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






Mainstream education

Peaceful Warrior, Yaroslav



Alternative education

Gary, James



Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss



Co-operative principles

and values

Paul and Joss



Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike



Co-operative histories

and movement

Lucy, Mike



Co-operative learning


Laura, Sarah



Co-operative learning

Laura, Jane,




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)

Reflections on the ‘Social Science Imagination’

On December 9, 2013, many of the people who had been part of this season’s Social Science Imagination course met to reflect on the work we did from October to December 2013, and to begin thinking about the future. Below is the result of an exercise in which each person wrote about what she or he felt was positive and worked well about the course, what they felt was problematic or troubling, and what if anything they wanted to work on in the future. We read our thoughts aloud and discussed each before embarking on another, this time surrealist, act of collective writing and imagining (see here).
For more on next season’s ‘Social Science Imagination’ course, which is being crafted with many of these reflections in mind, see here.

On the spirit of the course, we say:

‘The Social Science Imagination brought to me a fresh way to look at the world, and gave me many new lenses to view it through. It was revealed to me by the course just how lacking my own experience had been through the formative years of education and raised questions about how this had been allowed to be overlooked for so long. Through not naïve about the world, I now see it in an ever-expanding dimension of ways. Using C. Wright Mills’ Sociological Imagination has been a thoroughly engaging way to develop strategies to learn, digest, and process so much knowledge and offer a way forward in wisdom. Critical thinking was not specifically a tool I had used very often and using it now has made me see life and relationship, good and bad, positive and negative, in more detail.’
Yes, ‘it provides a real alternative space in which to recreate the process of higher education. I do not feel like a professor but someone who is interested in the power of ideas and action to transform myself and the social world.’
‘It made me think about what education could be like. It gave me hope about the project.’
I also thought ‘there were some really fruitful discussions about education, work and health that opened up new perspectives for me. The course felt very co-operative for me as a (co)-co-ordinator; the division of intellectual and logistical labour worked and everyone took a lot of responsibility. I learned more about how a negotiated curriculum can work and want to do more. There was also a collective ethos of generosity, curiosity, criticality, friendship and fun.’

It was ‘expansive; I have learnt things about subjects under discussion and a lot myself. I am proud of all the people and connected to have worked to make this happen.’

There were ‘really stimulating discussions. I looked forward to it as one of the high points of my week.’

‘For me, it was the pedagogical praxis at the Social Science Centre that really stood out. It provided an insight into personalised learning that wasn’t predicated on ‘bell curve thinking’, partisan politics or economic imperatives. Learning was an organic personal process that wasn’t owned by any particular scholar (tutor or student). Scholars used a system of dialogue, of collective readings, and feedback, which enabled and enhanced self-assessment and self-efficacy. It was a very positive social experience.’
On power, we say:
‘It felt democratic, at times, but there were still issues with power.’

There was ‘…lots of rotation of facilitation…’

‘…although prior knowledge of readings is required, which lends itself towards a leader. Taking turns to host was a good idea.’

‘Some members who played leadership roles did so sensitively and contributed enormously. We started and finished on time and readings and notes were extremely promptly produced.’

On pedagogy, we say:
‘Once the structure was established in week 3-ish, I felt like the people and discussions had a bit more aim — not just drifting, which I personally found a lot easier to deal with.’

‘Sometimes the discussion meandered a bit, but I’m not sure that is a minus.’

There are some ‘special people who have stuck it out, but (many people in the course) have degrees; it wasn’t really introductory.’

But it was positive to ‘…maintain the high levels of reading, discourse and inclusion of new ideas whilst keeping strict focus on facilitating watch over themes and portrayal of those…’

‘I enjoyed reading texts and talking about them in detail with others and engaging with perspectives I might not have inside the university.’

‘I (also) read stuff that I would not have otherwise read.’

‘I feel like you got out what you put in. For instance, on weeks where I’ve not read or understood for whatever reason it left me feeling bemused (and slightly dim!), whereas on weeks where I’ve enjoyed the readings and felt like the conversation hasn’t drifted so much, I really felt like I learnt something and left feeling quite inspired.’

‘A couple of classes were excellent – the best I’ve experienced. There’s only so much we can expect from a class. Learning requires time, hard work, reading, writing. Within the limits of the class-forum, I was pleased with the outcome. How can we build on this? How can the SSI lead to reflection on the Social Science Centre?’

‘It I were to alter the way that we did things, I think I would have liked to do a little more writing – although I understand that people don’t necessarily have the time to do this.’
On the relationship between the course, the SSC and wider society:

‘Readings of C. Wright Mills provided a lens through which to view interactions between people and institutions in everyday life, from a historical perspective, and at a distance from personal troubles that can act as a trap. I now try to use Mills’ principles on a regular basis to imagine transformative practice in my areas of interest.’

‘I welcomed the initial discussions about the relationship between the Social Science Centre, popular, higher and alternative education, and thoughts on how to think of such work as part of a wider political culture and project in Lincolnshire and beyond.’

‘The lecture about the politics of Russia in relation to contemporary feminist movements and religion provided an unexpected perspective, that one can be too quick to judge a person as a member of an institution, rather than as an individual with the potential to bring about change for good within their institution.’

‘The course has been greatly beneficial for my development and I applaud the SSC for its effort to bring this to the people of Lincoln.’

On relationships, we say:

‘There was a really interesting mix and group of people, with a high level of comradely debate. We listened to each other. I came away feeling energised and positive.’

‘I like being with like-minded people who are all interested – which you don’t usually get – there is normally at least one person who doesn’t care!’

‘The size of the class worked well. A few more would have been good, but double the number would have changed the style of the seminar.’

‘I would have liked to have seen more people (but not too many).’ // ‘It’s a shame the membership did not grow.’
‘It is regrettable that I did miss quite a few sessions, but I was able to use the Internet to compare other students’ assessments of texts to my own, how they relate, existentially, to my own life, and to those around me who I work to support.’

‘I regret not contacting a particular person to thank her for coming, despite the distance. I was very pleased to spend time with people and make new friends.’

‘I feel like I have made some good friends.’

‘I look forward to 2014.’

Compiled by Sarah Amsler, January 8, 2014