18 Jan 2019

Panel Speaker Highlight: Douglas Tsoi

Douglas Tsoi has been a lawyer, school teacher, and climate change activist. As the founder of the Portland Underground Graduate School (PUGS), he gives people the opportunity to live their best possible lives through open access to education. He will speak as part of the Open Scholarship Panel on Saturday, February 2. The full program can be found here.

I learned about PUGS within my first month of arriving in Portland. I wanted a place where I could take classes and learn within a community, outside of a formal institution. This is exactly what PUGS was created to do. In a telephone interview, Tsoi described to me how we only have institutions when we are young. There aren’t learning institutions for the rest of our lives, to help us keep learning and growing throughout our entire lives. More recently, Tsoi has focused on developing Mycelium PDX, a small-business business school in Portland. The school is for small business owners, like massage therapists, graphic designers, small retailers, or anyone working for themselves to get the business skills and network to reach their business dream. Mycelium is named for the symbiotic network of nutrients and relationships underneath the forest floor that let’s everything else grow.

In keeping with the fungus theme, Tsoi is reading The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins by Anna Tsing, an Anthropology professor at UC-Santa Cruz. Princeton University Press describes the book as following “one of the strangest commodity chains of our times to explore the unexpected corners of capitalism. Here, we witness the varied and peculiar worlds of matsutake commerce: the worlds of Japanese gourmets, capitalist traders, Hmong jungle fighters, industrial forests, Yi Chinese goat herders, Finnish nature guides, and more.” Reading is a vital form of continued education.

Tsoi also believes in the way OpenCon values mentorship. With the rate of societal and technological change accelerating, he sees mentoring as less top-down instruction but rather a reciprocal knowledge-sharing relationship between older and younger generations with each other.

At OpenCon, he looks forward to highlighting the gap between the village and the ivory tower. Where does knowledge reside? What information do we privilege? How can we make knowledge less hierarchical, restrictive, and expensive?

Don’t miss his talk and the Open Scholarship panel! Register for OpenCon Cascadia here. For questions - email openconcascadia@gmail.com.