Future Imperfect

Input to Right2Learn Conference Panel 20.5.21

Good evening. I’m Lou Mycroft and I’m here tonight representing the #AdultConversations campaign, which is attempting to channel activist energy into adult and community education. Three friends co-founded the campaign at the start of the year: myself, Jo Fletcher-Saxon of the FE Research movement and Mel Lenehan, Principal of Fircroft College. Jo will be posting links into the chat as I speak, so keep an eye on that. The idea came out of a #JoyFE💛 Ideas Room – a thinking space – and it’s a tripartite campaign. Firstly, we are publishing 52 pieces of writing about community education, one a week for the year, and bringing them together in a publication at the end: 52Weeks52Speaks. Secondly, on 28th June we are running a Big Conversation which will bring people together in an activist thinking space to make commitments to action. We’ll reconvene at the 52Weeks launch in December, where we’ll also announce the winner of the third strand: the search for a word to describe ‘adult community education’, like the Finnish ‘sivistys’ or German ‘bildung’. We’d love your suggestions! The campaign runs for one year.

When we started, we had an aim of getting people talking about adult community education. Well that’s happened – and we can’t claim the credit! But what are we talking about at events like these? We know that adult community education has a dignified history and a lot of high-punching support – that it flies in the face of current ideologies which deny inequality and promote meritocracy. There are good people here tonight who are working on making those messages land at political and policy level, people who have the clout to do so: potestas power. But there’s another kind of power. And that’s the potentia of people who are engaged in activist projects together, playing tag team with their energies, influencing thinking and driving the work in to new places.

It’s time to be more radical, and by radical I don’t mean “more to the left”, I mean radical. The question tonight is not the right question, because the answer is quite simply: everyone. Obviously it’s not as easy as that because our way is cluttered with barriers to equality – hierarchies, systems, processes, assumptions and biases – and the funding silos which limit our thinking. My PhD research attempted to make these briefly invisible, so that participants could see beyond them, if only for a moment. The results were extraordinary.

Given the chance to redesign community education, people ignored the containers that dominate and restrain our imaginations. They saw ‘adult community education’ as embracing yes, the stuff funded by the Adult Education Budget but also youth and community work, adults on FE courses, mature students at uni – many nurses for example – libraries, public health, sports and leisure, social enterprise. The focus was ‘community’ and what we have to offer to each other, based on our own experiences. Community researched, co-created, reciprocal education; held in existing community spaces (including outdoors) and online: all of us as teachers and learners, pollinating new thinking and new and old skills across generations. We’d need a rethink about what ‘teacher training’ is too. 

Clearly, this is a significant project. It’s time to smash open the filter bubble and let go of some of our givens – and our assumptions about who is and who is not vulnerable in these challenging and uncertain times. Let’s hear all the voices! Collect in activist spaces where we are equal as thinkers. Operate not only as the tree, punching up to try and challenge stubborn ideologies but as the rhizome: persistent, subversive, unexpected and invasive. Our gathering point is social purpose education. For example, what could a social purpose employability programme look like? Civic engagement plus a recognition that people want work – work that is meaningful. We’d need to work with employers on that one too and we’d need to open our minds to new funding ideas – they are out there.

That’s just one example. If we can get beyond our echo chamber, beyond the hauntology of yesteryear and actually listen to a diversity of thinking, the possibilities are genuinely endless.