Tuesday, 1 March 2016

This is education as the practice of freedom


I have used the title of this post before, but am drawing on it again to write up some reflections following a particularly lively, thought-provoking weekend with the 2015 cohort of students of the BA in international labour and trade union studies (ILTUS) at Ruskin.

In order to align the title of the post, and the key outcomes of my teaching session with students last weekend, here is a quote from Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks:

The academy is not paradise. But learning is a place where paradise can be created. The classroom with all its limitations remains a location of possibility. In that field of possibility we have the opportunity to labour for freedom, to demand of ourselves and our comrades, an openness of mind and heart that allows us to face reality even as we collectively imagine ways to move beyond boundaries, to transgress. This is education as the practice of freedom. (hooks 1994: 207)

The session I taught on Sunday 31st Feb looked pretty straight-forward in that it focused on how students tackle the writing of conclusions for assignments. They were approaching this from a task where students needed to pre-read an article by John Hendy and Keith Ewing assessing European-level judgements on industrial action and their impacts on the right to freedom of association in Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (ECHR).

For interest the article abstract is here: http://tinyurl.com/j5rsu5r

What became fascinating about the teaching session as it progressed - and in reference to the principle of education as having the capacity to discuss and practice freedoms was that:

1. The students, although new to the BA at Ruskin, were already making a correlation between their learning experience on an ability to either develop clearer, constructive argument with employers, co-workers and fellow/sister trade unionists and/or saw the BA as a means to develop this skill further.

2. Allied to the Hendy/Ewing article was a thoughtful, insightful debate on how Ruskin provided an opportunity and space to rival Oxbridge and other elite educational institutes in creating the alternative arguments/dialogue which responded to a neo-liberal trajectory on workers' and human rights. In particular, the orientation of this discussion focused on Ruskin as a distinct working class educational organising which specifically enabled this.

Where the session and discussion ended was that the art of writing a clear, crisp conclusion corresponded with a capacity to think more clearly about political argument and how this can be articulated orally also.

Teaching to Transgress (and similar) is a book that I am constantly reminded of in how we must both shape learning at Ruskin but also develop a community of practice with students in order that their learning meets the needs of movements they are part of. As trade union activists and officials working at the frontline of economic, social and political change in work and employment, I am acutely aware that the needs of students who comprise this community is demanding, changing, and challenging but always something that our educational offer at Ruskin must respond to.

If we get it right, which I like to think we sometimes do (but am never complacent) then our students can not only interpret for themselves the value of the Ruskin experience, but are consistently keen to promote Ruskin to fellow and sister trade unionists.

Below, for example is a pic/quote from a current MA student, Kath Holder (UNISON Shop Steward) who has been very happy to promote the BA and MA at Ruskin. Here is the link the TUC advert that Kath features in: http://tinyurl.com/jcl55g7

This kind of student support is vital of course to supporting our recruitment strategy. It is also, arguably, a validation of the student's experience in recognising the value of Ruskin as providing a critically important space and place for trade union, political and social movement activists to reflect on their movement experience and needs, and work with colleagues here to shape an educational experience which enables them to meet those needs.

Hopefully there is some coherence to my notes/thoughts here - feedback is always sought- but I felt the need to get something written-up following another amazing teaching experience with sisters and brothers of the UK's trade union movement.

In Solidarity


No comments: