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: 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.