Friday, August 13, 2010

Neoliberalism as Water Balloon

Just came across this playful presentation on neoliberalism by Tim McCaskell who should be a national treasure. Tim worked for many years for the Toronto District School Board in the anti-racism department. Thousands of Toronto highschool students went through multiculturalism and anti-racism workshops that Tim was instrumental in leading. A leading queer activist and educator in Toronto, Time has also published Race to Equity: Disrupting Educational Inequality.

In addition to a persuasive presentation about the flaws of neoliberalism, this video begins with a powerful graphic presentation about the structure of inequality according to class, sex, sexual orientation and "race". This alone makes the video pedagogical gold. I highly recommend this resource (either showing the video or reproducing some of its contents yourself).

Sunday, August 08, 2010

My New Favourite Book on Popular Education

A friend just sent me the link to Jugar y Jugarse: 2da edición: Las técnicas y la dimensión lúdica de la educación popular by Mariano Algava (thanks, Josh) and i am wowed. Algava appears to be an Argentinian professor and popular educator. He's one helluva writer, for sure. I read spanish slowly but it was quickly obvious to me that here was a discourse of popular education that is rare in the english-speaking world. He articulates a radical vision of popular education that is very much in keeping with how i have always imagined popular education could become - despite the limitations and resistance of a liberal, hegemonic culture such as Canada. (You can download the whole book on this page or from this link to the 6MB PDF.)

I've worked on a translation of a few paragraphs (see below) from the introduction (with thanks to Clara, Patricia and Olivia) and i would dearly love to have access to a full english translation so i could make wider use of this in my work in Canada and with the Catalyst Centre. Algava is also part of a popular education collective called Pañuelos en Rebeldía (Scarves in Rebellion or Rebellious Scarves). There is some remarkable stuff here as well and i'm working on some translations. Feel free to work on some yourself (i'm starting with the page on Sistematizacion).

A word about the title (thanks to reflections from Patricia and Clara): Jugar y Jugarse can be translated as "Play and Playfulness" but "jugarse" (likely an argentinian idiom based on jugársela) has a different sense than mere playfulness in that it includes a notion of risk taking which, though always a part of successful play, is not often thought of consciously. In english, my best guess for a more accurate translation would be "abandon" as in "to play with abandon" or "to abandon oneself to...". This has provoked for me many thoughts about the role of play in education and i will incorporate this into my ongoing project of articulating a trickster pedagogy.

Thus, by way of concluding this post, my translation of a part of the introduction:
We would like to say something about this delayed re-release of "Play and playfulness." Delayed in the face of the four years of demand for this book during which we have been asked at marches, meetings and assemblies, “don’t you have a copy of ‘Play and playfulness’?” When we’ve discussed this in popular education groups, it gets out of hand quickly: word spreads widely from person to person and we end up exhausted with the "conference presentations" we’re asked to do.

One tendency of paternalist politics regarding "popular education" has been the movement of a watered-down form into teacher training institutes, government programs, courses for volunteers, etc. However it is the “nice” version that moves this way – where popular education is seen as a “nice” way to intervene, a way to "look good" in group work, a “fun” alternative to transfer content, and, what is worse, includes the fatalism of naturalizing poverty and oppression. This is popular education acting within the framework of "the possible", where anything that dares dream beyond the horizon of "the possible" is repressed, jailed, frowned upon. The intent here is to drain Popular Education of its rebellious nature, of its origins in pedagogy of the oppressed, in order to integrate a dumbed-down form that can safely supplement the paternalism of "risk control."

Given this, we affirm once again from our practice, that popular education is not a set of techniques and workshops for use by marginalized groups as remedial education for those who “dropped out”. Popular Education does not replace the "organization" needed to transform reality, nor is it a place for militancy without class consciousness. Popular Education aims to support diverse forms of resistance to capitalism, patriarchy, colonialism, racism, imperialism; and for socialism and challenging the commodification of all aspects of life. The construction of popular power (for the individual and the social) subverts and problematizes; this action is joyful, embodied and intellectual at the same time, creating new ways and new forms, is playful.

It is the power of dreams and utopias and a radically liberating Popular Education that cannot be arrested. It is flowing water giving verdant life to the driest of deserts, nurturing seeds of rebellion, making it flower. Play and playfulness is the water that flows through local, popular and activist experience.

Telling Does Not Exist Without Listening

Reflecting on so-called "community arts" in preparation for teaching this Fall, i've been revisiting many texts about arts, creativity and activism. This book, If You Want To Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland was recommended to me over 20 years ago by a friend (thanks, Clara). It remains one of the most inspirational and useful texts i've read in my life. Over and over again Ueland makes the point that everyone is creative, that creativity is hardwired, as it were, into what it takes to be human. She puts it plainly and unequivocally in the first pages: "This is what I learned: that everyone is talented, original and has something important to say." The rest of the book, in one sense, is the persuasive case for this proposition. It is filled with practical advice and it is also one very extended and effective pep talk. Ueland is very good at persuading you that you have it in you to write or create with whatever medium on which you set your hands and eyes and imagination. Strangely, having read this book, i did not think to hunt down other writing by Ueland. This is unlike me; characteristically i "discover" an author i like and then proceed to hunt down everything they ever wrote. As a teen this was almost exclusively science fiction and fantasy writers (Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, Bradbury, Leinster, LeGuin), later it was politics, pedagogy and spirituality (Starhawk, Freire, Galeano, Alice Miller) and so on. I'm uncertain why i did not apply my usual readerly zeal to Ueland but perhaps it was because i knew it would be years before i had satisfactorily absorbed the lessons i had to learn from her words. And simply exercising my normal fanboy instincts would, ironically, be an act of avoidance. Re-reading Ueland's work after 20 years i can see that i have internalized many of her ideas so effectively that i cannot recall the moment (if there was such a thing) when i did this. And what i'm noticing is a profound similarity between her ideas and those of Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, Alice Miller, Corita Kent and many others. These are ideas that have shaped my life.

Now i have turned to see what else Brenda Ueland has written and i am eager to read her autobiography and her essays. I have found one essay that i already know will be a core text in my teaching: Tell Me More: On the Fine Art of Listening. I found an HTML version of it here and a PDF here. I often speak of the power of listening in both my popular education and work and storytelling. Ueland again writes plainly about the "powerful thing that listening is" :
This is the reason: When we are listened to, it creates us, makes us unfold and expand. Ideas actually begin to grow within us and come to life. You know how if a person laughs at your jokes you become funnier and funnier, and if he does not, every tiny little joke in you weakens up and dies. Well, that is the principle of it. It makes people happy and free when they are listened to. And if you are a listener, it is the secret of having a good time in society (because everybody around you becomes lively and interesting), of comforting people, of doing them good.
It is a strange thing about language or perhaps it's just our use of it that we talk about "writing" as though it were a thing apart from "reading" - first one, then the other. We do the same thing with "telling" (or "speaking") and "listening". I have long been persuaded about the power of listening and i am really excited to find this elegant and persuasive text. If this is what listening meant in our political, pedagogical, economic world, what then?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Art for Social Change

This fall i will be teaching Community Arts Practice Practicum Seminar at York University. It's the culminating course for students of the Community Arts Practice certificate program. This is giving me a chance to revisit much of my own art practice and learning as well as remember fondly a dear friend dian marino who taught at the Faculty of Environmental studies until her death from cancer in 1992 and with whom i worked on mural projects and some important theory of art and social change (see Wild Garden: art, education and the culture of resistance.) As i've mentioned previously, dian had a teacher, Corita Kent, whose work, for me, has also been an inspiration. I was quite excited to learn that Corita's book Learning By Heart: Teachings to Free the Creative Spirit has been republished in a second edition. I found the video clip above on the blog Chumpchampion (which has a number of entries featuring Corita's work) - it is an excerpt of a documentary about Corita: Become a Microscope - 90 Statements on Sister Corita “ABC”.