The Social Science Imagination Course, January – April 2017

The Social Science Centre created the space for another course of the Social Science Imagination that ran from mid January to the beginning of April 2017, on Wednesday evenings. 7-9 at the Improvement Centre in Lincoln.

This Social Science Imagination programme has been the main teaching and learning event since the Social Science Centre was established in 2011. A defining feature of this course is that although it is based on the work on CW Mills it is designed and facilitated by the scholars who make up the learning group. This time the group comprised of  Sarah, Jade, Joe, Bradley, Sarah and Mike as well as others who joined us for some sessions, including friends of Bradley and Jade. The group asked that the sessions be facilitated, initially, by Mike and Sarah. The first session covered the main points of the first chapter of Mills’ book, looking at what constitutes the Social Science imagination.  A point was made  that the Sociological Imagination has little to do with imagination and a lot to do with social science method. The social science imagination is made of the way in which public and private issues and troubles are framed, an awareness of the historical context and trajectory in which those issues are taking place, the need for empirical research to support what is being imagined, and that the starting point is the personal experience of the person who is doing the imagining. A key question for Mills and for the group was how can people have an impact on major events that are taking place in the world.

An important issue for our discussions was the process of learning itself. We discussed this in relation to the work of Paulo Freire, who has written about learning as a process of collaboration between the teacher and the student. We read some chapters from Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and talked about what the reading meant for us.

The group thought about how the framework established by Mills a might be used to help us to consider contemporary political developments, for example, the rise of Donald Trump and Brexit: the vote by the British electorate to leave the European Union.

A point that emerged from the discussions was that in order to understand contemporary issues it is important to start from some fundamental understandings of what we are talking about. So, in order to understand Brexit and to use the logic of Mill’s framing, it is necessary to have an historical understanding of the development of the nation state. These discussions were supported by reading the work of Ellen Meiskins Wood who has written about the origins of capitalism with particular reference to the origins of nation-states. Most of the sessions for the rest of the course were taken up with a reading of Meiksins Wood’s book The Origins of Capitalism

In the final session we were joined by Laura and her new baby, Meredith, giving us a real sense of new life and renewal. We said we would write up our impressions of the course and meet again in May to plan future work, including the Social Science Centre’s  Annual General Meeting.

Meeting Notes – October 1st 2016

Notes from SSC meeting, 1st of October, 12 Mint Lane, Lincoln

Present;  Andrew, Laura, Ana, Magda, Callum, Bradley, Sarah, Mike

As there were people present who had not attended SSC meetings before, the meeting began with a discussion about the nature and purpose of the SSC.  An important part of SSC’s current activity is to attract new members so it was encouraging to see new people at this meeting.

There was a discussion about how to take the work of the SSC forward this term. It was agreed that we should run the Sociological Imagination course, but that is should be publicised with specific reference to topics that are of real interest and concern to people’s everyday lives. This would include Brexit, unemployment, the concerns of rural communities and the government’s campaign against radical extremism.

The point was made that in order to achieve the aims of the SSC we need to find ways of gaining the trust of local groups in the community.

It was suggested that the SSC has more of a social media profile, particularly on Facebook. Mike will contact Joss to fix up a meeting with  those at the meeting who are interested in working on this.

Mike and Laura are to arrange to contact and visit a local secondary school to talk to Six Form pupils and their teachers about higher education and what is offered by the SSC.

Magda said she would invite members of the local migrant communities to our next event.

It was agreed that we all meet up again on the 5th of November at Mint Lane, hopefully with some new members present from the publicity and new contacts made. One purpose of that meeting would be to agree how to take the SSI course forward this term. An important principle of the SSC is that courses are designed with the participants, teachers and students, in the tradition of popular education.

 

 

Happiness and freedom: Social Science Imagination notes 25/02/16

SSC 25th February, 2016, Mint Lane, 7-9.00 pm.

Present: Mike Neary, Andrew McCulloch, Paul Boyce, Laura Stratford, Lucy McGinty.

The subjects of the discussion, led by Paul and Mike, were the dystopian novels “We” by Yvegeny Zamyatin (1921) and “1984” by George Orwell (1949). “We” was not published in the Soviet Union until 1988 and slipped awkwardly into English and French in the nineteen twenties. Not all of us had managed to read both novels but partial reading should not and does not stop discussion at the SSC meetings.

Mike introduced a discussion about “We”, which is now in a newer, superior translation by Clarence Brown (1993) when compared to the wooden US translation of 1924. The Brown translation recognises that this dystopian novel is a constructivist work, which reads almost like a poem or series of poems. Orwell reviewed a French translation of the book for the journal Tribune on 4th January 1946. He found much to admire in the book but did not enjoy the style of writing. Paul introduced a discussion of the much better known “1984”. Orwell’s book owes much to “We” and the influence was never denied. Of course, Orwell’s book is much bleaker than “We”. However, both books present a picture of an imaginary society in which, as Orwell put it in his review of “We”, “happiness and freedom are incompatible.” Both books portray a society of the future where the capacity for imagination and free thought is only an undesirable source of mental torment. Affection and love are therefore dangerous, and disturbing emotions because they are unpredictable. In both portrayed societies human beings live under constant surveillance and the source of this surveillance is a remote and inaccessible centre of unchallengeable power.

Laura asked, why should we read these novels when their message appears so depressing. We saw them as warnings, imaginative forays into possible futures which still have purchase on our by no means perfect present. We acquiesce in trading away our freedom of thought and action lulled by an empty affluence. The deliberate political presentation of a constant rumble of war and terror around the world, promotes a general sense of helplessness and personal and social insecurity.

Laura suggested that we read for next week some research which was positive and appeared to demonstrate, on the contrary, that freedom and happiness are indeed compatible.

We will read together on Thursday 10th March at 7.00 pm at Mint Lane, the following:

When Freedom is Not an Endless Meeting: A New Look at Efficiency in Consensus-Based Decision Making.

If you have not had time to look at the paper but are interested, do still come, as we will read the paper together. If you can print out your own copy, that would be great. Depending on how the meeting works we might continue reading this another week, or even another week after that.

 

Hope, fierce resilience and education.

 

Notes from the Social Science Imagination course, Autumn 2015.

Lucy and I planned the course together, meeting in a pub near the Witham river in the centre of Lincoln. She brought her knowledge of running training sessions for voluntary sector organisations, while I was trying to unlearn how to be a university professor.

This was to be a free course for anyone who wanted to learn more about how the social world works and how we can change it, with the help of social science.

The format was to be open and encouraging, taking a lead from the reading and people’s life experiences. The course would be taught in an informal environment that is inclusive, and that encourages and supports participants to share and think about their experiences. Both teachers and students are considered scholars who can learn a lot from each other. Everyone doing the course was to be encouraged and supported to read authors who have written about their concerns, and to write short essays setting out their own ideas.

We wanted to encourage participants to think about ideas, problems and issues that are important to them based on their own life experiences. Rather than viewing these experiences solely as individual problems, which can often overwhelm us and make us feel powerless to act, we wanted the course to consider how we can make connections between the individual problems we face in our everyday lives and wider public issues that affect us all, such as cuts to public services, rising food prices, and racism, sexism and homophobia in daily life.

The course was based on a close reading C. Wright Mill’s The Sociological Imagination. This book provides a framework for thinking about our own life experiences and understanding the world around us in a way that gives us confidence rather than feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety and indifference. For Mills, it was important to understand how our personal lives are affected by power in the wider society and how, by making these connections, we can start to overcome the difficulties we face individually and collectively.

The group was made up of Laura, Lucy, Mahmood, Andrew, Wendy and Mike.

Continue reading

Notes from SSI course week one

Social Science Imagination week one

Thursday 8th October 2015

After brief introductions, we recognised that it was a course where theory would meet with personal experience, and we agreed some principles for the course:

  • no pressure to share our thoughts, feelings, beliefs or experiences
  • confidentiality among those present
  • notes to be published on website will be read aloud and agreed at the end of the meeting; also to re-view the content of our meeting

Lucy shared a biography of C Wright Mills that she had prepared: this context was appreciated.

Mahmood talked about the novel he is writing about his experiences.

Discussion on pedagogy, and explaining as a teaching technique; and post-modernism and how hard it is to understand ourselves without theorising.

Suggested reading:

Foucault (on Iranian revolution)
1984 (generating fear)

For next time:

Write ~300 words with the title (borrowed from C Wright Mills’ essay):
On Who I might Be & How I Got That Way

Social Science Imagination: Seeing the world differently with social science

Thursdays, 7–9pm, from 8th October, every two weeks, until 10th December 2015

Involve@Lincoln Centre, Mint Lane, Lincoln, LN1 1UD

This free course is for anyone who wants to learn more about how the social world works and how we can change it, with the help of social science. Today, the economy is in crisis; people are struggling to find work and homes, pay debts and make ends meet; prejudice and discrimination are rife; social policies are changing fast; and new social movements and experiments are springing up everywhere to respond to this situation. This course, offered by the Social Science Centre, Lincoln, can help.

The course encourages participants to think about ideas, problems and issues that are important to them based on their own life experiences. Rather than viewing these experiences solely as individual problems, which can often overwhelm us and make us feel powerless to act, the course considers how we can make connections between the individual problems we face in our everyday lives and wider public issues that affect us all, such as cuts to public services, rising food prices, and racism, sexism and homophobia in daily life.

The course is based on a close reading C. Wright Mill’s The Sociological Imagination. This book provides a framework for thinking about our own life experiences and understanding the world around us in a way that gives us confidence rather than feelings of frustration, fear, anxiety and indifference. For Mills, it was important to understand how our personal lives are affected by power in the wider society and how, by making this connection, we can start to overcome the difficulties we face individually and collectively. During the course, we will explore various ways of doing this by examining our questions through many different ideas that have been developed within the social sciences.

The course is taught in an informal environment that is inclusive, and that encourages and supports participants to share and think about their experiences. Both teachers and students are considered scholars who can learn a lot from each other. Everyone doing the course will be encouraged and supported to read authors who have written about their concerns, and to write short essays setting out their own ideas.

Please contact us on info@socialsciencecentre.org.uk if you want to learn more about the course. We hope you can join us.

Lucy McGinty and Mike Neary

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.

Reading for week 13: Location, place, distance, roots

Here is the reading and watching and perusing for Thursday’s class on the theme of ‘Location, place, distance, roots’.

On co-operatives, place and space, please read:

Pusey, Andre (2010) ‘Social Centres and the New Cooperativism of the Common

There are a number of articles in that issue on ‘The New Cooperativism’, which may be of interest to you.

We would also like you to watch this short illustrative video:

Although not required reading, you may be interested in looking at this research on Social Centres later on:

What’s this place? Stories from radical social centres in the UK and Ireland

Finally, to help us think about virtual space and distant learning, please could you sign up to this MOOC. You don’t have to participate in order to see how it works:

Globalizing Higher Education and Research for the ‘Knowledge Economy’

The course was recommended by Dan Cook, who wrote the report for the Co-operative College on ‘co-operative universities’. See his blog post for more details on why he thinks the course is important:

Please think about the nature of online learning through your observations about that course. You don’t need to read any of the course content in real detail. Just get a good sense of who is participating and how.

We’d like to divide the class into discussing the attached article and video, then the MOOC, and finally allow time to plan our final reflective session on the 17th.

See you Thursday.

Joss and Paul.

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.