Notes from the SSC conference 2014

Social Science Centre, Lincoln Conference 2014: ‘Co-operation and Higher Education’

Joss welcomed people to the conference, gave a short introduction to the SSC and outlined the day’s programme. He said it was wonderful that people from as far apart as Southampton and Glasgow had come to Lincoln.

Mike described the SSC as an act of resistance to the politics of austerity in education.

Session 1:  Papers and presentations

Aniko Hovarth, Kings College London, described the post-doctoral research around alternative Higher Education: how identities have been negotiated in Higher Education following 2010 restructuring, and how power relations are jointly produced.  She contrasted the UK experience to Central University in Budapest where she was paid to do her PhD research (on the reproduction of poverty).

David MacAleavy, Lincoln SSC, took an evolutionary perspective on cooperative education, posing the question: How can the built environment lead to pro-social behaviour?  He outlined research on the dramatic effect of peripheral visual data – pictures of houses from two different neighbourhoods – to promote cooperation in the prisoners’ dilemma experiement.  David explained that the fabric of a neighbourhood acts as an indicator of social cohesion.  How can we “seed our localities” with cues that promote pro-sociality?

Angela Porter, Lincolnshire Cooperatives, introduced how she works with businesses and organisations to embed the values and principles of cooperation, as defined by the Rochdale Pioneers, giving examples such as the Food to Fork program for schools, and Community Champions to provide funding and volunteer help to local community projects.

Andreas Wittel talked to us about Education as a journey.  The combination of digital technologies and neo-liberal thinking are having disastrous results.  Andreas argued that Higher Education is too specialised to act as a commons, because of the one-sided relationship between students and teacher: what do teachers get?   Knowledge can be a resource, and the family and home could be a commons, but education in neither a resource nor a commons, but is a journey.  He referred to Ostram’s research into cooperative groups, stating a need for a penalising system.  Ostram concludes that sharing a commons can only work in a local way where people know each other and are watching each other.  However, research could be organised around a commons.

Mark Naranya, Community Education Norwich, asked: where is our attention focussed?  People tend to focus on detail, and to hear only one thing at a time, but pulling back to a wider perspective is difficult and fun.  He also described how learning to lip read can improve hearing: it is about attention.  Mark invited us to be guided by a friend with our eyes closed, and led us on a sound walk around the building of the Collection, to bring our attention to the environment and people around us, and to experience it differently, and through trust.

Mike pulled out some general themes from these presentations that could be used as framework for discussion throughout the day. These were:

  • Politics and Co-operation – are we for or against Capitalism: reform or revolution
  • Academic/activist identity: resistance or conformity
  • Co-operation by design – how to we build into the environments we create the values of the co-operative movement
  • The public versus private distinction is not enough on which to create a new politics of education, but can we rely on the concept of ‘the Commons’?

LUNCH

Second Session: Who are you and what do you want to know?

Mike recapped on the points highlighted from the first session and asked the question:

‘Is it possible to be a critical (functioning) academic inside an English University under the current political and economic regime?’

In response to the question ‘Who are you and what do you want to know?’ [please see responses below – not everyone present made a spoken contribution to this question]

Notes from the flipchart:

Billy (Grimsby HE/FE)  Bruised and appalled by the current HE system. He wants to create a space of freedom rather than control, that he feels lies at the heart of SSC. To walk and talk with us

Joyce (Birmingham) Had been made ill by the HE system. Was setting up alternative HE in Birmingham, but how to we sustain cooperative forms of HE

Alan (Mablethorpe) Starts from the problem of poverty and lack of educational opportunities for all. He wants to ask ‘What is education for and how do we improve it?’

Gordon (Glasgow) To learn lessons from the work of the SSC and to offer support. To be a critical academic he argued it is necessary to have one foot inside and one foot outside the HE institution

James (London) He was involved in voluntary organisations promoting community education. He was concerned about the dichotomy between conflict versus cooperation, given the current state of working class struggles

Karolina (Lincoln) Is there another way of building alternatives that does not have to begin from the negative principle of being against

Mark (Norwich) He wanted to draw out attention to those who are not with us in the room: the dispossessed and how do we get them to engage. He asked how do we maintain integrity and purpose if the scale of the SSC expands.

Adam (Lincoln) He is interested in Cooperatives and wanted to learn about what we are doing

Sandy (Lincoln) Works on the borders of HE/FE. She is working on issues of climate change as well as community and practice based initiatives. She finds the SSC a stimulating environment.

Jonathan (Nottingham ) How do we mainstream what the SSC is doing?

Alice – what about projects that use concepts like co-operation but have a different political approach?

Sam (Edinburgh) She wants to get inspiration to create more internal disruption and interventions and to find ways to collaborate

Erroll (Edinburgh) Not find a methodology by which his current values could be operationalised in the form of an educational project in ways that were non-adversarial

Aniko (London) How do members of SSC make the time and space to do this work and how to sustain if, particularly on if the scale expands. She wants to reclaim public space through ‘pirate activities’.

Gary (Lincoln) He is researching alternative forms of higher education: by which he means ‘compete against and contradict’. This conference signals a big shift in the SSC to a more outward looking focus. How will this affect practice. What are we all going to do tomorrow to further the aims of this event.

James (Lincoln) ‘What can the SSC do for me and what can I do for the SSC?’

Joe (Manchester) He is doing a Physics PhD and is involved in promoting forms of student activism and resistance to the current government policies for higher education.

Third session: What do we do tomorrow?

In the final session of the day, we split into four tables of 6 or 7 people to discuss what we could do tomorrow to move towards co-operative higher education. Joss framed the discussions in terms of ‘three routes’: 1) Conversion; 2) Dissolution; 3) Creation.

  1. Conversion – systematically convert the values, principles and legal form of an existing university to that of a formally constituted co-operative. Read Dan Cook’s report: ‘Realising the co-operative university‘.
  2. Dissolution – dissolve the ‘neoliberal university’ into a co-operative university by creating co-operatives inside the existing university form. e.g. constitute research groups on co-operative values and principles; design, specify and validate modules and degree programmes so that they embed co-operative values and principles; if necessary, outsource services to an increasing number of co-operative providers; establish the terms of reference for new committees on co-operative values and principles. Continue until the university is effectively transformed into a co-operative organisation from the inside out. Read about Student as Producer.
  3. Creation – build a co-operative university from scratch in the  same way that a new co-operative enterprise might be established. Read about the Social Science Centre.

For the workshop, people were encouraged to focus on routes two and three.

Table 1:

Creating Cooperative Higher Education

Iteration 2: the East Coast (Grimsby and Mablethorpe)

What

Set up Cooperative Higher Education Centres as part of a national/trans-national network of resistance

Values to the forefront

Why

  • existing models don’t work for humans
  • cost/fees
  • challenge system
  • knowledge liberation
  • forward thinking
  • social transformation

When

Let’s get started.

How

  • Higher Education and work down
  • Start from the questions
  • http://ica.coop/en/whats-co-op/start-co-op
  • Student as Producer – everybody is a scholar
  • Face to Face
  • Flipped Classroom model
  • Online discussions & Webcasts
  • Twitter links – linking the coastal strip

Where

Locales

East Coast:

  • Grimsby (Billy)
  • Mablethorpe (Alan)

Glasgow? Norwich? Wales?

Spaces

“Change life! Change Society! These ideas lose completely their meaning without producing an appropriate space. A lesson to be learned from soviet constructivists from the 1920s and 30s, and of their failure, is that new social relations demand a new space, and vice-versa.” (Lefebvre)

Who

  • Contacts from Mike at Grimsby Institute
  • Contact from Sandie at Grimsby Institute
  • Cooperative contacts on the east coast?
  • Workers education contacts on the east coast? Ruskin College
  • Wider contacts and allies on the east coast?

For Whom? The people not in the room – community education

Table 2:

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Table 3

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Summary of notes on table 3:

This table discussed the work of Kathi Weeks, her critique of work and her advocacy of a reduction of working hours and the introduction of a universal guaranteed basic income. Both of these initiatives would provide people with greater freedom from work and allow for greater time to conceive and practice alternatives to capitalism. (This was also discussed on the recent SSC course). A reduction in working hours is also something put forward by the New Economics Foundation (21 hours report) and a basic income is increasingly discussed across Europe.

The question of acting locally, nationally and internationally was discussed and the need for the SSC to “visit places and talk”. We need to identify what alternative practices already exist, relative to oppressive practices. Much is being done and has been done, although we recognised that capital encloses educational alternatives. What examples can we learn from? e.g. The Plebs League; the growth of Liberal Arts colleges in the US. We need to continue to develop relationships with other, similar initiatives. We recognised the continuing need to engage in both theoretical and practical work (i.e. ‘praxis’).

Table 4

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Notes from SSI course week 13: Location, space, place, distance and roots

Jane took notes during this week’s class. Thanks, Jane!

SSI – 10th April 2014

Present were Lucy, Paul, Sarah, Andrew, Gary, Jane, Joss, Wendy

Apologies from Mike and Laura

Theme: LOCATION AND PLACE

1. First of all, we decided to discuss what the last week of SSI is going to be for –  next week.

Aims!

  • How the SSI has been.
  • What we might want to take forward to the AGM next month
  • Small celebration!

Should we do an exercise – creative approach, something like last time?

A bit of movement? Some writing in the session?

Prep: read over the blog notes so we can review what we’ve done this term.

[Tim took the notes last week – he drew everything! Joss is going to email him to get him to scan the drawings]

Some possible questions about this SSI we might use next week:

  • Think of a memorable moment of learning during this SSI
  • Think of something or a moment that made you feel a bit uncomfortable, angry or troubled you?
  • Think of something that seems to be left hanging, that you’d like to return to?

Bring food +/or drink that in some ways relates to the memorable moment +/or the thing that troubled you etc.

A way of capturing what we want to take to the AGM – what did this course enable us to do or understand about cooperative learning.

2. The class – Location and Place

The text: Andre Pusey – Social Centres and the New Cooperativism or the Common (2010)

Joss explained his motivation for choosing this piece of writing.

Social Centres was a big motivation for setting up SSI.

Leeds geographers who run an MA in Activism and Social Change have just finished a big research project on social centres.

Pusey is coming to the end of his PhD.

Sarah described visiting the Birmingham Social Centre video that Paul suggested and, as it happens, Laylah and Sarah are actually in!

Lucy loved the video – especially the quote in the middle of the video – “If you believe in nothing, you will fall for anything.”

Sarah – explained she felt a bit ambivalent about Birmingham Social Centre. Felt it was quite exclusive in lots of ways. Certain kinds of people and not others. But it was a big experiment in bringing together people outside of norms…

Paul pulled out some questions from the piece. What do we think is “liberation in common”?

We talked about the word common or commons – is there a difference? Joss spoke about other terms – commoning, and commonism.

Paul spoke about his understanding – it is liberation from capitalism.

Jane said she was waiting for an explanation of who is being liberated? And in the other pieces, there’s more of a critique that it is an exclusive space. People who sign up to anti-capitalism. You’ve got to understand that term.

Gary and Joss agreed they didn’t like the term anti-capitalism. Lucy asked, what should we say instead?

Andrew felt this piece was some sort of throw-back to the 60s but there was no reference to this.

Joss said they referred to the 70s and the Italian autonomia movement. and Lucy wanted more on the history – would have been useful.

Andrew felt it was weak on who exactly is involved and what they do, also gender, class…

Joss – the term “outsides” – not particularly well articulated. Life despite capitalism, its use value versus its surplus value.

The commons is something else from “public” and “private”. Commons isn’t private and isn’t public. So what is it?

Wendy – Cooperative… Jane: non-marketised, not the state, not private, not sanctioned

Coops have this thing of “common ownership” – it’s written in. It refers to the assets of the cooperative. It doesn’t belong to any one individual, nor to us as a group; if we fold we have to hand it on to a ‘like’ organisation.

Wendy – I was thrilled to read this. I was in London in the 80s. Punk squats. Anarchism. Very radical. I lived and breathed it. In Hackney and Islington… Wow, I was part of this. Even now I get shocked when people don’t relate like that. Alot of care. People really cared about each other. We never seemed to have problems with money. A sense of freedom and liberation. A counter-culture movement. There were kids and families. And young people.

Lucy – “Gentrification” is mentioned in the article. What is it?

Andrew – Years ago, i used to live in a house in a  Georgian square in Newcastle. Very mixed community, housing stock was affordable. Loads of transient people who were overlooked. Then finally, riffraff like doctors, lecturers started moving in. The prices went up. The property is completely transformed. Sometimes a pocket – an Irish family left, a Pakistani family left. Squeezed out.

Jane – since squatting got banned under Thatcher it affects everything. Can’t live cheaply. Pressure to earn money.

Wendy – it all seemed to get shut down in a period of 3/4 years. Very sad.

Joss – can we bring this back to our theme on location and distance. How does social centre movement relate?

Lucy – dumpster diving – they prosecuted a homeless person from taking food ‘waste’ from the skip. I’ve also heard they are pouring bleach, paint into food bins. They are forcing people.

Wendy – we never had to pay to practice our instruments in. Now it’s so hard to find room, you have to pay. You didn’t have to pay to learn together.

Andrew – in Newcastle when i was living there you could always get a room in a pub as long as you bought some beer!

Jane – that’s what these social centres are providing – room, space…

Lucy – that’s where Peaceful is tonight – a meeting about starting a social centre at The Big Wok.

Sarah – it’s good to have the memory and history of what these spaces were. Now, it requires making space, claiming space, stealing space. There’s a regulatory framework for conformity.

Lucy – it’s written in to law – licence to play music. It’s like they’re doing this [squeezing action] to people.

Wendy – the more they squeeze us the more we’ll find ways to resist

Sarah – some of my ambivalence – we need to do more than this – there’s a regulatory framework to tackle.

Joss – those experiments in the 1970s failed?

Gary – I don’t agree – I think they challenge private property. Even if it falls to pieces, we’re talking about it. It’s really important work. It challenges private property, what purpose it serves. It exposes it for what it is. I don’t think there’s a “they” – there’s a logic that people are forced into. Why am I going to give food away for free if I can charge for it.

Joss – the piece says, these social centres arise out of moment of struggle. We did! Nearer the end – a process of becoming, deliberately unfinished.

Gary – this is Hegelian Dialectics!!! But I don’t want to explain it (been too immersed in it the past few days!). Hegel stressed the importance of auto-didactism. The unfinished – Thomas Mathiesen – leave it unfinished, then they can’t close it down. The alternative should make the ‘reasonable person’ feel dissatisfied with the status quo. ‘The Reasonable Person’ – he;’s referring back to Marx.

Wendy – the confidence i got from that experience is still with me

Gary – the Hegel point – a process of completion. Nothing is an accident, nothing is a waste. Everything is leading towards liberation.

Paul – did you have to dress in any way, was there compulsory codes?

Wendy – no no no!

Paul – what i’m getting from this is the ability to experiment; continuous experiment.

Gary – is this ‘prefigurative’ politics?. p187

Andrew – you’re living in a revolutionary way, prefiguring when capitalism is over

Before I moved here i was visiting two “New Deal for Communities” – New Labour funded projects. Communities were supposed to compete to get these funds to raise their own areas. Hartlepool and West End of Newcastle. I was reading this piece and thinking, they copied social centres! They sucked in people who were radical! But they had no critique of capitalism. Usual suspects running it.

Another project – action research in poor areas. They were Home Office funded but developed a radical critique of government.

Wendy – it’s a hard job to come up with a critique of capitalism. We have the luxury of meeting here.

Jane – it’s all mimicking people’s power but from the Right – Big Society, New Deal for Communities.

Wendy – no radical alternative in politics right now.

Joss – there is UKIP [Joss meant this to provoke discussion, not as a reflection of what he really thinks]

Gary – in terms of political economy, anything to do with socialism has been got rid of.

Joss – Andre’s paper has no radical critique, no political theory. When I’m being critical of social centres that they failed… i mean they haven’t provided a radical political critique.

They are not theorising what they are doing

Gary – Andre’s paper doesn’t do it. But the practice of it is different.

Joss – I think in order for it to work there has to be theory;

Jane – are you saying the anarchist movement is under-theorised?

Joss – what I’ve read of anarchist theory doesn’t have as much weight as Marxist theory.

Sarah – I would argue that a lot of the experimental things that have been going on now don’t have the theoretical rigour of what was happening in the 60s and 70s. There’s been a  lot of embodied critique.

Lucy – we need something real. A real alternative. We need something that ordinary people can get. I was talking to someone today who said, and everyone always says it – there isn’t any alternative .

Sarah – framing the conversation. We need to think in alternative words, alternative ways. Make spaces for this.

Joss – I’ve been at a conference, came across a project – The Haircut Before the Party. Fantastic! Politics while you’re hair is being cut!

Sarah – thinking of Iran – it happens in the cafe, happens in the barbers

Jane – remembering a poem. I’ll send it to the list – something like: Goodbye TINA, Hello TABOO – there are billions of options.

Wendy – the dictatorship of No Alternative

Jane – I’m interested in the temporary explosive ones – and the ongoing more steady ones. They are both needed. Free University of Liverpool burnt very brightly, very high level of intervention; but came to close itself after 3/4 years.

Sarah – time – example of abolitionist anti-slavery movement. Time, long game. Also immediate things that had to be done. On another point – i’d like to come back to facilitation. Important – it’s what’s needed.

Wendy – i’ve been thinking. What animal is the SSC. Snail! Bull!? LOGO!

Wendy played for us – There’s a song I never perform which I’m going to perform. It’s usually too personal. This guitar has been repaired too many times. It fell down the escalator in Kings Cross. Wendy played Working Class Hero – John Lennon. Amazing…. We should write a song together.

Distance, face-to- face and Online learning

Paul – online learning, distance learning. Distance learning is something I’ve done. You get sent a load of material and do it by yourself. Online – a forum online to discuss with teachers and other students. Online lectures, webinars. [Paul wanted to add later: I did my A-Levels by distance learning. I found it very hard to adapt to studying on my own at that point, and failed my exams. When I did a Theology degree by distance learning, I still found it hard to get into the swing of things for about the first year. But then Church History really helped me to concentrate and to focus my attention. I suppose it was because the subject required me to categorise stuff, to list things in chronological order: I could see how things developed, and at what points in history new discoveries were made.]

Joss – did anyone look at the MOOC through Coursera. I thought it would be useful to look at it. Massive Open Online Courses – MOOC. Past 3 years – it’s become widely known. Anyone can create a course and open to anyone. Coursera is a facility to upload your course. At the moment they’re not credit-bearing. But you can get a ‘Statement of Accomplishment’. You have to participate in a minimum of 4 out of the seven weeks. You have to write 400 words for each of those weeks.

Lucy – I liked free and open access. All material submitted is available to everyone else. You have a ‘creative commons’ licence – i liked it.

Andrew – copyright, came out of the troubles caused by people deceiving other people, free for all in publishing. Editing and chucking stuff in and out. Copyright had a good ethical start but now it’s about profit.

Joss – Creative commons – what this course is doing with it is saying that the professors’ work as well as the students is publicly available under a particular licence.

We could use Coursera – how do people feel about SSI using something like this?

Lucy – course format. It doesn’t rely on videos. 4-7000 long text each week with video elements. Discussion forum on any topic of your choice, plus Instructor-generated discussions.

Andrew – i feel v uneasy about this stuff. I read something about people meeting socially to supplement them.

Joss – Drop-out rate is 95%. This course had 1000 people sign up. Some courses have 10,000 people.

Lucy – what is drop-out rate compared to traditional university.

Andrew – it depends.  Bigger drop-out in US than here. If students drop out there, it’s their fault.  But we’re going towards US university aren’t we.

Gary – face-to-face. I did MSc through online learning – they paid for it. Nottingham Trent, a research body paid for us to do it. We were all local. 20 people started. 11 finished. 11 people met every week in a weekly group Resistance to Distance. We all stayed the course.

Lucy – I signed up for some OU courses and completed exactly zero. I want to learn with other people.

Jane – OU was an outstanding experience for my neighbour who left school at 14 and went into navy, then into fire service; did GCSE in his 50s, then A levels, then OU. He loved it. Suited him.

Joss – “open educational resources” (under creative commons licence) – i did a lot on this.

Lucy – App! Does that count as online learning. I downloaded an App on human biology. It was absolutely brilliant. And it was free.

Paul – distance learning – i couldn’t get into it. But once I did the history, I was at it all day and all night. Since i did my degree i’ve been doing some distance learning with Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies – it’s all online. I looked at the range of Coursera courses – some are only a few weeks long. If you are interested in lots of different stuff, you can do it for free and only for a few weeks. Very good. Some of the lectures on video, too short.

Joss – [just to get us thinking] – why don’t we run a course next semester that’s just online? What is it about the physicality?

We’re saying there’s a value (Andrew doesn’t like them, they’re useful but….they’re not a substitute for teaching. It’s important that people engage with each other in the classroom)

Lucy – there’s value. For some people who can’t get there.

Gary – i wrote something on this, a course for Veterinary nurses – pheromones. The nurses could only study at night cos they were working.  There was a fear of putting things online that you couldn’t retract. Fear of looking stupid. Nuances of conversation, feeling supported, especially with people you don’t know. The chance conversations and trust…

Andrew – what does it say about the quality of people’s lives that they had no time.

Joss – what’s distinctive here is that it is co-run. Coursera course is led by two professional academics.

[The session’s time was up so we had to stop the discussion on online/distance/face-to-face learning – more to say but people felt it was a good first discussion. Thanks to Paul and Joss for preparing it.

Wendy – [doing her PhD with the SSC] i’ve just written on 5000 words on Neo-liberalism! I want to have it peer-reviewed here. Send it to everyone?

All – send it!

We closed at 9pm.

Notes from Social Science Imagination Week 11: Co-operative Learning (1)

On 27 March 2014 ten scholars met together in the Pathways Centre in Lincoln. The session began with a number of scholars sharing their most positive learning experiences. This was very insightful, and the ways in which the experiences were presented to the group were quite creative, as the following will show.

CollageLucy presented a collage of various pictures: a sock, a bag, a playing card, a VW Camper Van, and a sign. She said that her grandma (who has been a massive influence on her life) had taught her to sew, and that the sign presented her core value: “Make Do and Mend”. Instead of always using new bags, reuse the one you already have; if clothes get holes in them, patch them up. (As clothes are so cheap today, one scholar asks, why not just replace them?) Lucy’s grandma had also taught her to cook, and when the family went to the caravan together, there was never a dull moment. Grandma would always be there to lovingly guide and encourage her granddaughter, and to play Gin Rummy. Nowadays, Lucy finds sewing meditative and therapeutic, always thinking fondly of her grandma whilst doing it. Other scholars commented that it was such a shame that the art of sewing seems to be dying out, but that it has been superseded by other skills which are seen as more essential in the modern world.

Laura presented three drawings to the group. These showed the places where she goes to learn, the people she meets in association with her education, and the interconnected relationships of her learning activities. Map Education is important to Laura, and the people she works with in association with this allows the process of assimilation and creative development to flow easily. This has become such a routine that if any part of it were temporarily cancelled it would cause a certain amount of disorientation and upset the whole quotidian of her week.

Andrew explained that he had had some bad experiences at school. There was one teacher who would make each pupil get everything out of their bags and place them on the desk in front of them. Whatever a pupil touched during the lesson would be confiscated. (If you were a nervous person, this would mean being temporarily parted from many of your possessions.) Andrew then presented a paper which he had co-written with a colleague, explaining that the death of this person had deeply affected him. This particular colleague “had given the most incredible critiques”.  Andrew also told us about his son, Alex. Alex is disabled and has had many operations in his life. He now lives with a lot of uncertainty about the future. Even so, he has no sense of self-pity, is well-read, and has a family of his own. Andrew says that he can and should learn a lot from his son’s stoic nature.

Paul presented a plan of the room in which the SSC group meets at present. and explained that he found the whole experience of facilitating to be a positive learning experience. He comes from “a deeply introverted background”, but he enjoyed directing a discussion on subject that he had only recently been introduced to. The experience, he says, was helped by the SSC having a calm and safe environment, a friendly atmosphere, and a co-operative nature (i.e. group-work). Paul also commented that although the facilitation was not perfect, the experience had been a real joy and had planted a seed from which, hopefully, more good things might grow. Another scholar added that what Paul had prepared had been relevant and to the point: “facilitation should be felicitous!”.

Joss explained that whilst studying for his undergraduate degree, he would often spend 9-to-5 in the library, immersed in solitary study (the same period that he had previously devoted to paid employment). He loved the opportunity to devour whole volumes of knowledge. He said that this same love of reading and learning seemed to be showing in his young daughter, Gracie. Joss had brought along a copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone which Gracie had both read and meticulously extracted information from. Next he produced a large piece of paper on which Gracie, in four columns, had recorded (1) the names of Hogwarts’ students; (2) the names of Hogwarts’ teachers; (3) the places that the book mentions, and (4) the spells that are used. Joss added that he very much enjoys (and has always benefitted from) the one-to-one relationships which are characteristic of mentoring, and that when he was a student he didn’t get much out of (banking concept-orientated) lectures.

Sarah then showed us a collection of photographs which had been taken at significant points in her educational history. She explained that she did not like school at first, and that after spending a period away from formal education, she still felt mostly the same way. However, there was one teacher whose strange teaching method intrigued her. Marking out significant moments in world history on a long strip of till-receipt paper gave her something to compare her life to. She was also encouraged in her learning by her grandfather, through their trips out together and by the gentle exchange of knowledge that tends to take place within close, familial relationships. Subsequently, she spent much of her time in the Library of Congress, learning about the American Civil War and Black Liberation. (She recommends Tracy Chevalier’s The Last Runaway.) She also praised a colleague who, every time Sarah wrote a draft for a university assignment, would give very long and detailed critiques. Sarah has adopted this practice, so much so that people often ask her why she is writing so much!

Mike Neary told us about how “demoralising” his undergraduate education was. He explained that after university he had worked with the young unemployed and young offenders on community education projects in South London. He went back to university to do an MA where he learned about Capital and the power of money. Mike then ripped up a five pound note as a protest against the power of money. He told us about the time when, in 1994, The KLF set fire to a million pounds, which provided a potent image and invoked strong reactions. Another scholar referred to Mike Neary and Graham Taylor’s Money and the Human Condition as a most useful and realistic text on the monetary system.

Jane described a “tremendously exciting” and “extremely influential” learning experience. She once took a short course in teaching English as a foreign language. The teacher was dynamic and had a very unusual teaching method. Upon entering the room, he greeted his students in Arabic! The students were astounded (mainly because they couldn’t understand what he was saying), and the teacher just kept repeating the same salutation until someone replied. For Jane, this was extraordinary, and to her mind this was a good example of a teacher “embodying” their pedagogy. She is always trying to emulate this. Jane refers to Jacques Ranciere’s The Ignorant Schoolmaster, a book which emphasizes such an “embodiment”.

The first part of this session proved to be quite insightful, giving space to some very interesting personal testimonies. From this “[amazing] range of experiences” (Jane’s words) we may find various themes, including: the passing on of skills through family generations, lifelong learning, a problematic monetary system, bad school experiences, the joy of co-operative learning, and the interconnectedness of our learning experiences.

SET TEXT AND THE SSC

For tonight’s session we had been asked to read ‘Why we still have a lot to learn’, the seventh chapter on the Trapese Collective’s Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing our World. Six scholars took it in turn to read one one of the defining principles of “popular education” on p. 109. It was unanimously agreed that all six apply to the SSC.

There was then a discussion on what “popular education” actually means. The phrase has no real meaning in English. In Spanish and Portuguese, however, “popular” means “of the people”, and popular education refers to the self-education of the working-class. Since the second half of the twentieth-century there has developed a strong tradition of popular education in Latin America, for which Paulo Freire was just one of many influences.

The discussion then turned to the nature of the SSC. These are some of the ideas that were discussed (and some of the questions that we were left to ponder):

  1. The SSC is a fertile learning ground in which new ideas can be discussed and developed, and where alternatives pedagogies can be tried out.
  2. One scholar who is a lecturer at the local university said that they were proud of the way in which all contributions at the SSC’s sessions are given equal status and that any sense of academic hierarchy is “dissolved” within the group.
  3. Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing Our World was used by the SSC’s founders to help define its parameters.
  4. “Are we complicit in our collaboration?”
  5. No single person acts as a teacher here – the role of a teacher gives the sense of authority. There will be a discussion on “authority” at a later date, but it may be helpful to give a flavour of what was said at this session regarding this subject. What determines a teacher’s office depends upon the authority with which the subject they teach is invested. If this authority-invested tradition pushes a teacher forward, then the teacher becomes a part of that authoritative tradition and is able to contribute to it from within. Having authority may also mean that one is able to understand, discuss and critique different ways of seeing and interpreting something. At the SSC, the understanding is that the scholars collectively embody this teaching role, and teach from the point of view of their own personal experiences (c.f. the first part of tonight’s session).
  6. We are not experts, we are scholars – there will be a discussion on “expertise” at a later date.
  7. There was a recent article in The Guardian newspaper that referred to the SSC, entitled Is a Co-operative University Model a Sustainable Alternative?‘: a heading which some scholars saw as not suited to the content.

Miscellainious: something useful to remember

  •  “We can’t hear the way people listen to us”.

For next week

Read ‘How to inspire change through learning’, the eighth chapter of Do It Yourself: A Handbook for Changing our World, pp. 120-138.

Reading for week 12: Co-operative learning

We’re continuing to discuss the theme of ‘co-operative learning’ for a second week and will be reading chapter eight of ‘Do It Yourself. A handbook for a changing world’ by the Trapese Collective. Chapter eight is about ‘How to inspire change through learning’

Click on the image to download the book.

HASSAN film 20/7/99 (Page 1)

Co-operation and Education: Co-operative Principles and Values – Week 6

Present: Monk, Sarah, Adrian, Paul, Mike, Joss, Andrew, Peaceful Warrior

Apologies: Richard, Laura, Lucy

Time 7- 9 pm

Date: 20th February

Venue: Pathways Centre, Lincoln

SWP-11-0033_36_article_detail

Pathways Centre, Lincoln

Paul led the session. We recapped  the work we did last week. Paul provided a handout with a framework for discussion and debate (insert photo of framework paper).

The readings for this week were from Ian MacPherson’s One Path to Co-operative Studies. The title of first chapter is “The International Co-operative Movement Today: the Impact of the 1995 Co-operative Identity Statement of the ICA”, which can be found on pages 255-273 at:

http://www.uvic.ca/research/centres/cccbe/assets/docs/publications/RochdalePress/OnePath_to_CooperativeStudies.pdf

The second reading was from  a book edited by Joy Emmanuel & Ian MacPherson. The book is called Co-operatives & the Pursuit of Peace and can be found at:

The aim for the reading was to try to gain a better understanding of how Co-operatives work around the world in different cultural settings.

We all agreed how much we appreciated the notes that were written up after each session and how they provided a different perspective on the event, enabling us to replay the sessions in our minds, seeing connections and issues that what not obvious when we were part of the group;  and how much these different perspectives added to the learning experience, not least the capturing of complexity.

We began with a conversation about community, and what is the difference between the concept of community and the concept of co-operation. We decided that cooperation is an activity with an operator(s) and a sense of  purpose, as well as  aims and objectives: it is about action with guidelines to inform action. We recognised  how much of our current forms of institutional life were established in the period when the first cooperatives were established in the 1830s. Whereas community was more informal, and was about the reproduction of everyday life.

We then worked through the principles established by Macpherson in the reading for this week. We agreed it was difficult to talk about these important principles in the abstract, without grounding them in their real history and a real sense of politics. We agreed that any political understanding and the nature of power must expose its gendered, class based and racist forms. This led us to think about the nature of values and ethics and how they are derived.  We agreed that values have emerged out of political struggle and, in particular, struggles against the newly emerging industrial society and the factory system on which it was based. These values,  having been achieved, need to be consolidated in practice, so that they are not taken away or lost through neglect.

This provoked a discussion about the values on which the Social Science Centre is based, and what sort of cooperative are we. We decided that to a certain extent we are still working that out. We might call ourselves a worker cooperative, but that would not explain the extent of what we are trying to do.

This then developed into a debate about the meaning of the concept of value. A case was made for making a connection between the philosophical concept of value and value as a form of social practice that has emerged out of capitalist society in which value is a dominant imperative: all things have a financial value. The work of Ellen Meiksins  Wood was mentioned as writing that could throw more light on this matter. Also the work of Robert Brenner on the historical development of capitalism in different societies and cultures was recommended.

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In this case it could be argued that our sense of morality is heavily influenced by the morals and values of capitalist society. The Cooperative Bank was mentioned  as an institution that had been corrupted by the values of money and the market.

co-op_2281243b

 

Bearing all of this in mind, on what basis can we make a claim for our cooperative values? Rather than want make a claim for the absolute nature of our values we can say that an important aspect of our work at the SSC is that we critically reflect on our politics, and morality, rather than being judgemental about the values and morality of others.

Paul, who was leading the session, got us to focus on what we had read in preparation for the session.

From out of these discussion gender emerged as a significant issue, as well as  John Dewey’s notion of pragmatism, defined as a  process of working out what it true. Pragmatism works like this: in order to find out what is true, we have to create the conditions in which this truth is true for everyone. So what is good and true, is not simply a philosophical position, but is linked to democratic  praxis.  One of the participants made a link to the work of Dewey, Ghandi and Paulo Freire. This got us back to a familiar debate in the SSC about the relationship between progressive liberal practice and more radical politics.

John Dewey classroom:l earning lab

John Dewey classroom: learning lab

The debate moved on to look at what circumstances cooperation might be possible in non-capitalist or tribal societies. We discussed this in terms of materialism and idealism. Materialism argues social forms of life emerge out of the historical geographical and political context within which they are situated, whereas idealism implies that new progressive ideas can be introduced by enlightened individuals.

Finally, the question was asked if anyone of us had anything to add to the agreed international principles of co-operation that we looked at last week. We agreed it was important to interpret these principles in our own way so the SSC can play a part in  bringing  the principles of the co-operative movement  to life.