Popular Education Conference

Agenda of the 'Popular Education Conference' in Toronto during October 3-4, 1975.

Submitted by Juan Conatz on January 12, 2011

On October 3-5, 1975, a 'Popular Education Conference' was held in Toronto with the participation of a large number of independent left groups and individuals. Altogether, close to 300 people from 47 groups attended all or part of the conference. Most from the Toronto area, but some came from as far away as Windsor.

In order to help generalize the experience of that conference, and to stimulate ongoing discussion of the issues it tried to grapple with, we are presenting a number of items relating to the conference here.

The first piece is simply an edited version of the agenda. It is followed by a fairly lengthy article, both factual and analytical, by Ashley Chester, a Manitoban recently transplanted to Ontario, who as a relative outsider is able to present a fairly detached look at the strengths and weaknesses, not to mention the peculiarities, of the Toronto left, as evidenced at the conference. After this comes a few short comments from the Toronto Liberation School collective, predictably unable to restrain itself from putting in its two cents' worth. The final piece is another short comment from Steve Izma, a socialist from Kitchener-Waterloo.


October 3rd, 4th, and 5th. St. Paul's Centre, 121 Avenue Rd., Toronto.

Friday, October 3rd
8:00 pm: Panel discussion on "The Formation and Transformation of Consciousness in Advanced Capitalist Society". This discussion will probe the means by which consciousness develops in advanced capitalist societies. Among the issues to be considered is the role of various social institutions such as the mass media advertising, and education, and the ways in which people accept, reject, or other-wise respond to the forces which seek to shape their consciousness.

Followed by a discussion period.

Saturday, October 4th
9:30 a.m;: "Feedback" from the "Watching" Committee. The watching committee is an innovation adapted from other conferences whose role is to provide some feedback about the process and political development of the conference while it is actually occuring. It is proposed that a dozen or so people be chosen from different parts of the conference (workshops, planning committee, chair people, etc.) who would then meet during breaks in the conference to analyze what is happening, what issues and questions have been raised, etc., and briefly present their perceptions to the conference as a whole. This is not a decision-making body.

9:40 a.m.: Panel discussion on common themes and problems in presenting political issues in a popular manner; based on the experiences of a number of groups operating in Toronto. As much as possible, each of the panelists will address themselves to a set of common questions based on the particular experience of their group.

Panelists: Toronto Committee to Liberate Southern Africa; Daycare Organizing Alliance; Women's Press; Brazilian Studies Group.

Followed by a general question/discussion period.

2:00 p.m.: Workshops: Participants to be divided into workshops to discuss further some of the questions raised in the two previous panel discussions.

Sunday, October 5th
9:30 a.m.: Feedback from the Watching Committee.

9:40 a.m. Workshops on the "Politics of Communication".

What these workshops will concern themselves with is not only the communication of politics, but also the closely related question of the politics of communication. The stress will not be on the technicalities involved in taking a picture or pasting up a newspaper, but on the political interrelation between form and content. The workshops will consider the implications of different answers to such questions as "Who are we trying to reach?" "What are we trying to say?" and "How do we say it?" They will also look at such related questions as "Why use a particular form of communication rather than others?" "What are the advantages and disadvantages of a given medium?" "How do we maximize the advantages and minimize the disadvantages?" "What presuppositions do we make about the audience or constituency in choosing a particular medium?" "What effect does this choice have on our ability to get our message across?" "What are the constraints or peculiarities of this form?"

Each workshop will be led by a resource person(s) either working in or familiar with the area under discussion.

The topics:

1. Uses of the Discussion Circle. Sandy Siegel.
The workshop will centre around the question of the role and value of consciousness-raising educational processes in the Canadian revolutionary movement. The application of the educational work of Paulo Freire will be discussed. The workshop will aim at developing an understanding of the analysis and method such an educational process involves and a discussion of both how and where it could be applied in revolutionary struggle in Canada.

2. Art and Posters. Don Carr.
This workshop will attempt to develop a critique of collectively produced art with an emphasis on the Atelier Populaire of Paris in May 1968 and the street art and mural movement of North America and Chile in the late 1960's and early 1970's. There will also be a brief investigation of the function of poster art in both capitalist and socialist society. We will also examine the role of the artist in today's society and the questions: "What can artists do to bridge the gap between their work and the wide public?" "What can the media do to interpret contemporary art in less esoteric terms, to increase its audience?" "How can artists bring the price of art-work within the reach of low-income people?" The purpose of the workshop would be to develop interest in starting an art-producing collective with a social and political direction which would include people of varied abilities (ie. artists, photographers, designers, printers, and others who could provide criticism.)

3. Film and Audio-Visual. Film League.
Using the film Forget it Jack as an example, this workshop will explore questions of the use of film and other audio-visual media as instruments in the development of political consciousness. The focus will be on the general problem of placing modern communications media at the service of the working-class in distinction to the way in which these media usually serve corporate interests. The interests which produce, promote, and distribute audio-visual materials at the present time will also be critically discussed.

4. Journalism. Bob Chodos.
The workshop will deal with the basic techniques of news writing and presentation, how they are used by the commercial press, and how they can be used to express alternative points of view. The concept of objectivity will be examined critically and the biases inherent in news style will be discussed. Selections of facts, ordering of material, use of terminology and layout will be examined as propaganda tools. Reference will be made to articles in the previous week's issues of the Toronto Sun, Globe and Mail, and Star by way of illustration.

5. Comic Books as a Popular Education Tool. Exploding Myths Comic Book Collective.

A discussion of comic books as used for Popular Education with members of the Exploding Myths Comic Book Collective discussing their experiences in producing comics on the food and housing industry. These comics were designed to analyze issues in a form that will have mass appeal and inspire political action. Discussion to include "How do you present an analysis of an issue in a visual and entertaining way?" "How do you distribute analyses to those you want to reach and how do you go beyond information to action?"

6. Materials for Children. Women's Press.
This workshop will examine such questions as how children of different ages develop, the uses of fantasy or realism, and how to get past obstacles such as parents, schools, and television. An attempt will be made to present information about materials that are available for use by radical parents, who want their children to be exposed to alternatives to the surrounding society.

7. Photography. Lynn Murray.
Can photography be an effective tool in doing educational work? Does photography have anything to say or is it limited to the world of objects d'art? The workshop will also look at various photographers' work and discuss their relevance to this society.

8. Theatre. Joyce Penner.

9. Pamphlets. New Hogtown Press.
New Hogtown Press, publishers and distributors of radical pamphlets in Canada, will discuss their experiences. The discussion will focus on such issues as why and how pamphlets can be useful, problems in reaching people you want to reach, and the differences between various kinds of pamphlets such as historical ones, those oriented to use in schools or universities, those dealing with immediate issues, and those dealing with more general issues.

10. Music. David de Launay.
This workshop will try to develop a perspective on how to see all music in a political context. It will be led by David de Launay, a professional musician working in Toronto. Much of the initial presentation will be done through recorded examples. Starting from these examples our discussion and debate can be kept concrete and centered on how to view music politically. Even more important, we will deal with how music is and can be used as a political force or tool.

2:00 p.m.: Feedback from the Watching Committee.

2:10 p.m.: Final plenary on the role of the left. In this session an attempt will be made to bring together some of the previous discussions. Hopefully this should include strategic formulations as well as specific proposals for inter-group co-operation, joint projects, and other possibilities. A key question should be what the left in Toronto can most effectively do at this time.

5:00 p.m.: Adjourn.

Note: The conference planning committee has suggested a number of general questions which they propose as a basis of discussion throughout the conference. These are:

How do we move from a critique of a particular aspect of capitalism to a critique of the system as a whole, in our popular education?

How do we best build on people's impulse for resistance rather than further strengthen the feelings of powerlessness, cynicism, and apathy generated by the system?

How does popular education fit into a larger political strategy?

Published in Volume 1, Number 1 of The Red Menace, February 1976.
Taken from web-archived version of The Red Menace website