Free, co-operative, higher, education. What do these words mean? What have they meant in the past? What do they mean to us here and now, and towards the future?
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Notes from our word-work
Notes from our discussions about the terms ‘free’, ‘co-operative’, ‘higher; and ‘education’. We decided not to write them up in a way that would constrain interpretations; however, individual reflections on the discussions will be made available here and we encourage comments here.
Co-operative was easier to define. Symbiotic, collective, inclusive. If freedom was imagined as the negation or absence of constraint, co-operation was defined as an activity that can break barriers down. How? Through friendship, support and challenge, dialogue, respect, mutually beneficial governance, communities of discovery, sharing and humility. Co-operation is a practice of freedom. But community does not simply imply co-operation. Communities can be exclusive, hierarchical, patriarchal and unequal. Co-operation can get out of control. We may also learn through constructive conflict. Society was made co-operatively, but we live in bubbles here today.
We were ambivalent about using the term ‘higher’. Sometimes, the word names a stage or form of education: education for adults; that is voluntary; that demands much of thinkers and learners; that is deep in some way. The word also evokes more creative definitions: the name for all kinds of learning that lead to experience and wisdom; that we use when doing new things requires us to think and do differently; that is creative; that leads to the creation of new knowledge; another word for research. Even further, higher refers to human beings’ ‘unfinishedness’. But the term ‘higher’ creates tensions. Higher implies hierarchy, inequality, status and discrimination. Participating in formal higher education, in this country and many others at the moment, requires money. It is unfair if everyone cannot have the ‘pleasure and excitement of reaching new heights and seeing new horizons’. There are arguments for moving away from this term, but what others – if any – can we use to name what we do?
Education is a very ambiguous concept as well. The term evokes pleasure and pain, desire and distance. On the one hand, education cultivates curiosity, organises experience, transmits cultural knowledge and skills, creates new useful knowledge, helps us to understand and engage in the world, cultivates wisdom, and lights fires. On the other hand, education is part of the problem and an Establishment institution, much of what we learn is not progressive or emancipatory and does not serve the greater good. Education takes different forms: social learning, apprenticeship, community and person-centred. In all cases, though, we need to understand it both politically and aesthetically.
Ideas and plans
Key themes emerging: creation / catalysing of different kinds of spaces for dialogue, dissent, creativity, bringing communities together, play, encounter. The importance of ‘transit spaces’, ephemeral experiences of learning, and long-term relations of trust. Possibility of working together with Hackspace to create a public ‘market of ideas and practices’. Reading and having conversations in public. Responding to critical economic, social and political problems. Walking as a pedagogy. The need for more learning.
What does ‘free, co-operative, higher education’ mean to you?