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.

 

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Lessons will be learnt…..democracy and political education

Last week included the International Day of Democracy and the dramatic climax of Scotland’s independence referendum. Education for citizenship, democracy and social justice has never been more relevant as politicians, commentators and the public rake over recent events and the implications for the future of Scotland, England and the United Kingdom.

Three strong messages have emerged during the Scottish referendum campaign.

  • People are interested in politics when debate is brought alive, involves them and when they can see that their vote can make a real difference.
  • Westminster politicians are seen as remote and disconnected from the public. This is not just a Scottish phenomenon.
  • People don’t trust politicians to keep their promises.

Analysis of the UK Parliament’s make up gives a clue about why Members of Parliament might seem distant from the electorate, as this diagram from “Elitist Britain” shows.

“Lessons will be learnt”, has to become more than just a mantra trotted out when politicians are short of an excuse or explanation. There is a role for adult education to:

  • encourage informed debate of political issues outside the narrow confines of political parties;
  • make sure that voters are not just informed, but are involved and active in exploring how democratic – and non-democratic – political systems work so that they can hold politicians to account;
  • support the development of a new and more inclusive generation of politicians who are more representative of the electorate that they serve.

ConcernWe might find some answers in a return to the principle of representative democracy, with people from communities developing the skills and expertise to stand for election by their local peers. Practical political education can support people to learn about critical thinking, communications, analysis, debating and public speaking skills so that they can become confidently active in democratic decision-making.

The WEA is one of thirty member organisations who have joined together in the “Democracy Matters” alliance to promote practical political education.  This graphic explains our shared aim.

DM

The Scottish electorate has shown that there is an appetite for public debate and exchanges of views about economics, health, education, welfare, equality, employment, energy production, nuclear weapons and the issues that matter to people. They want to influence decisions that affect them and realise that our current political system is neither representative nor fully democratic. Surely a politician elected by  – and from – his or her community to be their advocate will be less remote than a career politician dropped into a safe seat to keep their chosen party in power.

It’s a long time since people have been engaged so fervently in political debate and the turnout in the Scottish referendum gives an opportunity to revitalise our democracy. Can we afford to waste it?

Do something for democracy

big_fish_little_fishCan you spare a few minutes to be part of a co-ordinated social media campaign to promote practical political education on the International Day of Democracy on 15 September?

The Democracy Matters alliance is organising some simple and quick action to promote inclusive politics and learning for citizenship, democracy and justice. This builds well on a lively event in Leeds last June and means that we can keep the momentum going.

No buckets of icy water are involved but the aim is to reach as many social media timelines as possible with the ‘Thunderclap’ message below.

Click here today to find out more and join us in sharing this message as widely as possible. Thank you.

Tclap

 

Persuasion, politics and adult education

Democracy cannot succeed unless those who express their choice are prepared to choose wisely. The real safeguard of democracy, therefore, is education.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

Building on more than a century of adult education for community engagement, the WEA is running  ‘Why Vote‘ and ‘Deciding Locallyinitiatives to boost voter registration. Dr Henry Tam from the University of Cambridge led a Twitter chat about it last week. There’s a Storify summary of tweets here.

Ballot_Box_web_3

The WEA doesn’t promote any individual political party but has a long tradition of encouraging people to vote and to go further by becoming active in politics, especially at local levels.

Practical political education aims to stimulate critical thinking about how democracy and politics work. It is important that people can make informed decisions and can develop the skills and confidence to get involved in shaping policies that affect them directly.

Critical questioning plays a key role in political judgments and in daily life. Information bombards us from several sources every day, but can we trust it? Are we being informed or manipulated – deliberately or inadvertently? Do we notice the difference between indoctrination, persuasion and education?

Indoctrination trains people to accept a set of beliefs without opportunities for questioning so that they conform to particular ideas, opinions and principles without considering alternatives.

Persuasion is more subtle. It relies on the assumption that most people will not sift through the range of relevant information even when they are free to do so. A persuader can impose their opinion by highlighting specific ‘information’ or by appealing to emotions.

In theory, education presents facts and logical arguments, encouraging students to think for themselves, assess all the relevant information and come to their own conclusions. In practice, education does not take place in a vacuum. Teachers are likely to bring their own perspectives and can be powerful persuaders, while students apply their own filters based on their personal experiences. Some adult students are very eloquent and informed before they begin a course. Others are more likely to accept ideas without questioning. These issues raise various practical and ethical questions.

As an adult education organisation, the WEA respects tutors and students as equals who share and learn from their differing experiences. Being able to understand and to apply principles of persuasion might be a useful part of the teaching and learning process.

Aristotle’s Rhetoric defined these principles many centuries ago, identifying the three elements of logos, ethos and pathos.

  • Logos – logic, facts, evidence, reason
  • Ethos – ethics, credibility, dependability
  • Pathos – emotion, appeal to people’s feelings

aristotle's rhetoric

 

Watching a news bulletin on television can be a good opportunity to look for the three elements of rhetoric. We can assess how much of what we are told is based on facts and evidence and can think about whether we trust the source. We can decide whether we are being swayed because of substance, spin or charisma.

There are some good free resources to help with analysis of political parties’ policies and statements of fact, including:

  • Vote for Policies at http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/ which provides a test of what policies you might agree with if bias towards a particular political party is removed.
  • Full Fact at https://fullfact.org/ which is an independent fact checking organisation which provides free tools, information and advice, so that anyone can check the claims we hear from politicians and the media.

Anyone who thinks that politics has no place in education or vice versa should think about how many cabinet ministers of different political parties have studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics degrees at the University of Oxford

Recognising the elements of rhetoric is a tiny step in comparison but can give people some tools to assess information and more skills in getting messages across for themselves.

Any other useful websites, resources or comments?

Education, the electoral roll and access to benefits

Should access to benefits and public services depend on inclusion on the Electoral Register? This idea is being considered in the Electoral Register (Access to Public Services) Bill 2013-14, which  is expected to have its second reading debate on 28 February 2014. Did you know about it? There’s a summary of the Bill’s proposals and progress here, with a partial screen shot shown below.

Elec Roll

Democracy has been a hot topic this week, with a new national campaign urging people to ‘Bite the Ballot” and, in twitter-speak, to #takepower. February 5 was designated as National Voter Registration Day, although it’s not too late to register. The WEA supports the Bite the Ballot initiative with enthusiasm as we’ve been committed to education for democracy for over a century. There’s more information on the WEA’s website here, where you can see a short animated step-by-step guide on registering to vote and a film of Dr Finn Mackay talking about the importance of democratic engagement. Finn is a WEA Ambassador, founder of the London Feminist Network and reviver of London Reclaim the Night.

Much of this week’s media debate has been about voter apathy and disillusionment with politics and politicians – but we should be aware of other aspects and impacts of Parliamentary action on voter registration.

Part of the WEA’s educational work and campaigning is to raise awareness and understanding about how Parliament and local government works on our collective behalf, whether we have voted for our elected representatives or not. We put this into practice recently by drawing people’s attention to the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee’s Inquiry on adult literacy and numeracy. The WEA’s written response to the Inquiry was based on collated views from students, tutors and others across the Association following some in-class discussions about the Select Committee, its workings and its call for views.

Our involvement in active citizenship and political education over the years has highlighted some of the difficulties that homeless people have in registering to vote if they have no fixed address. We have explored some of the issues that people face if their personal details become relatively easily available online when they join the Electoral Roll and it’s been enlightening to hear testimony from political refugees who have been denied the right to vote and been persecuted by ruling regimes in other countries.

It’s debatable whether we have a functioning democracy if voter registration and the turnout at elections is low and we should make people aware of their rights and responsibilities as citizens. There are many powerful, but not apparently sufficiently compelling, reasons to use the right to vote. People, including the WEA activist and suffragette Emily Wilding Davison, who campaigned and died so we could have this right – but should access to benefits and public services be linked to compulsory registration to vote?

Whether this is ‘Civics’, ‘Active Citizenship’, ‘Practical Political Education’ or any other labelled learning, it’s an important area of education for social purpose that doesn’t receive nearly enough attention in what should be an educated democracy.

Thoughts?