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  • Guerrilla Education

    Below is a blog from Brendan Hoare, a UK academic who recently visited Australia and created the blog after listening to an academic forum by  Barry Goulding:

    Guerrilla Education and the Conviviality of the Shed

    If, like me, your concept of a shed revolves around the idea of a tumble down edifice at the bottom of the garden, inhabited by spiders and a lonely man in retreat from domesticity, then you may soon have to reconsider.  During my exchange visit to the Federation University of Australia, I had the good fortune to meet, and attend a presentation by, Dr Barry Golding, a leading researcher in the field of men’s sheds (pun unintentional, but seems to be an occupational hazard for writers on this particular topic).  Now, I had heard of this movement, for that is what it is, when Dr Annette Foley visited the University of Chester last June, but I had not given it very much thought.  It was, I surmised, an interesting little development in its field (arrgh!), but of no great educational relevance.  How wrong I was.

    However, before I go any further, I had better explain for those of you who are as ignorant as I was  just what a men’s shed is in this context, or at least what I understand it to be;  for a definitive explanation it is probably best to consult Barry’s very much better informed writings on the subject.  A men’s shed is a meeting place for men; it is a place where men of all ages can go to talk, interact, learn and further their general well-being in any number of ways. Those men who are no longer in paid employment due to age, redundancy or economic conditions can find a place and a purpose beyond the workplace, the home or the pub; a convivial place ( and we shall come back to that word) where learning may take place, but where there are no rules or expectations except their own. There are no managers, no professionals, no experts, no teachers except themselves, and they have to meet nobody’s objectives or fit in with anybody’s plans except their own.  Furthermore, they are mushrooming across the world; an amazing organic growth driven by the perceived need of those involved, rather than by policy, whether institutional or governmental.  Akin to guerrilla gardening in its bottom up spontaneity and absence of institutional control, it could almost be seen as a form of guerrilla education. A new form of education?

    Well, yes, but there also seem to be striking parallels in this new model with the remedies for the ills of the education system proposed by Ivan Illich in Deschooling Society (1971), a work, which, although much neglected in  recent decades, appears no less radical today than it did over forty years ago.  What Illich proposed, was a total deinstitutionalisation of an education system which was designed to reproduce the status quo and shore up an inherently inequitable society.

    “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” (Illich, 1971,p. 113)

    And the solution was to allow people to decide upon their own curriculum within a setting of mutual help and concern.

    “Most learning is not the result of instruction. It is rather the result of unhampered participation in a meaningful setting. Most people learn best by being “with it,” yet school makes them identify their personal, cognitive growth with elaborate planning and manipulation.” ( Illich, 2000, p38)

    Essential to this process, and the replacement for institutional control, was the development of “learning webs” and  “conviviality”.   Of course, the learning webs envisioned in 1971 were not our present world wide web, although Illich did forsee the impact technology might have in freeing education from the teachers and institutions that would wish to control it.  He was as much concerned with access to human webs for educational support.

    A good educational system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and, finally, furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known. ( Illich, 1971,p75)

    This process was expanded upon in 1973 with the publication of Tools for Conviviality

    “I intend it to mean autonomous and creative intercourse among persons, and the intercourse of persons with their environment; and this in contrast with the conditioned response of persons to the demands made upon them by others, and by a man-made environment. I consider conviviality to be individual freedom realized in personal interdependence and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value.” ( Illich, 1973,p11)

    Men’s sheds seem to me to be just such convivial, post-institutional, alternatives to formal learning and, perhaps, a signpost  to at least one form that the future of education might take.  Interestingly, Dr Golding suggested that development of men’s sheds had proceeded with great ease in all countries except the UK, where, initially at least, there was an attempt by an institution ( Age Concern) to control development.  Fortunately, that problem seems to have been overcome and we may have some confidence in the expectation that men’s sheds will now be able to develop, even in the UK, without the need for a dominating quango and without the prospect of regulation by OFSHED ( sorry, I just couldn’t resist it)

    Could such deinstitutionalisation spread to education in the state school sector.  Well, if Room 13 is a portent, then perhaps it has already begun.