This article is concerned with mass education in late colonial Ghana. The first part examines how people in the Ashanti Region interpreted and responded to a policy that was conceived in the period of power sharing between an African nationalist legislative assembly and a civil service that was still dominated by British expatriates. Literacy campaigns and related community development activities were shaped by the expectations and ideals of the Asantes who participated as learners, tutors, volunteer leaders and salaried employees. Mass education was popular partly because new skills, techniques and materials could be used to pursue older ideals about enlightenment, progress, cleanliness and good character. Government policy indicated that literacy campaigns and community development activities would help to build democracy from the grassroots, yet, in spite of its popularity, mass education remained beyond the control of elected local government. The later part of this article focuses on the small town of Kwaso in order to establish why this was so and what one local resident was able to do about it.