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.