAs how we can design an asignment that pushes students to learn to think critically, creatively and transformatively. We've come up with an assignment based on questioning. Not unlike this wee tale that i posted her a while back.

One of the course TAs found this quote from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters To a Young Poet:
Try to love the questions themselves, as if they were lock rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don´t search for the answer, which couldn´t be given to you now, because you wouldn´t be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer


And i found a translated edition of Letters to a Young Poet here. I highly recommend this work - one of the great (and modest) 20th Century works on creativity and writing.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Manuals on Human Rights and Facilitation

I just learned about more on-line manuals for human rights and facilitation:

Elections, elections everywhere and democracy is still hard to find

Just got sent this video (thanks, Clara). Stephen Harper who is running for Prime Minister in Canada has said he would cut arts funding to the tune of $45 million saing, at one point, "You know, I think when ordinary, working people come home, turn on the TV and see … a bunch of people at a rich gala all subsidized by the taxpayers, claiming their subsidies aren't high enough when they know the subsidies have actually gone up, I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people." Of course, what counts as an "ordinary" Canadian to Harper and his ilk is a rather disturbing, if fictional. Mind you, as this video implies, perhaps Harper and the Tories will be successful in creating the very "ordinariness" they seem to crave.

A new life for the world

A few things have changed in my life. A new life in this house. Meet our wee mister.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The International Journal of Critical Pedagogy

There are some excellent articles in this publication from the McGill University-based Paulo and Nita Freire Project for Critical Pedagogy. A couple of the articles i'll be reading include: "But What Can I Do?": Fifteen Things Education Students Can Do to Transform Themselves In/Through/With Education by Paul R. Carr and Notes from a Fan: Paulo Freire Comes to Idaho by Dale T. Graden

Monday, August 18, 2008

Making the Connections

Brett Dennen's song and video (in preceding post) reminded me of two other similar productions. One is this rather elusive video called Drop the Debt. I believe it was first produced by Comic Relief in Britain but it has since been hosted on an Australian World Vision site. It looks like it's been on YouTube a couple of years now. It's a wickedly clever production with numerous layers of irony. The music is Michael Franti and Spearhead and you can see their video of the song here.

I wonder perpetually how we can better see our interconnection with everything that happens such that we just might choose to do something positive about it? And not something that just helps us cope better with feelings of guilt? That our wealth and privilege (says a white boy sitting here in downtown Toronto) is causally linked to the deprivation of the many is something i have believed for a long time and, having lived abroad and studied and researched, i know that this is so. And thus i have devoted myself to popular education both to support those struggling against oppression as well as to offer to the curious and the willing some avenue of understanding of the history of oppression and resistance as well as how we connect to it and can choose to act against it. I was particularly struck in Dennen's video, with the woman who finds a loose thread in her red sweater only to see that it is linked to three asian-looking women working in a sweatshop. This immediately reminded me of Sweet Honey in the Rock's song Are My Hands Clean? - a poignant tale of the journey that cotton (made into shirts) makes from "blood-soaked fields" to North American bargain basement bins. Here's the lyrics:
I wear garments touched by hands from all over the world
35% cotton, 65% polyester, the journey begins in Central America
In the cotton fields of El Salvador
In a province soaked in blood, pesticide-sprayed workers toil in the broiling sun
Pulling cotton for two dollars a day

Then we move on up to another rung - Cargill
A top-forty trading conglomerate, takes the cotton through the Panama Canal
Up the Eastern seaboard, coming to the U.S. of A. for the first time

In South Carolina
At the Burlington mills
Joins a shipment of polyester filament courtesy of the New Jersey petro-chemical mills of

Dupont strands of filament begin in the South American country of Venezuela
Where oil riggers bring up oil from the earth for six dollars a day
Then Exxon, largest oil company in the world
Upgrades the product in the country of Trinidad and Tobago
Then back into the Caribbean and Atlantic Seas
To the factories of Dupont
On the way to the Burlington mills

In South Carolina
To meet the cotton from the blood-soaked fields of El Salvador

In South Carolina
Burlington factories hum with the business of weaving oil and cotton into miles of fabric for Sears
Who takes this bounty back into the Caribbean Sea
Headed for Haiti this time
May she be one day soon free

Far from the Port-au-Prince palace
Third world women toil doing piece work to Sears specifications
For three dollars a day

My sisters make my blouse

It leaves the third world for the last time
Coming back into the sea to be sealed in plastic for me

This third world sister
And I go to the Sears department store where I buy my blouse
On sale for 20% discount

Are my hands clean?

(Composed for Winterfest, Institute for Policy Studies. The lyrics are based on an article by Institute fellow John Cavanagh [no relation -c], "The Journey of the Blouse: A Global Assembly." Lyrics and music by Bernice Johnson Reagon, 1985.)
I wish that this art could swing hearts to the side of compassion, solidarity and action. But, of course, social change is never so easy. I was startled (pleaasantly) when i saw Alice Walker on the cover of the May 2007 Shambhala Sun beside the headline "This is the best of all times to be alive." A counterintuitive thought if i ever heard one. In the interveiw which you can read here <We Live in the Best of All Times> Alice Walker explains this sentiment by saying:
There’s so much to do! (Laughs) We are so lucky. There’s no shortage of work to do! (Laughs) There’s no excuse for anyone, in my opinion, to complain that they can’t change anything. For instance, there are millions and millions and millions of hungry children, people who don’t have clothing, people who don’t have housing, trees that are begging us to let them live, rivers that are crying out to be clean, skies that are shouting at us to let the ozone layer live. There is no end to the ways we can have full self-realization. That’s what has to happen, and that’s what this time is pointing out. This is the time to have full self-realization as an earthling. It’s time to be responsible and take charge of that. It’s also a great time because if we fail, we lose the earth.
I plan to convey this message to the 500 undergrads to whom i'll be lecturing weekly starting in a couple of weeks. I'm teaching Perspectives on Environmental Studies this Fall and Winter. I'm still figuring out what to teach - this will be a new adventure for me - not my favourite form of pedagogy; but i'll make the best of it. I plan to tell a lot of stories. Any advice is welcome.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life, the Bittersweet

Listening to Thursday's episode of Democracy Now i was grabbed by the song played at the last break: Ain't No Reason by Brett Dennen. The lyrics cut straight into my heart. It's a rare song that does that so quickly. I'd not heard of this fellow before today. And i'm impressed. This video that i've linked is a heartbreaker - not sentimental heartbreak but rather the heartbreak of truth. It's ironic that out of great suffering can come great beauty (which is not to suggest that we should have or need more suffering - there's more than enough to go around). Perhaps i was more deeply moved on account of the juxtaposition of hearing this song while also listening to Ron Suskind's explosive revelations about the Bush administration's illegal actions (can you say "war crimes"?) in forging a letter to fabricate evidence of a Sadaam-Al Quaeda link. It remains mind-boggling to me that Bush and his administration have been able to get away with so much and i despair of the world they have ushered in. I only hope that Obama can make some difference in all that. But i worry.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

New DVDs of and about Paulo Freire

Remembering Freire/Reinventing Freire is a two DVD set that has long been needed by popular educators. The occasion of this production was the "Conference and Dialogue on the 10th Anniversary of the Death of Paulo Freire" held on May 2, 2007 at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University of Toronto (and coordinated by the Ontario Region of the Canadian Association for the Study of Adult Education). One DVD has footage of various presenters and panel discussions. The second DVD has the, until now, rare footage of Staring from Nina: The Politics of Learning made by the Development Education Centre in Toronto in 1977. This includes rare video of Freire speaking in English. As D'Arcy Martin, one of the producers explains, Freire urged that they solve their problem of production funds by offering this film (for a price) to the many people and institutions who were desperate for footage of Freire speaking in English. Needless to say, Friere said he would refer all such requests to the filmmakers. It's a charming film and it still carries relevant messages to todays educators. In addition to this film are three filmed dialogues between Freire and J. Roby Kidd and Alan Thomas: "Becoming a Christian", "Guns and Pencils", and "Letters in the Earth". This DVD set is beautifully produced by Bill McQueen of Fireweed Media Productions and they're only $20 (plus delivery costs). I highly recommend adding these to your collections. You can order copies by e-mailing Fireweed Media: fmp [ at] netrover [dot] com. (You can click on the graphic to see a larger version if you'd like to read the contents description.)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

My Favourite Bluegrass Kung Fu Mashup Ever

I've just learned about Uncle Earl recently (i am so out of the loop) and they rock (if you can say that about a bluegrass band). I'm a sucker for bluegrass waltzes amongst other things. This mashup is a hoot - and makes me remember fondly the trek out to Greenfield Park in the Montreal suburbs (where i barely survived blandland until moving to the Plateau in my late teens) to see those famously badly dubbed kung fu flicks (which now, of course, are an art form unto themselves). Putting a bluegrass spin (figuratively as well as literally) on it is the perfect 21st Century tribute. And take note of the Zep's John Paul Jones in the strapless pumps. You gotta love it! (P.S. there are so many lovely geeky touches in this video, but by far my favourite is the Snowcraft laugh - i'f you've never played it, try it out - it's almost worth losing to hear your opponents laughing gloat.)

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Legacy to Dialogue

by Vincenza Spiteri Debonis
Every Friday morning we met, the seven of us. We were the circle. Our power was in our vulnerability with each other. We meditated, we read, we were present in dialogue. We were the circle. Illness took one of us away. Then there were six.

Every Friday morning we met, the six of us. We were the circle. The questions were asked by the others, “What do you talk about? How is it that you can get away for a whole hour and just talk about nothing?” Always our response, “We meet every Friday, come join our circle.” They did. They felt uncomfortable, irritated, bewildered, they bristled at the vulnerability that was required to honour each in the circle, to give power to each in the circle. They let us continue offering paternalistic platitudes of what tremendous work we were doing. They sanctioned the dialogue circle as a professional development strategy to humanize the workplace. Hoping against all hope that the small room would contain the small circle. Retirement took one of us away. Then there were five of us.

Every Friday we met, the five of us. We were the circle. The questions were asked again, and again we invited them. This time though they could no longer stomach the incongruence of power within the circle, talk could not produce results. Take away the small room, take away the small circle.

Every Friday we do not meet, the five of us. We are the circle. We are in dialogue everyday where there is conflict. We are in dialogue everyday where there is pain. We are in dialogue everyday where there is joy. “Intention, listening, inquiry, advocacy, silence” these were the lights we lit the small room with; these are the lights we light the institution with. We are now five times five, times five, times five, times five, times five.

Everyday we meet, the multitude of us. We are the circle.

(Vincenza was a participant in the Popular Education for Social Change class this past season and she shared this piece in class. I was very moved by it and saw in it something poignant and important for popular educators to keep in mind. Vincenza was kind enough to let me publish this piece here - thanks - c)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ethics for Activists - 17

As i re-design the Popular Education for Social Change class that i teach at the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University, i've been re-reading Pedagogy of Freedom (London: Rowman & Littlefield, 1998) by Paulo Freire. Paulo's work has guided me my whole adult life and i'm always surprised and delighted to learn new things from words i've read and assumed i'd understood. Once again i'm impressed with Paulo's thinking and am reading and re-reading Chapter Four of this book: Teaching is a Human Act. It is providing me with some answers (and, perhaps more importantly, questions) about something i find particularly difficult to theorize as well as put into practice: how to train popular educators - not only in the necessary skills and so-called competencies of the work, but also in the dispositions that i believe are necessary. Not that one can teach such things as humility or compassion. But i do believe there are ways to support the growth of such things in people. For the next several weeks i am diving into these questions as i concentrate on finishing a manuscript about trickster pedagogy. So here are some words from Paulo that inspire me and that i hope might do something similar for you:

Is my curiosity able to express itself? Is it growing? In my opinion, one of the essential qualities that an authoritative, democratic teaching practice ought to reveal in its relationship with the freedom of students is a sense of its own self-confidence. It’s a self-confidence that expresses itself in a firmness of action or of decision in regard to its respect for the freedom and autonomy of students, its ability to discuss its own positions, and its openness to reviewing both itself and its previously held positions.

If the teacher is imbued with self-confident authority, there will be no need for a speech about it at every available instant. If there is self-confidence regarding its legitimacy, there will be no need to ask anyone: ‘Do you know to whom you are speaking?’ (pp. 85)

Monday, July 07, 2008

Much, much more than a guide about Workplace Safety

This manual is on-line and well worth checking out. Even if you think workplace safety and health is incidental to your work (and you shouldn't think that, since the "workplace" is where a helluva lot of us spend a lot of time), this manual includes some great material on group process, self-study and more. For example, it includes "committee basics" such as "ground rules" and "effective chairing"; "Communication skills" including "active listening" and "asking open questions. This manual outlines a five step process to This 372 page document details a five-step process for researching and identifying workplace safety issues, and coming up with and implementing solutions including organizing and mobilizing when necessary. You'll also find a 67-page "Committee Process Toolbox" that includes such things "Ground rules for Healthy Conflict" and the "Triangle Model (to analyze racism and discrimination)". And, of course, there's a 150-page "Health and Safety Toolbox" which, i'm very excited to see, includes workplace and body mapping processes to identify sites of injury. Jump straight to page 299 to see "Mapping Tools to See the Workplace with "New Eyes". I know these as processes developed by Dorothy Wigmore, an educator and trade unionist of long-standing. I've used the body mapping process in popular education workshops and i am always startled, if pleasantly, to see how much we can learn about our bodies and our history of injury that, sadly, we often take for granted, thus missing the opportunity to make connections with others who have suffered similar injury. Without making these connections there is little opportunity to do the necessary organizing to change things for the better. So, do yourself a favour and download this manual for your work.

Kudos to the WCB's Community Initiatives and Research Program (CIRP), the Manitoba Government Employees Union , the Communication, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), and the consultants that wrote this guide: Joyce Rankin, Laurie Todd and Dorothy Wigmore. Terrific work!

Friday, July 04, 2008

Oliver Schroer On a Grander Tour

I just learned that Oliver passed away yesterday. I've been listening to his music daily for several months and am sad that he will no longer be among us. When i moved to Toronto almost 20 years ago one of the things i recall most vividly from the early 90s was going to see a play called The Storyteller At Fault - a storytelling and fiddle show. Dan Yashinsky performed a collection of his tales (re-worked from traditional sources) and Oliver scored the show and performed fiddle accompaniment that was so different from anything i'd heard done before that i can still hear those ethereal strains now. Oliver has a great website that's worth checking out: http://www.oliverschroer.com/index.htm and he also wrote a blog about his experience with leukemia. It is a brave and bittersweet document. And Oliver reminds me of my friend dian marino who died in 1992 after having lived with cancer for many years. dian was very critical and defiant of the common discourse around cancer, i.e. fighting cancer. She used to say that if one insisted on the frame of "fighting cancer" and, especially if the cancer was terminal, then not only was it inevitable that you would lose, you had already lost in a way. dian rejected this frame and embraced life more fully than anyone i've ever known up until her body could take no more. In an essay about living with cancer called White Flowers and a Grizzly Bear, dian wrote:
We do need a language of resistance in our struggles with chronic illness, but it needs to be a language free of militarism. I found it wonderfully healing to spend quiet time in nature - a form of resistance perhaps, but hardly a battle. (in Wild Garden: art, education and the culture of resistance, Toronto: Between the Lines)
Oliver reminded me of dian. They were kindred spirits. I know from interviews i heard on CBC that Oliver met his death with courage and equanimity. He used the word "acceptance" in one interview. And i heard that he never stopped playing or composing - up until the end.

There's a T-shirt i'm fond of (if also careful about) wearing that says, "You get what everyone gets. You get a lifetime." There is a face of a pretty goth girl with thick make-up and an udjat design around her eye and, as some of you who share my passion for comics know, this is the figure of the Sandman's older sister who is Death. It is a benign and compassionate vision of death (she's pretty hot, too) and it is one that i reflect on a great deal. It is not a sentiment i would share with someone who has just lost someone, but it is one that i think we would all do well to ponder from time to time. Our world puts such great store by the length of a life. And we neglect the depths that can be lived in mere days or hours. I know that Oliver understood something of this. And i am moved, saddened and comforted in this moment of loss.

There' s some lovely YouTube footage of Oliver that you can check out. This piece is from his last concert a month ago. He called the concert his "Last Concert on his Tour of this Planet."

And you simply MUST check out this CBC Concert on Demand: Oliver Schroer Tribute Concert.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

J'net on the TV about the Government's apology

It was a moving day, though the emotions are complex. The government's apology was long in coming and did not come until it had been pushed and pushed. But the content of the apology was impressive. And if the emotion and sincerity was lacking at times, i would say that that that non-aboriginal Canadians simply have the greater obligation to open our hearts and imaginations to learn more and act with more courage and justice for the creation of a Canada in which can live the dynamic, if heartbreaking, histories of all the people who now call this land home.

This CTV clip includes a brief bit with J'net that you can see 6 minutes ad 8 seconds in.

Thursday, May 22, 2008


At this year's inaugural Toronto Community Development Institute, some community artists with ArtsAccess set up a button-making station for Institute participants to make their own buttons. It was a wonderful activity and you can see pictures of many of the buttons made on the Collection X website. The button above is titled "Spring Into Action" by Vincenza Spiteri DeBonis and seems a fitting one to share after these past several days of cold, clammy spring. The warmth is coming. Yay!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

New Ending Poverty Popular Education Curriculum

You can find this curriculum on-line and freely available on the Income Security Advocacy Centre's website. The 120-manual is available as one not-so-large PDF (980K) and as separate MSWord files. The curriculum supports a basic three-hour workshop that ISAC and Campaign 2000 are delivering across Ontario (in 7 different communities). The objective of this workshop is to involve low income people in a critical dialogue about poverty and a process to support the voices of low-income people on what will end poverty. Then curriculum contains over a dozen popular education activity descriptions as well as detailed model workshop designs for the basic three-hour version as well as one and two hour versions and one day-long version. I developed this curriculum with Dana Milne of ISAC and Jacquie Maund of Campaign 2000. If you find this curriculum useful in any way i invite you to post a comment here to let me know what you did.

Catalyst reaches its fundraising goals in record time

Well, we were both surprised and deeply moved to see how fast our friends and community responded to our appeal. We'd hoped to raise $2000 by May 6th and we had hit that target by May 1st - only two days after launching our appeal. By May 6th we had raised $3000 and as of this past week we have raised over $5000. The cheques and on-line donations continue to arrive. And we hope that we continue to raise funds for the collection. It looks like we've found a new home for the collection as well and we will be making the move the week of May 26th. You can read updates on the Catalyst Centre website. Thanks to all those who gave so generously and so quickly!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Catalyst Centre Needs Your Help

Yup, we're hurting.

It all started with an idea: could we create a popular education organization that practiced the very ethics, pedagogy and politics that we presumed we could teach (facilitate, develop, support, etc.) to others? Matt and i shared a history of conversations about social change, Gramsci, popular education, ethics and so on and, while working to support a North American coalition of popular and adult education groups, we concocted an idea we called the "Catalyst Project." the project didn't go anywhere but we had this idea in the back of our heads that was ready-made for an opportunity to start a new popular education group round about 1998. We approached two friends, Clare and Darashani and thus became the co-founders of the Catalyst Centre. We had a handful of vigorous years though funding, from the get-go, was tough. Over and over again we encountered enthusiasm for the democratic process we represented but reluctance to fund processes that did not have clearly defined, measureable outcomes. Along the way, our modest resource collection grew from a few hundred books and manuals to thousands, as we acquired the collection of the International Council for Adult Education. Which brings us to our present crisis. We need to save our collection. So we're doing a BIG push on fundraising and hope to raise enough to buy us some time and capacity to continue to care for a unique resource. Below is our appeal (which you can also download as a PDF here) and we urge any and all who value popular education work to consider donating and/or passing on this appeal to others who might wish to contribute. Thanks in advance.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Catalyst Centre needs your help. Urgently!

This is an emergency appeal for support to keep the Catalyst library intact. Our collection of thousands of books and journals (mostly in storage these past couple of years while we've looked for a new home) is in jeopardy. We have to move it (or renew our storage arrangement) by May 8. We need to raise at least $2,000 by May 6th to move the collection and that may still mean giving away a lot of stuff.

Can you support us with a tax-deductible donation to support the library? Your donation can help us keep this collection alive. You can donate right now through our account with Canada Helps, a charitable on-line donation portal (please note that our incorporated name is "Popular Education and Research Catalyst Centre, Inc."). You can help out now by visiting:


Cheques can be made to the "Catalyst Centre Foundation" and mailed to:

Catalyst Centre

720 Bathurst Street

Toronto ON M5S 2R4

Our long-term goal is to raise over $20,000 to preserve what is one of the best adult and popular education collections in the country.

This need for urgent funds came upon us due to a change in management where the library is being stored. Catalyst, as organization in hibernation, has zero funds to support the library and storage costs have come out of one individual donor and significant financial contributions from Catalyst staff, a model that cannot be maintained past May 8. We are working to find a permanent home for the library in the next few weeks, but we need funds in order to make this happen.

The Catalyst Centre is almost ten years old. Hard to believe. When Matt and chris first began discussing the idea of founding a popular education group to continue the tradition of the Doris Marshall Institute for Education and Action and the Naming the Moment Project, we certainly didn't know where we'd be ten years later. The Catalyst Centre is respected both locally and internationally and, if people overestimate our capacity (which has always been modest), this is, nonetheless, a measure of the importance of the work that we do (along with numerous allies). And, while we are now in a phase of making new plans, circumstances have caught up with us.

We are currently expanding and renewing the membership of Catalyst. And we're looking into developing new programming that will include courses and workshops, support for the Indigenous Environmental Network's Alberta tarsands campaign, continued management and development of the collection and more.

Our immediate need is the collection. It is likely the single best collection of popular education materials in Canada. It contains extensive adult and popular education information, as well as archives from the Doris Marshall Institute and the Moment Project. It is a collection that is still an excellent support to community educators, community development practitioners, students, social workers and more.

Your donation can make the difference between preserving this collection and having to give it away in pieces, if not actually having to discard much of it.

Whatever you can contribute will be put to good use. Every little bit helps. You will get a charitable receipt for any donation and we ask you to consider giving anything between $25 and $1000. All donations are tax deductible. If you can help, please do so now.

Thank-you for considering this appeal and please feel free to share it with anyone you think might appreciate being a part of saving this collection and supporting the work of the Catalyst Centre.


chris cavanagh, Matthew Adams, Corvin Russell

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Simple Gifts

Jennifer was working as a waitress when, one night, a group of nuns came in. Jennifer served them and was also curious about these women who had devoted their lives to god. Their exchange was lively and the nuns’ joviality infected Jennifer who joked and teased along with the Sisters. The Sisters were themselves curious about Jennifer. The nuns were on their way to see a play called Nunsense.

The Sisters returned to the restaurant after the play and sat in a section that Jennifer was not working. Nonetheless, the Sister’s called Jennifer over and told her of the play, blushing as they reported on some of the more scandalous scenes. Their good cheer was undiminished and, as they were about to leave, they approached Jennifer, told her how much they enjoyed meeting her, and gave her a five dollar bill. Jennifer protested that they hadn’t even been in her section but the Sisters were insistent, saying that they wanted to support Jennifer in whatever she chose to do.

Jennifer was moved by this humble gift and vowed to use the five dollars for something worthy: perhaps donate it to a shelter or some other charity. However, that night Jennifer went out drinking with friends and ran out of money. She debated using the $5 she had just received and went ahead and spent it. The next morning she awoke mortified at what she’d done. It was the beginning of a soul-searching during which she stopped drinking. She reflected on her life and eventually chose to get involved in literacy work as a volunteer tutor.

Some months after meeting the Sisters Jennifer was serving a young couple in the restaurant when something moved her to tell them the story of the nuns and the five dollar bill. She enjoyed serving the young couple and was surprised when, after the couple left, the man approached her and said his wife wanted to talk to her. Jennifer thought that the service had been appreciated but now prepared herself for some unexpected complaint.

The woman handed Jennifer a five dollar bill saying that she had been so moved by the story that they wanted to give her back the $5 the Sisters had given her.

Light in my life

The one on the right is J'net in a dress of her own making and which is part of an exhibit that starts in a couple of weeks at Six Nations Reserve south of Toronto.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Oy, but life gets busy sometimes

Well, i've just come through a rather crazy-busy stretch that included moving house, living outta boxes, watching my partner's belly expand with new life, volunteering with the Toronto Community Development Institute which just ended (rather successfully, if i don't say so myself), a number of contracts including an "ending poverty" popular education curriculum (that you'll be able to download from this website later this week) and numerous other activities. So, once again, blogging has been difficult to keep up with. So here's a wee tale i penned some time ago about something that happened almost 25 years ago. I still can't tell this story without crying - it still feels like it happened yesterday:

The Potato

While in the mountains of Nicaragua, surrounded by war, I chose to make a rather treacherous journey to the nearest city. We were bringing the harvested and washed coffee beans to the central location for further processing. And we were also picking up food for the community of refugees that we were working with. We were camped on top of a mountain with many of the campesinos from the surrounding valleys. The mountain top was defensible and safe. We made the 50 kilometer journey to Condega, traded our coffee beans for sacks of potatoes and journeyed back. We came upon one patrol of contras who took aim at us and fired as we sped away. This raised the value of the potatoes for me in a unique way. So later that night when a young girl of a family I’d befriended came to my tent with a hot potato, my first thought was that she was trying to unload the undesirable nightshade on the unsuspecting gringo. I saw those potatoes as an all-too-precious source of nutrition and one that I had risked my life for. There was no way I was going to let this five-year-old neglect her health. I accepted the potato graciously but took her and the potato back to the family. I tried to explain politely that their daughter was trying to avoid eating her potato but I was told quickly that I had misunderstood. They had sent the potato to me as thanks for having made the risky journey that day. Touched and a little broken-hearted (though in a good way) I thanked them for the precious gift and returned to my tent to enjoy, very deeply, the best potato I ever ate.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Culture Jamming Compared to Invisible Theatre

i just learned about this "frozen crowd" event that took place in February at Grand Central Station in New York City. Pretty impressive. Here's the backstory. It's a pretty compelling performance art piece. Makes me think about Invisible Theatre invented and developed by Augusto Boal. The difference is that Invisible Theatre is aimed at provoking dialogue on issues of power, oppression and social change while the types of public performance art like the one above (and also culture jamming events like flash mobs and public pillow fights) aim to be politically "neutral". And, of course, nothing is politically neutral. My concern with these public performance art things is how vulnerable they are to commercial (i.e. advertising industry) co-optation.

The Pinky Show - okay, so, like, i'm an instant total fan

I've just learned about The Pinky Show and i'm pretty impressed. The matter-of-factness of the little girl voice coming from the always-bewildered-looking Pinky gives wonderful life to facts (about resistance to immigration in the US) and quotes (as with Ivan Illich in this piece featured here). As much as racism, homophobia, mysogyny and all the other ways in which we do violence to each other deserve rage and anger, there's something to be said for a disposition of bewildered dismay, like "isn't racism just stupid?" Racism is, of course, many things and that includes "just stupid". This disposition carries truths in a peculiar way. I've always felt that we have to be careful with our anger - that it represents an enormous amount of energy and that it should be called forth only when violence is in action and dignity and life need immediate defense. Most other times, i feel, that humour is the best defense. To allow our anger to carry on beyond the moment of defense is to risk being drawn into the dance of violence and to give our energy away. I compare this to what i've learned about aikido - to stay centered, to keep the movement and energy flowing, to resist being drawn into your opponent's dance, to realize that there is no opponent, only movement. Humour can keep us centered, balanced. And The Pinky Show is doing a good job of that.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

New Paper on Popular Education

Claudia de Simone is a friend, a journalist, a drummer and a former student at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (including having been a participant in the popular education course that i've been teaching and co-teaching these past several years). Claudia has recently graduated and her studies included an excellent case study of popular education used in the context of watershed issues in a neighbourhood of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her paper has just been published on the FES website under the outstanding major paper series and you can download it by clicking on the following:

‘Toward Popular Environmental Education in Marginalized Watershed Communities: The Case Study of São Paulo.’
Abstract: It is rare to find a critical discussion of race in literature about Brazilian urban environmental degradation and water pollution. Most of the literature discusses what to do with the “problem” of the periphery neighbourhoods – called favelas – whose residents are often represented as polluters of the rivers near to which they live and as occupiers of ‘environmentally risky’ territory. In Brazil, it is common to encounter environmental education projects that incorporate a debate on economic inequalities and environment, but without mention of colonialism or race subjection. Using the case study of São Paulo, this paper shows how racism has been historically spatialized through the material production of the favela, as well as through its discursive production in mainstream media and literature. That environmental injustices taking place in racialized communities are officially accepted makes it crucial to problematize this hegemonic violence in educational spaces. The author argues for the discussion of race, interconnected with class and gender, in environmental education. Paulo Freire’s principles of a pedagogy of the oppressed are critical to a discussion about the meaning of an anti-colonial pedagogy and thus, of the practice of anti-colonial environmental education.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Mark Your Calendars (if you're in Toronto or near enough)

I've been part of organizing a community development institute here in Toronto and if you're in the area i recommend checking it out. We'll have a program to share soon. It includes over 70 sessions on topics ranging from community engagement to community arts, anti-poverty to health and more; and much of it featuring popular education. If you want to distribute the poster you can download it here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Wee Book Exhibit

I have a small exhibit of handmade books mounted at the Spadina Branch of the Toronto Public Library for the next week or so. If you're in the neighbourhood, you should drop by and have a peek. It includes 'zines, stab-bound commonplace books, an annual solstice book project and and advent calendar (made from cigar boxes).

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ancient Advice

I plucked the Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu translated by Brian Walker off my bookshelf last week and re-read its 81 passages. Less well-known than Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching, the Hua Hu Ching are Lao Tzu's oral teachings that have been passed down the centuries and generations. Yet again i am struck by how relevant ancient wisdom is to our world, and how often we are so foolish as to think we have invented something new. I was struck by many passages on this re-reading and one, in particular, struck a chord for me.


Do you think you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation?
This makes your mind narrow, not clear.

Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times.
That is true meditation.

Who can attain clarity and simplicity by avoiding the world?
The Tao is clear and simple, and it doesn’t avoid the world.

Why not simply honor your parents,
love your children,
help your brothers and sisters,
be faithful to your friends,
care for your mate with devotion,
complete your work cooperatively and joyfully,
practice virtue without first demanding it of others,
understand the highest truths yet retain and ordinary manner?

That would be true clarity, true simplicity, true mastery.

Trickster Pedagogy Notes -01

Alas, but the workshop on Trickster Pedagogy i would have done in Nova Scotia at the Tatamagouche Centre has been cancelled. Leaving me with workshop plans and notes that could fill a book (or tow or three...). Trickster Pedagogy remains something i am developing as both theory and practice or, in a word, praxis. I'll have more to share about this in future posts. Meanwhile, here's a few tidbits that guide me.
Be passionately aware that you could be completely wrong. dian marino, friend, artist, educator

None learned the art of archery from me who, in the end, did not make me the target. Saadi of Shiraz, Sufi poet 13th C.

The highest truth cannot be put into words.
Therefore the greatest teacher has nothing to say.
He simply gives himself in service, and never worries.
Lao Tzu,
Hua Hu Ching: The Unknown Teachings of Lao Tzu (Brian Walker, tr.). NY: HarperCollins, 1992.

Teachers are people who help you solve problems you wouldn't have without them. Anon.