Popular Education, Storytelling, and More

Ten people take refuge in a villa outside of Florence, Italy to avoid the Black Death. Their activity of resistance, their defence against the ubiquitous and looming terror of disease: storytelling. It is the 14th Century and this is the work of Giovanni Boccaccio who imagined this group of seven women and three men recounting ten stories each as both balm and defence. At the conclusion of the 100 tales, Boccaccio advises readers to believe as they wish and, in so doing, gives licence to people to make and tell their own stories. And so we find ourselves over 600 years later working to make sense of how much our world has changed in mere months. We are making new stories, new meaning.

Welcome to “Persuasions and Designs”, a place where I write about popular education, storytelling, community art and many related matters. I’m chris cavanagh, storyteller, educator, activist, consultant, and parent. Everyday as parent (my current top priority) and educator, I struggle to make sense of the world through reading, writing, and action. By “world” I am referring both to the relatively small local actions of helping an eleven-year-old boy to understand the world in which he is growing up (though small and local, this responsibility occupies the greater share of my heart and attention). And by “world” I also mean the most overwhelming and important matter that human civilization has yet faced: the welfare of our planet in this current crisis of climate catastrophe – which, of course, links to those smaller, local matters of family and hearth.

As i write in this moment of pandemic, the stakes have never felt higher. The pandemic will pass but even now it has irrevocably altered our world. And the debate about what a post-pandemic world should look like is already being vigorously engaged. Our climate catastrophe, though slowed a wee bit, continues. Though one hope that I have is that this experience of pandemic just might nurture in us greater confidence that we can confront something as complex as our climate crisis successfully.

This website has been long in the planning and is the latest in a long series of popular education endeavours I have undertaken in the past several decades. It also represents the beginning of a major undertaking that will take some years to complete: a Canadian popular education archive. This project will be a place both to collect and discuss the history and practice of popular education in Canada. Both website and archive will be, I hope, a positive contribution to our collective capacity to make transformative meaning in this troubled time and to take action to prevent catastrophe while continuing to practice compassion and love and joy.

Here you will find stories, tools (aka activities) for education and organizing and sense-making, case studies and interviews and reviews and more. I share everything as freely as I am able and I sincerely hope you will make use of what is relevant. Like so much else that you will find on the internet, this website is a work in progress and I welcome suggestions about how to improve it (I’m a WordPress novice and am learning more all the time). And, finally, because I need to earn a living, I welcome donations and I am launching a Patreon site shortly in order to collect revenue. If you would like to help, please don’t hesitate to contact me at chris (at) catalyst centre (dot) ca.