Antigonish 2.0 – the plan

America this is quite serious.
America this is the impression I get from looking in the television set.
America is this correct?
I’d better get right down to the job.
It’s true I don’t want to join the Army or turn lathes in precision parts factories
I’m nearsighted and psychopathic anyway.
America I’m putting my queer shoulder to the wheel.

– Allen Ginsberg, America, 1956

The Backstory: Fifteen years ago, I lived in the suburbs of Bratislava, Slovakia, next to a corner store that sold absinthe.

Bratislava’s medieval city centre was all cobblestone and Hapsburg extravagance, but the suburbs where the teachers’ sublets were located were concrete sameness for miles, broken only by public statuary and tram stops and the requisite pubs and potravinys.

My apartment came furnished with an old secretary desk, two chairs, a bright red plastic rotary phone, and a folding couch that served as a bed. I thought of it as mid-century modern, even if was more Soviet than stylish. I loved that apartment.

In Bratislava in 2002, I drank absinthe and cheap wine and listened to mixtape CDs I’d burned on Napster: Tom Waits and Edith Piaf and Stevie Wonder and Allen Ginsberg reading America, aloud. I was thirty; a Canadian English teacher abroad. I only made $400 a month, but I’d paid off my student loans and I’d helped out my mother and I didn’t know enough to know that I should aspire to more. I read Umberto Eco. I was trying to self-educate my way into getting a grip on the 20th century, even as the 21st was shaping up post-911 to be a spectacle of a different sort.

I walked a lot. In the middle of Bratislava, in a square near the Danube, there was a monument…a striking, harsh-looking modernist metal sculpture topped by the Star of David, and chains. It stood out from the other Fathers of the Revolution monuments.

This sculpture is Slovakia’s monument to its Jews. It is a strange, stark public penance. A plaque tells its story.

In WWII, Slovakia sold its Jews.

The Slovak Republic – a client state of Nazi Germany established in 1939 after Hitler mobilized into Czech territory – made a deal. In exchange for keeping Slovak workers out the war effort, they agreed to deport their Jewish population, whose roots in Slovakia went back 500 years. In the deal, the “republic would pay for each Jew deported, and, in return, Germany promised that the Jews would never return to the republic.” According to Wikipedia, the deal was initially for “20,000 young, strong Jews,” but the Slovaks eventually agreed to deport the entire Jewish population for “evacuation to territories in the east.”

In 1942, the first mass transport to Auschwitz came out of Slovakia. In total, in 1942 alone, 58,000 Jews were deported by the Slovak Republic. 99% of them are reported to have died in the concentration camps.

I took the above picture of the monument one sunny autumn afternoon, in black and white film on an old Pentax K-1000.  I framed it in the frame with the little wooden doors, and it has lived with me on three continents since. I still don’t know entirely why.

It makes me think of Allen Ginsberg’s voice, intoning America aloud in that little Soviet-stark apartment, teaching me histories I didn’t know. It reminds me of things I’d rather not acknowledge about human nature.

We sell each other out, we humans, the picture cautions me. Our better angels regret it later. But we sell each other out.

The picture forces me to ask what part I am playing in the world, what wheel my shoulder is turned to, or turned away from.
***

The Rest of the Story: Back at the end of November, I wrote about adult education and a piece of history far closer to my own part of the world.

The Antigonish Movement was, in the 1920s and 30s, an adult education & cooperative movement based out of the Extension Department of St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. Led by Father Moses Coady and Father Jimmy Tompkins, Irish Catholic cousins from Cape Breton, the Antigonish Movement fostered the idea that ordinary people could take control of their circumstances and their economy through critical thinking, scientific methods of planning and production, and co-operative entrepreneurship, taught in kitchens and community halls, and via radio and whatever means were available.

It had a huge impact. Even today, the legacy of the Antigonish Movement dots the Maritime provinces in the form of credit union buildings, which got their start through the cooperatives that Coady and Tompkins fostered.

So.

I look at our media literacy and information literacy landscape – our democratic society, interconnected and border-blurred as it is – in the lead-up to Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States on January 20th, and I shudder. Arms race tweets. Putin. Fake news. White supremacists gloating. Wikileaks uber alles. Basically, it’s the West Wing version of what danah boyd calls the hacking of the attention economy, not just by trolls but by a Troll in Chief.  Messy through multiple lenses…and by my lights, potentially terrifying no matter where one lives or what one’s party affiliations are.

But I am not a foreign policy analyst. I am a digital literacies educator…and that is the lens I focus through.

So I proposed a new adult education movement for our times, an Antigonish 2.0. With a media and information literacy focus.

I said: To me, at this current moment, it is our societal lack of understanding and agency regarding media literacies and digital literacies – and thus the stories we tell ourselves about truth, decency, and each other – that is the poverty I know how to address.

And a whole freaking whack of you said…ME TOO.

So I’ve spent the past month in conversations with people – individual educators, people on the street, government folks, the excellent & quick-thinking Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier from the Coady Institute (yes, named after THAT Coady) at St. FX University – and we officially really and fer real *do* have an Antigonish 2.0.

We’ll draw on the model of the original Antigonish Movement of participatory learning – see below – but re-tooled for the 21st century and the local and global connections that digital makes possible. It’s particularly meaningful to get to do this with Wendy at St FX.

The Plan, As It Stands: As I noted in the first post, the Antigonish Movement had three key structural components: mass meetings, organized with community members from villages and towns around the entire region, study clubs, where community members gathered together in homes to study materials available, and the school for leaders, where members of the study clubs could attend six-week programs at the university in Antigonish, to prepare people for action and minimize business failures.

I see Antigonish 2.0 as having three potential layers or structural pieces, too.

The first layer will likely be mostly the people who commented on the original post – a distributed international network of people. Maybe mostly educators, with relatively high digital presence and the knowledge capacity to lead this kind of work, but in need of something to coordinate around and up-to-date resources on specific media/information literacy conversations. And the broader epistemology and truth conversations that we all need to work our way through to understand the times we’re living through.

Building a site and awareness and a hashtag around this first layer – and getting people connected to the work that initiatives like the Digital Polarization Institute are on about – would be how this layer would get started. INPUT WELCOME ON WHAT IT WOULD ACTUALLY NEED TO FUNCTION FOR PEOPLE. But basically the first layer would be self-selecting and networked; our mass meetings, for people who might be interested in taking on aspects of levels two or three in their institutions or their communities or spreading the good word.

The second layer – from our perspective here in the Maritimes – would be capacity-building among local institutions as well as among any Layer One individuals interested in joining in with an eye to building institutional media/digital literacies and capacity. We’re looking at a grant to hold a summer institute or mini-conference – essentially our school for leaders – that would be open both to members of Layer One but also focus on getting buy-in from Atlantic institutions, for faculty and staff development….for people interested doing media literacies and critical literacies stuff in formal classes. We’re looking at August 2017. We have a lot to figure out.

The third layer is my real, original goal, the study clubs: getting past institutional boundaries to having the Layer One and Two people starting up localized workshops for people in their own communities, people not necessarily affiliated with higher ed. Workshops at libraries. Discussion series in bars or restaurants. Participatory art events. Kitchen parties. This is the part where people get – collaboratively – the kind of information they need to be critical citizens and consumers within an attention economy run from the top down; our Hunger Games mediasphere come to life. This is the part where people (maybe?) learn to rise and hold mass media accountable for the narratives we are sold. This is where, in whatever small part, I can put my queer shoulder to the wheel of spectacle that’s turning our time, right now, and try to make a difference.

So that sometime down the road I don’t find myself standing in a square in front of a sculpture, saying about some population being symbolized in wrought iron, Yes, a terrible shame. We sold them out, to Nazis. We even saw it coming. (shrug) What can you do?
***
If you’d like updates on this initiative as Wendy and I work to get it up and running…send an email to bstewart@upei.ca. We welcome you. :)

13 Comments Antigonish 2.0 – the plan

  1. Daniel Lynds

    You are there. Nice step forward in helping others find a way to contribute.

    Will do what I can in whatever way I can help.

    Really nice piece and, as always, fun and engaging narrative!

    Reply
  2. Autumm

    I was 19 or 20. A friend asked if I wanted to go see a show with her and some others at the Hill Auditorium in Ann Arbor. I’d never heard of the act. It was poetry and music. I hummed and hawed. My friend said I would not regret it. This was important. I should know this. That was the night I was introduced to Allen Ginsberg with opening act Patti Smith.

    I can’t help but feel something similar here. As you tell me about Antigonish. As you told me about the Freire/Horton conversation around the fire last year.

    This is important. People should know this.

    I’m excited for this. Please let me know how I can be a part of things.

    Reply
  3. Britni Brown O'Donnell

    I came up with an idea for a local study group type program during my Applied Instructional Design course. I didn’t move forward with the idea for the class project after I was informed it didn’t meet the project requirements, but I think the concept could have a role in something like this as well.
    The project centered around developing a local definition of humane livestock management, bringing together livestock producers and local participants through an online forum and on-farm work. Ideally, it would be supported and facilitated by agricultural outreach and extension programs. And in the end the participants would come together to set local expectations of livestock management practice – theoretically strengthening the bonds between the practitioners and consumers by having them come together to establish common understanding, experiences, and values. (The draft idea for the project can be found here: http://www.britnibrownodonnell.com/uploads/2/8/9/4/28940063/socioculturallesson_rationale_idea.pdf)

    I think something similar could be leveraged here in multiple ways. Firstly, I think the possible use of digital study spaces, like forums, centered around local participants could be valuable. It allows asynchronicity while still building community. Plus a place to keep communal records. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I wonder if we could do some similar outreach between local media outlets and their constituents? Bring together media/press and local populations to work together in developing media standards for their community by sharing experiences for what the community wants and needs, and the rationale behind why certain practices are what they are. I think that could help build transparency and support for media literacy among not only laypeople, but the media producers (and perhaps foster more local investment in media as well…). What do you think? Does this seem to idealistic and far-fetched, or is it along the idea of what Antigonish is all about?

    Reply
  4. Pamela

    This is so exciting to me as a white woman in her 60’s. I have no special skills in any of this (though I’m not completely digital dumb!) but I have been feeling I need to participate in my own country of Canada. Making sure the mess I see in the US doesn’t happen here. And it is a global issue from the news I follow in Europe. We often follow our US neighbours in these things abet more politely and quietly but all the same we do. I’ve seen it in my own family sadly.
    So I’ve set up to follow your blog and hope to learn more a,
    Keep on keeping on…

    Reply
    1. bon

      Sadly, I first learned about her when she died…just last year, I think?

      I know she wrote books til she was 100… inspiring in and of itself!

      Off to read more. Thanks, Vanessa.

      Reply
  5. Donna Murdoch

    Some initial thoughts. It will be different in urban vs. suburban/rural areas. I love the grass roots idea but if there is existing infrastructure to use it will be helpful. For instance in an urban area with a university (or many universities) perhaps it can start in ways similar to a program I designed in NYC in conjunction with the Mayor’s Office of Adult Education in 2011. Now of course (sadly) the office no longer exists, it is “Workforce Initiatives” or something similar – but at the time we began a fellowship for graduate education students. It was a selective process, and those chosen worked in the city’s adult learning centers to help adults use social media to help themselves and their communities in ways that mattered to them. I know in Philly (where I live) we also have centers though they were built for computer access in low literate neighborhoods…perhaps that’s a place to start. I think that might be the low hanging fruit, people who are already out there organizing, people who are already reaching out to help people with literacy and job creation – in Philly I could do that more easily, and then cascade. This seems to fit but I’m not sure.

    Reply
    1. bon

      I think that fits, Donna, and I agree…not only will this be different in urban and rural settings, if it’s truly a distributed initiative, all the Layer Two and Three instantiations will have unique characteristics that fit both their leaders and their audiences, and the institutional/infrastructural contexts they’re able to build into and on.

      I don’t see most of these instantiations as particularly huge…most of us have jobs and lives and things that preclude taking on whole new vocations on a volunteer basis. But if two or three people in a single community could draw from a series of resources, get network support at the Layer One level and maybe even attend a PD institute at the Layer Two level, then bring their learning back to either integrate in their own institution at the Layer Two level or do a series of volunteer workshops in their community at the Layer Three level…there’s something. That’s about as big as my vision goes, for now. That may be all it ever is. But I think that could be valuable.

      Reply
  6. Maha Bali

    What about coming up with shared activities for students across our institutions – of different scales, like one-off vs semester-long…and online capacity building events (MOOCs? Webinars? A community?) so that it’s ok for people who miss onsite stuff…or… I don’t know I just want something continuous with spikes… I still posit that our problems are more human than digital, but I appreciate how digitally-mediated those problems have become and how our agency is compromised when we lack the digital/media literacy to recognize that

    Reply
    1. bon

      Definitely there could be room for that, Maha, for sure. Especially the community part. The question Wendy & I are grappling with is how much of this should be a) institutional at all and b) centralized. But scaffolding opt-in options so people have something to be part of in building out their distributed events and projects is huge…and we need that in here so yes. Ideas for how welcome. Thinking about participatory contributions.

      And if we are able to pull together resources and infrastructure to DO an institute it will need to have lotsa digital participation options.

      And yeh, this is likely – and I’ve never used these words before – an endeavour that might call for a webinar. Huh. Eep.

      Reply

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