Antigonish 2.0

There is a tradition of using public broadcasting for debate and public education in Canada. Two  popular programmes on CBC radio in the 1930’s and 1940’s were the Citizens’ Forum and the Farm Radio Forum.

“Farm Forum innovations included a regional report-back system, whereby group conclusions were collected centrally and broadcast regularly across Canada, occasionally being sent to appropriate governments. In addition, discussion – leading to self-help – resulted in diverse community ‘action projects’ such as co-operatives, new forums and folk schools. Farm and community leaders claimed that the give-and-take of these discussions provided useful training for later public life. In 1952, UNESCO commissioned research into Farm Forum techniques. Its report was published in 1954, and consequently India, Ghana and France began using Canadian Farm Forum models in their programs.” —Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Even though radio is a one-way medium, innovations such as programme guides by mail one week in advance, local discussion groups, and national feedback on individual responses kept people actively involved. Imagine a group of farmers gathering at a neighbour’s house, bringing food for a communal supper, and then discussing issues of great social relevance,  like the possibility of medicare. Today, the CBC produces programmes such as Cross-Country Checkup and the Radio Noon Phone-In for similar purposes.

At the same time that these early radio programmes helped spread public discourse on issues of national interest, the Antigonish Movement initiated adult learning activities focused on economic improvement in a generally impoverished region of Atlantic Canada.

“Adult education was learning brought directly to the workplaces and homes of the people. This teaching method, organized by intensive fieldwork, became a technique for mobilizing adults for continuous study, by means of small and serious social action study groups. The end result was the generation of new economic cooperation for the common good. Yes Christian faith played a part and democratic ideals were central, but the Movement can be understood most simply and accurately as an attempt to improve people’s economic status via cooperation in a secular, non-partisan, ecumenical arena.” — StFX Extension

The Movement was coordinated through the newly created Extension department of St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia.

“Local communities were organized into neighbourhood groups, usually composed of five to ten members who met in homes, halls and schoolhouses. Most communities would have several groups, and these ‘kitchen study clubs’ became a distinctive feature of the Movement. Study clubs fostered a process whereby ordinary people, with the guidance of fieldworkers or others, read and studied on their own; they then brought back their ideas for debate and elaboration. The clubs studied various subjects – credit unions, cooperative methods, home economics, and farming and fishing techniques; the people decided what they wanted to learn about. As study and discussion proceeded, leaders would emerge who helped to initiate practical cooperative projects. These projects often succeeded because they were adapted to local circumstances and needs; furthermore, they had the support of the community.” —StFX Extension

Today, we are seeing the birth of Antigonish 2.0 focused on similar objectives to the first Movement: education and cooperation. It consists of three layers, reflecting the interconnected nature of the post-web world we live in.

  1. A distributed international network of media and education specialists.
  2. Capacity building hubs located in educational institutions, both K-12 and post-secondary.
  3. Local and community-based hands-on study clubs.

As Bonnie Stewart writes in Antigonish 2.0: A Way for Higher Ed to Help Save the Web, democracy requires ongoing public engagement.

“I want to focus on a different sort of poverty and disenfranchisement: our current, widespread incapacity to deal with our contemporary information ecosystem and what the web has become. The attention economy and the rising specter of ‘alternative facts’ create demographic and ideological divides that operate to keep all of us disenfranchised and disempowered. Antigonish 2.0, therefore, is a community capacity-building project about media literacy and civic engagement.” —Bonnie Stewart

I have lent what little support I could give to this new movement so far and will continue to do what I can. A new category on my blog highlights articles that are aligned with its objectives: Antigonish2. We are in dire need of a new era of connected democracy.

Image: Extension Department, St. Francis Xavier University

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