On the passing of John Pungente (1939-2023) by Carol Arcus
John was a media literacy education pioneer, a guiding light whose influence extended far beyond my classroom. As my first mentor in the field, even before Barry Duncan, his impact on my understanding of media was immediate and immeasurable. On my first summer day of the Media AQ Part 1 at S.E.E. school in downtown Toronto, there was John standing at the front of the room with a clunking TV cart on wheels and a carefully ordered stack of VHS tapes on the adjacent desk. He possessed an astounding reservoir of knowledge about film, and his passion for filmed storytelling aligned with my own sensibilities. All this kindled my anticipation for delving into the nuances of media for the next 4 weeks.
Having also shared an admiration for Marshall McLuhan, our connection deepened. Despite his private nature, he was unfailingly kind, always attuned to the minutiae that brought depth to our discussions. Our mutual love for London’s theater scene fostered numerous conversations, although our differing tastes (he loved musicals) became a point of playful contention—an “agree to disagree” scenario.
John’s irascible nature and his unwavering commitment to precision occasionally made interactions somewhat challenging, yet these traits also rendered him a steadfast and dependable figure in our small but mighty band of media literacy activists. A maven of media education knowledge, he blazed trails in the field, leaving an indelible mark not just on Canada but across the globe. When AML stood up to corporate interests in the form of America’s Channel One’s attempt to infiltrate Canadian classrooms, John was a pillar of strength and support.
His penchant for discourse and meticulous argument was legendary. His Jesuit mind found the flaw in every argument you could throw at him. Yet he often advised us against pursuing lofty ideas that lacked the grounding of realistic execution—an admonition that resonates deeply even now.
In essence, John was more than an educator; he was the guiding force that shaped perspectives, challenged norms, and championed the mission of media literacy. His legacy, firmly rooted in his dedication to detail and unyielding principles, continues to inspire and guide those of us fortunate enough to have worked with him.