Notes from Social Science Imagination Week 10: History of the Co-operative Movement Part 3

There were two suggestions for texts to read this week:

 

Facer, K. Thorpe, J and Shaw, L (2011) Co-operative Education and Schools: An old idea for new times? The BERA Conference, September 6th 2011, London, UK

 

Kadam, Parag Pramod (2011) Co-operative movement in the world Role of co-operative movement in sustaining rural economy in the context of economic reforms: a case study of Ahmednagar district(Chapter 3)

 

We decided to focus on Facer et al paper, kindly suggested by one of our new scholars, Wendy.  The paper was written in 2011 and at that time there were 143 cooperative schools in the UK.  There has been rapid growth over the past two years and it is now believed there are over one thousand.

 

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Below is a rough transcript of our session, I’m hoping to capture the essence of the session:

 

Joss: are these schools primary, secondary or a mixture.  Are they all fully cooperative or in the process of becoming cooperative?

 

Wendy: rapid increase in cooperative schools was a reaction to neo-liberalism

 

Joss: is this a reaction to neo-liberalism or a product of it?

 

Kathleen: idea of neo-liberalism is to give people more freedom

 

Wendy: no, neo-liberalism just gives the illusion of freedom, capitalist have hijacked words such as freedom and dis-articulated them.  They are using emotive words to give the illusion of freedom.

 

Tim: Can we change from within by using cooperatives?

 

Wendy: academies are run as top down businesses, with management restricting teachers, where the budget not the curriculum is the priority.

 

Kathleen: we need to be clear on what academies are.  Academies are simply schools that receive money from central government.

 

Wendy; One of the criticisms of cooperative schools is they are outside the system, they are not democratically run as others.

 

Kathleen: my vote for my local councillor will not have an effect on how they are run.

 

Joss: cooperative schools can be academies, trust schools, free schools, church schools. You can have a cooperative academy.  Cooperatives are seen as undemocratic as they are not under state control, they are about autonomy.  Cooperatives are private, not public.  We have been schooled to think public ownership is important but cooperatives can be seen as the opposite.

 

Wendy: cooperative schools are more about the teaching and learning, they have a more open curriculum, co-learning.

 

Kathleen: it is not as simple as one versus the other.  I have seen a noble ethos in schools other than cooperatives, community schools, church schools and free schools.

 

Wendy: my thesis is going to test this.

 

Laura: can you tells us about your research, what its about

 

Wendy: my thesis is going to test the claims of cooperative schools against academies.  Develop a new model for secondary education, partnership management, politics, governance interest me but the pedagogy is what im most interested in, open, creative curriculum stimulate learning.  Would like to remove targets and testing.

 

Laura: is anyone at liberty to be removed from testing.

 

Wendy: I hope so

 

Kathleen: two things are separate the curriculum is choice and the tests are statutory, schools have to present evidence of progress to ofsted but in primary education: new curriculum has been designed and due in Sept 2014, is a programme of study rather than having levels of attainment. It’s not statutory for any school which is an academy.

 

Gary: that happens in academies as well they have to do gcse’s.

 

Kathleen: not all academies have to, some do, some don’t.  Its a mixed picture.

 

Joss: The difference between the curriculum and tests,  the curriculum is free and the tests are all standardised.

 

Wendy: I don’t think the idea of the curriculum being free is right.

 

Joss: We have four people who work in education; Tim in sixth form, Wendy and Kathleen and Laura. What is interesting is its a period of real flux and change, people are not set on what is going on.

 

Tim: has anyone come across the Upside of Down Catastrophy and Creativity and the renewal of civilisation by Thomas Homor-Dixon makes reference to Buzz Holling.  Applying a theory of eco-systems to society.  Panarchy and fractals.  All complex eco-systems go through destruction and renewal and that’s when new ideas can be formed. I would like to do some research in this area.

 

Wendy (to Kathleen): I want to pick up this point about curriculum and free to choose this. An impact of that is school targets. Highly competitive system is taken out of cooperatives

 

Laura: don’t cooperatives have targets

 

Wendy: no not in the same way

 

Joss: back to the text, I don’t think we can say cooperative schools do this and cooperative schools don’t do that.  The only way to define a cooperative is to test it against its values and principles as cooperatives are not a legal form.

 

Two examples can be found in the text, a faith school and an enterprise academy can both be seen as cooperative (page 8-10).  Cooperative values and principles are open to interpretation, change and are aspirational which is both their success and downfall.

 

 

Joss: Tim I will read this article you have mentioned about fractals.

 

Lucy: what are fractals?

 

Tim: you don’t want a hierarchical structure, society is communities working together, non-hierarchical, it creates a pattern

 

Kathleen: like the leaves on a tree

 

Tim: brassica (shows us the picture of a close-up brassica).

 

Joss: Rhizomes and Rhizomatic theory.  Deleuze  and Guttari  were political theorists who were popular in the 70s and 80s.  Rhizomes are root systems.  You can also look at Rhizomatic learning pedagogical model.  A network of people learning from each other inspired by the internet.

 

Kathleen: Gregory Bateson did a lot of work into the patterns in society mirroring the patterns found in nature.  He was very influential in my career.

 

Joss: Gregory Bateson was a systems theorist and his work was influential in the 60s and 70s to computer scientists working on the internet.  Systems theory can explain some things, there are structures that regulate our lives but I think it is ‘seductive’.  Systems theory doesn’t explain politics. The internet is no longer the organic  creation it once was, it has become too regulated.

 

Wendy: I want to go back to this idea of the cooperative movement, what is the cooperative movement?  I’d like to think about John Holloway and the idea that we can change the world without taking power.  We can change other things before the political.

 

Joss: the point of Holloway’s second book is there are cracks in the capitalist system.  Where we can create a different world.  For example he talks about the community gardens and also the SSC as being those cracks. Its about creating an abundance of cracks. Critics say you wont get anywhere with just a community garden or the SSC but its about creating an abundance of cracks.

 

Gary: That challenge capitalism as the dominant logic.  The cracks will eventually meet up and shatter capitalism. It can be as simple as an allotment you tend to at night.  There is the Johnson Forest tendency in America, workerism in Italy and France.  It is about local communities organising and controlling themselves.

 

Laura: I have a practical idea, its about co-operators, cooperating with each other.  I use SUMA which is a worker cooperative as an alternative to Tesco.  The downside is £250 you have to spend at once.

 

Peaceful: interested in permaculture like Laura.  Capitalism controls what goes on but is not the best option,  dont think we have yet imagined what would replace capitalism, what is the best way forward.  The idea of permaculture is observing how nature is already working.  Permaculture looks at how everything can work harmoniously together.  Capitalism isnt the best way to live as its fundamentally about greed.

 

Joss: ‘greed’ is one way to look at it but early capitalists were promoting ‘freedom’ and ‘liberty’ as it was a better system than the feudal system.  Even if you aren’t greedy, you are still stuck in the capitalist system.

 

Gary: how can you get people to work together to produce wealth, it was a form of cooperation.  It was once seen as advanced but due to technological advance we have outgrown this system now.

 

Joss: JS Mills wrote that early liberals hoped capitalism would produce enough wealth, people would no longer have to produce more wealth and we would reach steady state – no growth.  There is now the thought that there must be growth.  Especially recently.

 

Lucy: and then they start to invent growth.

 

Wendy: nothing is ever good enough.

 

Gary: in the school system, teachers who get grade 2 in school system which is ‘good’ will go on capability as they are not progressing to grade 1.  Good is not good enough.

 

Kathleen: but there isn’t enough money for everyone to be grade 1, with grade 1 comes a salary increment but there isn’t enough money in the pot.

 

Tim: students are failing because the lessons aren’t interesting enough.  Teachers are being blamed for societal problems impacting on students learning.  Crude analogy: only the best potatoes make crisps.  We are expected to ‘make crisps’ out of all students!!  getting politicised by the current situation and will be joining others on the picket line next week on strike.

 

Wendy: children are depressed even in primary school.

 

Kathleen: There was a review called children in their world written by Alexander.  This is about primary education.  Biggest review since Plowden in the 1960s.  It dispelled some myths.  It is a myth children are depressed.  Children are happy at school as it is a safe haven.  Children also felt safe. It is parents that feel their children are not safe anymore.

 

Joss: shall we return to the text and think about reflecting back on the SSC from what we’ve learned from the text as we’ve done the last two weeks.

 

There is a quote I like from page 5

 

“At a very early period in the movement, cooperation set before itself the task of becoming mentally independent as being quite important as that of becoming independent in its groceries” Gurney 1996 pg 38

 

Useful things to reflect on form the text

 

“we could argue there are three broad and interwoven currents of aspiration and activity which characterise the emergence of cooperative education from its roots in the 19th century

  1. Teaching about cooperation – making visible the alternatives
  2. Training for cooperation – building cooperative institutions
  3. Learning through cooperation – developing cooperative identities”

 

To what extent is the SSC undertaking these aspirations?

 

Tim: I’ve picked up on the second one, that’s just neo-liberalism

 

Joss: that’s not just a neo-liberal approach, it can apply to other political systems.  It can apply to permaculture.

 

Kathleen: we are looking at free services, free transfer of knowledge.

 

Joss: what do you mean by that

 

Kathleen: free of charge, no exchange of money.

 

Joss:  there is money changing hands.  Members of the SSC do pay every month,  however, to sign up to the course, you do not have to pay, though you might consider joining the SSC after joining the courses.

 

Kathleen: article in the Guardian about the IF Project.  Around us there are lots of free things going on for example, free museums, talks, lectures etc.  There is a lot to do in Lincoln.

 

Joss: not ‘free’, publicly funded.

 

Kathleen:  IF are developing a programme of courses  that are intellectually stimulating form the free environment.  The two people creating this are Barbara Gunnell and Johnny Mundy.

 

Joss: the word free is used differently for this project than to the SSC. The IF project mean free from charge.  Free means freedom and free association here at the SSC.  The IF project is not cooperative.  It is going to consider being a social enterprise.  They have sought crowd funding to get it off the ground and have asked for donations up to the sum of £10,000, although this has caused some criticism as they were not constituted at the time of asking for donations, they were just two people. The SSC is nomadic and joining up with resources and other cooperatives in the city.

 

Laura: cooperatively we could choose to get a guest lecturer to come and talk to us.  When we first set up we started with study skills sessions and lectures.

 

I don’t think we do the middle one.  “training for cooperation”. Does anyone agree?

 

Peaceful: I think by coming here we are imagining the world we want to live in.  Imagine a world that is different before we can live in it.  We are trying to do something about the oppression by being here.  It is important to provide a platform the critique capitalism.  We are putting into practice training for cooperation by for example putting on the conference next month,

 

Gary: I think that things happen implicitly and explicitly.  Consensus decision making, curriculum, structure, taking turns to facilitate are all developing our skills.  We spend three weeks talking about the history of cooperatives, values and principles, mapping cooperatives in the city.

 

Joss: Something to think about: whether we consciously and explicitly use these ideals as a foundation to build upon.  What do we want to take forward, can we discuss in the last class.

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