After the EU referendum – Message to my MP

The 52:48 EU Referendum result was close – too close to be reliable and conclusive for such a momentous decision. Nigel Farage said that such a ratio should trigger a second referendum (bit.ly/28POgKP), so should accept that there is an issue about whether an almost neck and neck outcome can be ultimately determinative.

Farage 5248There is now increasing evidence that many who voted for Brexit feel duped by false claims from the Leave campaign including the notion of an additional £350m per week for the NHS. Others regret their vote for other reasons. The “Bregretters” could well add up to more than the 3% of voters who tipped the balance on a decision that is already having negative effects on the UK’s prosperity and wellbeing. The impact is being felt most keenly by younger voters who will be affected for more of their lives. Going ahead without certainty that the decision has clear majority support reflects poorly on our democracy.

David Cameron’s resignation speech gives 3 months before the formal exit process begins (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/24/brexit-won-vote-remain-eu-article-50-lisbon-treaty-referendum-david-cameron?CMP=share_btn_tw).

Most people would probably not want to rerun the campaigns by either side. They were neither very helpful in tone and content nor always entirely truthful. The debates generated more slogans and soundbites than useful information and guidance to inform our decisions. While there was an increasing sense of referendum fatigue before 23 June, we can now see what a Leave vote means without rehearsing all the arguments again and a second referendum based on the evidence we have seen already would give a democratic opportunity to confirm or revise the strength of voters’ feelings on the hugely important decision. It would be the equivalent of having a ‘cooling off’ period after signing a contract.

Brexiteers called on the UK to take back control through the UK Parliament in Westminster. The referendum result is not legally binding. Parliamentarians can reflect the will of UK voters and vote against Brexit if there is evidence that the narrow outcome of the referendum is unreliable or based on false assumptions. There are ways to avoid a catastrophic mistake for our country by stopping the implementation of a withdrawal process which might not have a credible and decisive mandate. (http://ind.pn/28UOhgU).

As my representative in the UK Parliament, I ask you to take note of the strength of feeling shown in the fast growing petition at (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/131215) – with almost 2 million signatures at the time of writing – and to speak up for urgent action to enable the UK to stay in the EU if that proves to be the majority view now that the outcome is better understood.

Thank you.

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Knowledge democracy, cognitive justice and social justice

A recent SCUTREA event lasted for just over a couple of hours but provided a little time and space for adult educators and researchers to refresh their thinking and practice. It was a rich experience with learning from different disciplines, experiences and cultures and very relevant to the WEA’s Community Engagement theme. Scotland and Canada featured prominently and the buzz of post-referendum politics was evident in the Edinburgh meeting, with an emphasis on the cultural role of community education in democracy.

Scutrea

Jim Crowther, Budd Hall and Darlene Clover involved us in explorations of community, pedagogy, politics and research, linking academia with practice and communities with political agency. It was fertile ground, explored by too few people in mainstream educational debate.

They used the technique of métissage, which was new to me, to braid interwoven narratives read from researchers’ findings. Three different voices, with changing pitch, pace and language styles kept my attention in a way that an individual reading aloud would not have done.

An audio recording of the métissage is available here, courtesy of the Ragged Project.

These observations and triggers for further critical thought give a taste of the rich pickings from presentations and discussion.

  • Community education played an effective role in the Scottish referendum with a range of activities, hustings and public meetings.
  • Research is critical and cognitive justice is a pre-requisite for social justice.
  • The outcomes of research depend on who originates it, who asks the questions and for whose benefit it is intended.
  • Relationships are at the core of everything that matters.
  • We are all map-makers. Maps have power. They show how we project ourselves onto nature.
  • Good pedagogy motivates local people to act.
  • We need, “Disruptive, persistent educators who are not satisfied with the world the way it is”.
  • “Accumulation of wealth, power and knowledge is through dispossession.” Ancient universities enclosed knowledge within their walls at the same time as land was being taken from people and enclosed. “If you were inside, things were just dandy.”
  • “The concept of knowledge has been stolen.” It does not belong by right to the producers of peer-reviewed journals and paid-for research in the Western world.

There was a lot to pick over in this. The concepts of mapping, power and agency would make an intriguing stimulus for study within adult community learning.

What might we conclude from comparing and contrasting the 1886 map of the British Empire with homeless people’s contemporary map of Newcastle upon Tyne?

Map British Empire 1886

 

Homeless newc

From Lovely JoJo’s ‘People’s Map of the British Isles”

Danny Dorling’s cartogram maps might add another dimension.

Mapping, power and agency was just one fascinating theme out of many that spun out of the event. There was almost too much to think about.

Book recommendations included Learning and Teaching in Community Based Research.

SCUTREA book

This is the summary description:

Community-Based Research, or CBR, is a mix of innovative, participatory approaches that put the community at the heart of the research process. Learning and Teaching Community-Based Research shows that CBR can also operate as an innovative pedagogical practice, engaging community members, research experts, and students.

This collection is an unmatched source of information on the theory and practice of using CBR in a variety of university- and community-based educational settings. Developed at and around the University of Victoria, and with numerous examples of Indigenous-led and Indigenous-focused approaches to CBR, Learning and Teaching Community Based-Research will be of interest to those involved in community outreach, experiential learning, and research in non-university settings, as well as all those interested in the study of teaching and learning.

 

Parliament Week and practical political education


Polout

It’s Parliament Week. What do you think about practical political education?

The polls in the Rochester and Strood by-election are due to close at 10pm tonight but the comment and opinion will go on for days. Russell Brand is urging people not to vote. The Scots are more engaged in democratic processes now than at any other time in living memory.

Do politics leave you cold, bored, annoyed, interested or motivated to get involved? The WEA believes in education for an active and inclusive democracy within society  – and within our own organisation – and encourages people to explore these issues.

Political education doesn’t have a very high profile and yet it can have a big impact on our ability to shape the policies that affect every aspect of our lives. Too many people don’t understand how complex political systems work and think their votes and involvement don’t make a difference. Are they right? How can we make sure that decision makers in Parliament and in local government are more truly representative of the communities they serve?

The WEA supports Parliament Week and is a member of the Democracy Matters alliance.

Our new one-day ‘Politics for Outsiders’ courses in the Eastern Region of England are designed to share ideas and discover the difference that politics can make. They will also give opportunities to think about how to engage others in making more of their democratic power in achieving vital social goals. The day schools are a joint initiative between the WEA and the Question the Powerful project and will be tutored by Dr. Henry Tam who is Director of the Forum for Youth Participation & Democracy at University of Cambridge. (For more information see Henry Tam: Words & Politics: http://hbtam.blogspot.co.uk/ ). There has been a lot of positive feedback about his contribution to the WEA Eastern Region’s AGM on the subject of, “‘What has politics ever done for us?”

You can find out more about ‘Politics for Outsiders’ here.

Any other links to practical political education to celebrate Parliament Week?

Adult literacy, numeracy and health care

Around 5 million adults in the UK lack functional literacy. According to the charity National Numeracy, almost 17 million people in the UK don’t have the numeracy skills necessary to reach the lowest grade at GCSE. Poor reading, writing and number skills are often discussed in the context of employability but recent research in the USA by Sharon K Long, Adele Shartzer and Mary Politi shows the impact of low levels of self-reported literacy and numeracy on obtaining and using private health insurance coverage. Their work, reported here, highlights how important these skills are in navigating health services and official systems, especially in a world that is increasingly reliant on independent online access by service users.

It also shows some of the risks that might arise from increasing privatisation of health services in the UK.

Health lit & num

The researchers found that navigating changes in the health care system is challenging for many people, especially for adults with limited literacy and numeracy. This should not come as a surprise, but there is a lot of action needed to bridge communication gaps between the public and health care providers.

Poverty is a strong contributor to health inequality but levels of  income and functional skills are linked.

The use of words and numbers can create barriers. Medical jargon can be unfamiliar and intimidating. Phlebotomy, oncology, obstetrics and other hospital department names are not obvious to the uninitiated. Leaflets in medication packs can be written in difficult language and many aspects of health and wellbeing, including dosage instructions for tablets, depend on literacy and numeracy.

Adding the US scenario of decision-making about health insurance is a further level of complexity, especially for people trying to balance difficult financial choices, but it is a level of expertise needed increasingly in many other everyday situations.

There is a strong need to invest in adult education that doesn’t stigmatise people who need to improve their functional skills and service providers also have a responsibility to make information as accessible and understandable as possible.

Joint working between health care providers, public service providers and adult educators might be part of a solution?

Training accounts and tax relief for learning

A Guardian article this week explored the question, “Funding cuts, policy changes and careers advice: how are colleges faring

The article featured a response from Ruth Spelman:

“We want to start adult learning accounts, to which individuals, employers and individuals could contribute,” explains Ruth Spellman, chief executive of the Workers’ Educational Association. “Getting [adult learners] started is often the most difficult bit so it’s resource intensive.” Given that specialist adult providers need to invest so much upfront to boost confidence and help people overcome false starts, having some certainty that they can actually afford a course – both for the college and the individual involved – is vital to ensure older learners feel able to take advantage of educational opportunities.

Ruth is highlighting one of the issues raised in the WEA’s Manifesto as its second recommendation:

Manifesto rec 2

The WEA calls on employers and the government to help people into work and once there to encourage skills development through training accounts and tax relief for learning. The WEA also calls on central and local government and public agencies to ensure that procurement activities reduce in-work poverty through the promotion of the Living Wage.

This is a summary reminder of all the recommendations in the WEA Manifesto:

manifestrecs

You can download the Manifesto here or read it online in issuu format here.

Educational Thinkers’ Hall of Fame – Myles Horton

Myles Horton (1905-1990) put his thinking about adult education for social purpose into practical action and left a legacy that lives on in the Highlander Center in Newmarket, Tennessee.

Myles Horton (left) with Paulo Freire

Myles Horton (left) with Paulo Freire

Horton was born into a poor family in Tennessee. He had few early advantages but became inspired by the model of Folk Schools in Denmark. He, Don West and others founded the Highlander Folk School in 1932. It became a meeting place, an adult school for democracy and for developing leaders of the labour and civil rights movements. It grew into a hub where people learnt to organise coal miners and textile workers into trade unions. The Highlander Research and Education Center lives on and its website here has this description:

Highlander serves as a catalyst for grassroots organizing and movement building in Appalachia and the South. We work with people fighting for justice, equality and sustainability, supporting their efforts to take collective action to shape their own destiny.

Rosa Parks attended workshops at the Highlander before her iconic bus protest on December 1, 1955. Parks, an African American refused to give up her seat for a white man on a racially segregated Montgomery City bus on her way home from work. Her actions led to profound and lasting change. Martin Luther King also attended the Highlander Folk School, where the civil rights anthem, “We shall overcome”, first became popular.

Myles Horton developed citizenship schools for African American Sea Islanders in South Carolina. These spread throughout the southern USA. They helped 100,000 African Americans to become literate. This in turn qualified them to register to vote and was integral to growing the USA’s civil rights movement of the 1960s.

Horton believed fervently that ordinary people have the capacity to organise and to take actions to change their communities and the world. Speaking in 1982, at Highlander’s 50th anniversary, he said:

“The future is out there, ready to be changed. You must be creative, imaginative, and courageously dedicated for the long haul.”

Horton had an immense influence at Highlander but many other inspirational educators worked there or had links. A letter of Helen Lewis‘s 90th birthday recollections of Highlander is on the Center’s website. It shows the Center’s reach and describes connections forged between Appalachian and Welsh miners.

Like Paulo Freire, Horton linked literacy with democracy and political activism and education with a wider social purpose. The two men met in 1987 and had the idea of “speaking a book” together . Their conversations are captured in the book, “We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change”

horton Freire book

 

Whose exchanges about education inspire social change on a similar scale today? Who is “making the road by walking” in 2014 and whose conversations would you like to see captured?

Suggestions?

Space Week and challenging stereotypes

It’s Space Week and a good launchpad for challenging stereotypes in education, career choices and the media. This tweeted picture shows Indian scientists who have just launched a successful mission to Mars. It’s a simple reality check to show what some scientists look like outside films and television dramas.

WomenmarsThe Indian women in the photograph follow in the footsteps of Maria Mitchell (1818 – 1889), the first American woman to work as a professional astronomer. She discovered Comet C/1847_T1 on 1 October, 1847.

Maria Mitchell set an example as the first woman elected as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1848 and as a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1850. She was also one of the first women elected to the American Philosophical Society in 1869.

Mitchell’s other achievements included becoming the first professor of astronomy at Vassar College in 1865, teaching there until 1888 and becoming Director of the Vassar College Observatory. She was a pioneer in many ways and insisted on a pay rise when she found out that her salary was lower than less experienced male professors – and she got it.

Maria Mitchell

Maria Mitchell

What gave Maria Mitchell the self-assurance to be a trail blazer and what does her experience teach us?

She grew up in the Quaker religion which embraces principles of equality. Her parents believed that boys and girls were intellectual equals and should benefit from educational opportunities regardless of their gender. She was not held back by limited aspirations. This shaped her life and achievements. As an educator, she also challenged the segregation of students on the grounds of race or ethnicity even though that was the accepted practice at the time.

Maria Mitchell and the Indian scientists show that women can have careers that are out of this world – but sexism remains, as illustrated by last month’s media interviews with Russian cosmonaut Yelena Serova. This extract from the Guardian on 25 September shows the level of questioning that she faced:

Serova has been barraged with questions focusing on her gender and how she will manage to bond with her 11-year-old daughter while she is away. She even offered to give a demonstration of washing her hair in space.

But her patience appeared to run out at a pre-launch press conference in Baikonur on Wednesday when a journalist asked her to comment again on how she would look after her hair aboard the International Space Station and whether she would keep her current style.

“Can I ask a question, too: aren’t you interested in the hair styles of my colleagues?” she said at the televised news conference, flanked by the male astronauts who will accompany her.

She stressed: “My flight is my job. I feel a huge responsibility towards the people who taught and trained us and I want to tell them: we won’t let you down!”

Education, equality and career expectations should not be limited by gender or other outdated stereotypes. This is an issue recognised by the UK Parliament’s Science and Technology Committee. You can read their latest report on Women in Scientific Careers here.