The Practice of Values

#Adult Conversations

I sat down to summarise my research for the second week of #52Weeks52Speaks but something else was on my mind. Any piece of research has to end somewhere and I cut the threads on my Community Education Imaginary when I handed in my PhD dissertation back in October 2020. But it was an activist project from the start and so the Imaginary itself has rolled on past that point, gathering and developing ideas. And I am caught up right now in the idea of replacing structures with practices; specifically practices of care.

I spent several years looking at English community education through a posthuman lens: fresh concepts which enabled me to question the fundamental structures, processes and language of our service(s). My reading, thinking and discussions with others encouraged me to make a new design for my own life, based on regular practices and a personal, affirmative ethics of joy, rather than operating within the framework of an organisation (I talked about this for TEDx Doncaster in October 2019). This approach isn’t for everyone, but as I sifted through the generous contributions of 400 research respondents, I glimpsed how it might be possible to construct education itself as the practice of values.

My research identified ten practice values and five lines of flight for activist projects: values led practices of design, pedagogy, alliance, research and professional learning. #AdultConversations falls squarely in the practice of alliance and it’s a delight to see this activist campaign begin to unfold.

Adult and community education is not without alliances and at a level where people try and influence policy, you do tend to bump into the same people in different settings. We wanted to be certain that #AdultConversations added something new.

Firstly, we are time limited. The three of us – me, Jo Fletcher-Saxon and Mel Lenehan – are giving this campaign our best shot for one year – 2021 or bust. By January 2022 we sincerely hope that conversations spinning out from #AdultConversations will have their own activist energy and that change is happening on the ground…we’ll step away from the helm and be involved then in the projects of our choosing.

Secondly, we are expansive and by that we mean we’ll be actively seeking out people to join the movement from all the tributaries of adult and community education – that means not just further education, not just higher education but all those places outside of education where adults go to learn – third sector community work, the climate change movement, trade unions, youth work to infinity. We’ll build relationships with other campaigns in the same space, such as Right2Learn whose excellent manifesto was published a few days ago.

Thirdly – and perhaps most importantly – we’ll practise those those ten values in everything we do: not least, right now, the practice of an ethics of care. We model this in how we three take care of each other, noticing when someone is tired and needs to step out for a bit. In how we encourage others to write for #52Weeks52Speaks, offering a helping hand whenever we can. And when we bring people together for our #AdultConversations Regional Roundtables you’ll notice that our facilitation is focused on making sure everyone there is equal as a thinker.

It feels like the right time to be doing this, while we are all going through it. If my research taught me anything, it’s that people want to work and learn in environments which care not only for the whole human, but for the landscapes and creatures with whom we inhibit this earth. We’ve got a chance to build our little corner of a better world and we’re here to take it.

The Stars Collide ✨

This blog was inspired by this morning’s #JoyFE💛 Ideas Room. I’m writing it, but equal credit goes to Jackie Rossa, Jo Fletcher-Saxon and – above all – Hannah Woolgar, because I wouldn’t have got here without our constellation this morning. Thanks also to the genealogy of thinking which led me to Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s ‘Antifragility’ via Nancy Kline’s latest book, ‘The Promise that Changes Everything’ and onto the brilliant work of Sam Conniff Allende, author of ‘Be More Pirate’.

Caveat: I’ve still got a lot of reading, thinking and listening to do.

The stars collided this morning around all of this and our enduring experience of the pandemic (and everything else that’s happening in the world), plus the posthuman perspective of my thinking and practice over the past few years and a desire to articulate the philosophy I bring to #JoyFE💛 – which is both the place I get my strength and the joyful work of my heart.

I’m reading all of the above, at the same time, plus Brené Brown’s ‘Dare to Lead’, which is always pertinent and also timely, as it’s the subject of the #APConnect Reading Rooms on Friday. I’m trying to practice an ethics of joy and care in everything I do, which involves challenging a lot of my own internal narrative.

And I’m seeing a convergence which has so much promise. As I read it, ‘antifragility’ is the counterweight of what Jennifer Thetford Kay so helpfully termed ‘gobackery’ right at the start of first lockdown. It’s a concept which means that not only do we survive adversity, but we thrive on it. It means seeking out and challenging the assumptions, norms, binaries we take for granted and which are enshrined in the monuments and documents of our society so deeply that we believe not only have they always been there, but they always will be. They are held in place by language and by the hierarchies, structures and processes we operate within.

What would it mean to operate out of communities, rather than organisations? Those of us involved with #JoyFE💛 and other grassroots constellations already do both, which creates tension – yes – but also opportunity to find new spaces in which to unfold our thoughts. Here we can recognise gobackery in all its forms and start to challenge documents, in the hope of pulling down the monument. As we said right at the start of #JoyFE💛 we want to do different things, rather than the same things differently.

In the Ideas Room, Hannah was reminded of her time at sea. Seafarers have to be antifragile, since every moment is unexpected. They learn not just to live with that but to embrace every wave. We are in the ship together and we’re not just trying to reach the gobackery of the distant shore. We want to embrace our identity as pirates, sailing on the sea.

Photo by Per Bjørkum on Unsplash