Notes for Know-how (seventh session): Literacy, food, community, curriculum

03/12/14

Attending: Lucy, Tim, Laura, Mike, Gerard, Martha, Joss, Wendy, Ken

One scholar shared his paper: ‘Using the Sociological Imagination to Investigate a Theme’. An attempt to find a ‘sociological prism’ to understand the complexity of the world.

He shared details of his health survey and research proposal and said he’d had 1000 responses to the survey, which is now being analysed by the local council. Focus groups will follow. It was suggested that we learn more about focus group techniques at the SSC.

He talked about the ‘Seeds of Change’ project at his college which is an attempt to improve the health, perceptions and lives of pupils and their families through community gardening.

We talked about poverty: of ideas, imagination and aspiration among some people, and the importance of coming together to do something and engage with people.

We talked about guerilla gardening, city farms, allotments and how these forms of community activity are constantly under threat.

Another scholar introduced her research proposal to the group, which if successful would fund her through her employer.

She’s proposed research which is designed to improve children’s literacy through ‘gifts from the community’. People will be asked to volunteer to help parents read at home with their children by creating time for them to do so. She suggested that scholars might like to volunteer and that it would provide access to conversations within the Abbey Ward area. The aim is not to teach children how to read but to develop community support for reading. We also talked about the ethics of research interventions.

The research is intended to work at two levels: the effect on the children’s literacy and the effect on the community.

We talked about the effect that our upbringing can have on the way we read and how a love of reading can be passed on from generation to generation. Public libraries have played an important role in this.

In the final part of the session, we discussed the format of the Know-how course and it was suggested that we alternate between i) a structured curriculum focusing on the nature and methods of research, and ii) reports from scholars about their own research, which a number of us are now doing. This had emerged from previous weeks of Know-how where we have discussed a number of scholars own research and approaches to research, but also feel a need for a complementary seminar-style component to the course that provides a structured approach to understanding what research is and how it is undertaken. This could be done by combining ‘text book’ introductory reading with reading of actual research papers that reflect on their research methods.

A curriculum will be developed next week for the new year.

Notes from July course planning day

We met on 19th July at Croft Street Community Centre to begin to plan the curriculum for 2014-15. Here are our notes.

SSC – Curriculum Development Event 

Present: Gerard, Sarah, David, Andrew, Billy, Stephen, Joss, Lucy, Mike, Wendy, Alan and Martha

Venue: Croft Street Community Centre

Date: 19th July

Time: 11- 4pm

Fresh Paint

We met at Croft Street Community Centre. It was partially destroyed by fire last year and has been extensively refurbished. We spent a lot of time here in the early days of the SSC so it felt very familiar, if a bit smarter. Everywhere had the smell of fresh paint.

Praxis

Wendy led the first session, asking us to think what we would like to see included in the SSC curriculum for next year. We arranged our ideas under various headings, creativity: creative writing and other forms of creative activity, theory: to understand and to change the world as a form of praxis, using the insights of ecology, anthropology, sociology and, more, specifically Marxism, Feminism and Liberation Theology, Pedagogy: different types of education for empowerment grounded in our relationships to each other and our communities; research methodology and methods: all of this to be elaborated and explored by the use of participatory research methodology and methods. There was a strong feeling that these approaches should be based around issues of common concern, both local and national, so that the SSC is more self-consciously a form of academic activism.

Review

Sarah facilitated the session where we reviewed our work from last year. There was a general feeling that people who joined us for the Social Science Imagination and Co-operatives and Education courses needed more support, with a long discussion how this might best be provided. A central aspect of this support is childcare, as part of a committment to make our work as inclusive and accessible as possible in terms of time, space/physical as well as intellectually. We generated a number of ideas for increasing support, including the provision of a mentor/tutor for new student-scholars, specifying reading for sessions well in advance along with an enhanced bibliography, and a recognition that people learn in different ways and for different reasons. One suggestion for the bibliography was to focus on women writers next year. All agreed that the curriculum for the programmes needed to be well structured and planned in advance, but without losing the sense of guided emergent collaborative development. The practice of writing up sessions and reading these written reports at the beginning of subsequent sessions was much appreciated and should be retained, as well as the aim to produce some creative work as part of our commitment and connection with local community and public(s). This could be further enhance by blogging which was felt to be an important activity, creating the opportunity for cooperation within an educational environment.

The point was made that SSC was a recognition that education is part of a process of struggle, based on a self-conscious awareness about the relationship between knowledge and politics.

Walking

David talked about the work he has been doing on Our Place Our Priorities, a social photography project, as well as other work on Our Selves and Our Poetry. He told us about working with the city’s homeless through his links with Involvement Centre and Pathways that formed part of the Framework Housing Association. He uses an evolutionary approach in his work, by which a sense of perspective and memory are reactivated through the camera, seeing the world in focus and from a particular point of view framed through a lens. He did not define this as higher education, but an educative process within the city where participants are not defined as deficit but as reciprocity. The work has formed the basis for an advocacy project for the Pathways Centre that is going on tour around the East Midlands. This work provides a way for people to consider taking part in the more formal curriculum based programmes of the SSC. It was generally felt that we need to consider how to make these links better. David intends to develop his model to work on other projects with the local council and with Framework.

Sarah told us about the work that she has been doing with this group and other work she has planned with teachers as a way of maintaining a critical edge and against the current government policy for higher education.

An important issue that emerged from these discussions is what are the unifying objectives for all of the work of the SSC.

There was a long and interesting discussion about the effectiveness of walking as a form of pedagogy: a philosophy of walking; as a way of transiting from one place to another place, spatially, temporally and intellectually; as a radical affirmation of living in the world and being part of the landscape that you are in; as a non-alienating way of re-appropriating and making claim to the city we live in; really engaging in the urban fabric we are trying to understand, at our own pace, and sometimes in other people’s shoes, appreciating the way other people access space and how people are denied access to space(s).

Share

We ate lunch together. We had all brought food and shared it with each other sitting around a table near the kitchen area of the Centre.

Student as Producer

After lunch we has a session on Student as Producer. Mike told us that Student as Producer worked on at least three dimensions: a model of curriculum development and design; a framework for institutional change, and as part of social movement to reinvent free public higher education against student as consumer and the pedagogy of debt.

Student as Producer is based on negative critique of higher education: research and teaching work against each other in the capitalist university. Student as Producer ask the question: is it possible to re-engineer the relationship between teaching and research to recreate an institution based on democratic collegiality between student and teacher, grounded in principles and practices of commons, open education, communism even?

Student as Producer is not a model for learning, but a model for creating a new form of social institution, what Giggi Roggero refers to as ‘living knowledge’, in which students are part of the academic project of the institution. In this way Student as Producer is not fundamentally about students learning, but about the meaning and purpose of higher education.

The SSC emerged out of the work of Student as Producer, its successes and failures. It important that SSC develops its own pedagogy grounded in its own imperatives based on a shared understanding of what is required and what is necessary. Joss Winn has done work on using Student as Producer as the pedagogy for a co-operative university.

Curriculum – a course of action for the SSC

This was a lively and energised debate, full of passion and commitment, with a sense of excitement about what we are doing, as well as pride; but with a feeling of caution and uncertainty.

There was a general agreement that our new curriculum should be:

  • Designed as a process of enquiry, discovery and research, rather than a taught programme, based on a well organised structure, arranged in advance, but full of emergent possibility
  • Grounded in the programmes we ran last year, with a focus on the historical development of the radical co-operative movement and its relationship to education. A specific theme of common concern on which to base this approach is yet to be agreed.
  • There will be sessions on research methodology and methods associated with this form of research that aims to be transformatory and participative
  • All of this will include an aspect of critical self-consciousness about what is the SSC and what are we trying to achieve.

Mike to write out notes for circulation as the basis for our working document on which planning the new programme is to be established. This will be discussed and taken forward at the next planning meeting in August.

The new curriculum to begin in October.

Other work

The day ended with thoughts and ideas about other work that will be provided by members of the SSC next year. This includes Sarah’s work with teachers, David’s work with the local council and with Framework, as well as Vernon’s work on poetry and creative writing.

Notes on ‘Co-operation and education’ class, week two: Curriculum design and pedagogy

On Thursday, we met for week two of the SSC’s Social Science Imagination class. The focus this week was on co-designing our curriculum around the theme of ‘co-operation and education’,  and then, in the second half of the seminar, coming to a consensus around our preferred pedagogical approach. From next week, as you’ll see, we will start studying aspects of co-operation and education in earnest.

For the first half of the seminar, Gary and Joss asked other scholars to share their short reflections on the previous week’s class, where we discussed our reading of the SSC’s FAQ and the ICA’s Co-operative Identity, Values and Principles statement. We’ll gather these reflections and publish them separately at a later date. Below are Joss’ frantic notes taken during the discussion. The aim of these notes was to pick out keywords, phrases and themes which all twelve scholars present then synthesised into major topics to focus on each week for the rest of the course.

subjectivities, teacher, students, scholars, co-learning, leaders? roles, responsibilities, want to change power relations, friendship, new learning, ‘clever speak’, ‘rubbish of the mind’, imagination, unique opportunity, ‘treasure’, consensus-decision making, democracy, utopian, praxis, process, critical, autonomy, commons, solidarity, non-profit, polyvocal, positionality, diversity, collaboration, independence, hierarchy, ‘open university’, personal contribution, communal network, social co-operation, anti-capitalist, participation, liberty, changing, energy, positivity, hope, government, art, protests, 1968, individualism, austerity, education for all, voluntary, open, inclusive, equality, local community, learn from each other, teacher-student, organic, collective, co-op movement, ‘in the city’, ‘‘scholar’ as a sign of solidarity’, care, collaborative design, precedents?, cross-pollination, ‘bring and share meal’, nourishment, ‘irreducibly collective’, trust, increasing collectivity, ‘a right, not a commodity’, ‘ownership of my education’, structure of education, education as economic policy.

Most of us had written a few hundred words for our reflective piece. One person illustrated their writing with photographs of posters from protests by students and staff from Hornsey College in 1968. Here’s an example:

Reflecting on the short history of the Social Science Centre, another scholar tweeted:

Once we had shared our reflections, we then tried to draw out themes for each subsequent weeks’ class, and structure them coherently over the remainder of the course. You can see them in the table below. There was very little debate during this process and we found ourselves coming to agreement quite quickly.

During the second part of the class, Sarah encouraged us to talk about the week’s reading (Chapter 2 from Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed) and the way(s) in which we would like to approach teaching and learning (‘pedagogy’) over the next few weeks. You will see from Sarah’s notes below that by the end of the class, we had created an outline curriculum, decided who would take responsibility for choosing the reading and facilitating each week, and we agreed to extend the course by at least one more week.

Social Science Imagination – Co-operation and Education: Winter & Spring 2014 Curriculum

Week

Theme

Teachers

Note-takers/Bloggers

30/1

Mainstream education

Peaceful Warrior, Yaroslav

Mike

6/2

Alternative education

Gary, James

Sarah

13/2

Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss

 Laura

20/2

Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss

Mike

27/2

Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike

Gary

6/3

Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike

Joss

13/3

Co-operative learning

Jane,

Laura, Sarah

Paul

20/3

Co-operative learning

Laura, Jane,

Sarah

Tim

27/3

Location, place,

distance, roots

Joss, Paul

Notes from second part of the class

While different scholars will be teaching each session, we can all help each other learn. If you are new to teaching or to a theme, ask around to raise questions, try out ideas, get suggestions for readings or activities, share experiences of teaching and facilitating, etc.

To allow good time for reading and thinking, we’ve agreed to circulate or post each week’s reading by the previous Saturday morning.

How we want to learn (pedagogical approach)

We want the SSC to be a place where learning is, as Paulo Freire once wrote, a ‘practice of freedom’, and a practice for freedom.* So what does this look like in our classes? We put together these suggestions.

Sharing learning materials (writing, videos, sounds and images) helps focus our discussions and provides some common ground upon which we can explore diverse experiences and perspectives and gain clarity on our themes of inquiry. Create a collective bibliography for this term.

Making sure that everyone has time, materials and support to read (or watch or listen or do) and reflect, and to engage in real dialogue about issues with others, are equally important.

Sharing new sources of insight and inspiration that we discover through our personal reading, experience and research helps us expand our collective body of knowledge, ignites imagination and multiplies the lenses through which we can read the world.

Making connections between learning and practice reminds us to pay attention to the time and place of our work, and is essential for those learning to change and ‘learning to make a change’.

Creating a common language of understanding helps us ‘unpack’ the assumptions in our words, understand each other more deeply, and engage in critical and caring dialogue.

Clarifying words for others, both in classes and in public, makes scholarly thinking interesting rather than frightening or mysterious, and creates opportunities for everyone to develop a ‘sociological imagination’. Create a collectively written glossary of terms.

Encouraging everyone to ask questions and take risks creates a culture of co-operative critical inquiry through which we can strengthen our independent thinking, practice the arts of critique, challenge our ‘fears of freedom’, and help others do the same. It also helps us to keep our thinking radically open and ‘unfinished’.

Giving each other space to explore, make mistakes, make judgements, and try out new ideas and ways of being is an important condition of learning. Remembering that transformative learning is often a courageous activity is important, too.

Rotating responsibility for teaching/facilitating learning helps us to distribute authority, multiply our range of perspectives, explore different approaches to learning, and transform the ‘teacher–student contradiction’ into more fluid learning relationships.


* How did Freire understand education as a ‘practice of freedom’ in this book?

‘[T]he dialogical character of education as the practice of freedom does not begin when the teacher-student meets with the students-teachers in a pedagogical situation, but rather when the former first asks herself or himself what she or he will dialogue with the latter about. And preoccupation with the content of dialogue is really preoccupation with the program content of education.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 93)

‘The investigation of what I have termed the people s “thematic universe”—the complex of their “generative themes”—inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom. The methodology of that investigation must likewise be dialogical, affording the opportunity both to discover generative themes and to stimulate people’s awareness in regard to these themes.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 96)

‘For the dominant elites, organization means organizing themselves. For the revolutionary leaders, organization means organizing themselves with the people. In the first event, the dominant elite increasingly structures its power so that it can more efficiently dominate and depersonalize; in the second, organization only corresponds to its nature and objective if in itself it constitutes the practice of freedom.’ (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970, p. 177)

SSI Session One: Thursday 1st October 2013, 7-9pm

We will start with introductions and explain what the course and the Social Science Centre are all about. Everyone will have a chance to share who they are, why they are interested in the course and what they hope to get out of it. We’ll also talk about our approaches to teaching and learning environments.

After a break, we’ll look at all the issues and ideas that emerged in our discussion and talk about how we will explore them through the rest of the course. We’ll do this from many perspectives, but will introduce the first piece we’ll read (a chapter by C. Wright Mills’ book The Sociological Imagination’) and discuss plans for our next meeting.

Links to reading

Link to the first chapter of The Sociological Imagination, which we will read together first:

C. Wright Mills, ‘The promise’, Chapter 1 of The Sociological Imagination (NY: Free Press, 1959), http://sitem.sdjzu.edu.cn/zhangpeizhong/Sociological-Imagination.pdf.

Links to a few pieces of writing that explain what Mills means by ‘the promise’:

Kimberly Kiesewetter, ‘Choosing the sociological imagination’, Sociology in Focus, 14 November,http://www.sociologyinfocus.com/2012/11/14/choosing-the-sociological-imagination/ (the questions at the end of this piece are not terribly relevant, but you could try to make up your own…).

Joachim Vogt Isaksen, ‘The sociological imagination: thinking outside the box’, Popular Social Science, 29 April 2013, http://www.popularsocialscience.com/2013/04/29/the-sociological-imagination-thinking-outside-the-box/.

Questions for thinking

It will be helpful if we all read about the sociological imagination with some similar questions in mind. We can start with the following questions:

  • What do you think Mills means by ‘the sociological’ imagination’? How might you explain this idea to someone you know?

  • Why did Mills think that people felt ‘trapped’ in their lives when he was writing? What did he argue they were trapped by?

  • Did he think people could become free from these traps? If so, how?

  • What is the difference between ‘personal troubles’ and public issues’, according to Mills? Why did he think it is important for people to be able to tell the difference?

  • This first chapter of Mills’ book is called ‘the promise’. He wrote that the sociological imagination promises something for us. What is this promise?

Once you understand something of what Mills is saying, try using it to think differently about something in your own life or something that you’ve noticed happening around you (for example, in your observations on the streets or in the media).

Tonight! Student-scholar event at the Angel Coffee House, 6-7pm

This is an invitation to all student-scholars of the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, to a social event at the Angel Coffee House, Free School Lane, on Wednesday 4th July, 6-7 pm.

The purpose of the event is so that you can get to meet with other student-scholars and other members of the Social Science Centre. We want to let you know how our plans for the start of the teaching programme in October are developing, and to give you a chance to contribute to the development of the curriculum.

Feel free to drop by the Angel and meet other SSC members.