Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Education, Society & the Cooperative Gestalt

All educators have a shared concern with enabling more people to understand why society and its institutions are the way they are, and what they should do to enhance their common wellbeing.

However, this social purpose of teaching is all too often held back by the uncertainty over what should actually be taught to achieve it.

Those with different religious or secular beliefs hold conflicting views about what is truly good for all. Prevailing traditions and changing customs diverge on what are desirable or unacceptable practices. Political parties are poised to condemn any criticism of their stance or policies as intolerable bias.

Understandably, some come to believe that it would be safer to teach only what no one would object to. For example, describe government and business structures but not criticise them; encourage people to volunteer and to vote but not explain why some groups merit support while others don’t; and present all reports and doctrines as worthy of consideration without pointing to any of their flaws.

But since nothing of substance will be taught if every potentially contestable issue is brushed under the carpet, we need to find another way. And if we look back on history carefully, we can see that the mindset cultivated to cooperate through mutual respect, empirical reasoning, and democratic power distribution, has helped to displace prejudices by shared understanding, maximise the synergy of enquirers, and develop institutions and practices that enable people to achieve far more together than they could otherwise have done in isolation.

The challenge for educators is to capture the key ideas that constitute this cooperative gestalt, explain their cogency, show their applications to contemporary problems, and present them in diverse forms to attract engagement with them. To do this, schools, universities, adult education, and other teaching institutions will need to draw on resources that synthesize what have been set out by different writers, and develop these into accessible materials for teachers to incorporate into their own sessions, or guide their students to utilise them directly.

This is not a simple task, but we can make a start with the help of a series of short guides that may assist the cultivation of a mindset that is more conducive to critical thinking and cooperation:

Why should we learn to cultivate the cooperative gestalt: ‘The Cooperative Gestalt’ (its value to lifelong learning and why some may object to it); ‘Politics & the Cooperative Gestalt’ (its relevance to teaching politics and democratic participation).

How can the concept of ‘synetopia’ help to teach effective cooperation: ‘Synetopia: progress through cooperation’ (an introduction to the notion of synetopia – the cooperative place); ‘Synetopia: why, what & how’ (the use of synetopia-based resources to facilitate discussions of cooperative challenges).

Why dystopian fiction can help to highlight the obstacles to cooperation: ‘Cooperative Gestalt and Dystopian Fiction’ (the links between the development of dystopian fiction and the cooperative gestalt); ‘A Novel Exploration of Inequality’ (an example of a dystopian novel recommended by the Equality Trust for exploring issues of social justice).

How to engender cooperative problem-solving: ‘Cooperative Problem-Solving: the key to a reciprocal society’ (the key elements distilled by academics and practitioners); ‘Together We Can: resources for cooperative problem-solving’ (a guide to essays, reports, examples on effective practices).

What are the intellectual roots of the communitarian-cooperative ethos: ‘The Radical Communitarian Synthesis’ (an outline of the historical background to its development); ‘Cooperative & Communitarian: a common heritage’ (the Owenite influence on cooperative enterprises and inclusive communities).

As educators redouble their efforts to enrich the competence of learners to live and work as fellow members of society, there will hopefully be further collaboration in the development and use of pedagogic resources in support of the cultivation of the cooperative gestalt.


Woodman59 said...

As someone who was born and spent my first 5 years in another part of Europe would love us to have more of a cooperative educational gestalt within Europe - to learn of and have the opportunity to implement progressive initiatives from throughout the continent.

For me this would be an idea of paramount importance.

However the thought of the European Superstate which we are currently moving towards is extremely concerning. In this scenario I see far more in the way of authoritarian amalgamation measures, than of genuine cooperative education.

In all the years of being part of the EU since my childhood, I can't say I've felt informed about a single such initiative from anywhere else in Europe. I haven't gone looking for them as such - perhaps I should have - but then most people wouldn't actually build this into their daily lives. It's something that would really need to be organised on a more formal basis, with facilitated exchange visits etc.

In summary I'm VERY pro-European on a cultural basis, but extremely concerned about the political and legislative structure that's developed. I would have thought that "Question The Powerful" would also be equally concerned about a European Superstate hugely vulnerable to domination by corporate interests?

Henry Benedict Tam said...

We need different levels of government both to achieve what they are most competently placed to do, and to provide checks and balance with each other. We're familiar with how whenever the US federal govt intervenes to tackle, for example, racist policies in an individual state, it is attacked for being overbearing etc. The tactic of discrediting the EU as a 'superstate' masks attempts by real authoritarians to use the UK state to widen surveillance, strip away worker rights, define away poverty, defend dubious financial practices, and promote environmentally hostile practices such as fracking.

Political power should be exercised at the level closest to the people it affects where it can be carried out effectively - sometimes that is at a neighbourhood level, sometimes at a city level, other times at the national, or transnational level. The forthcoming 'Question the Powerful' post on 15 June will be about the agenda to get rid of law-making institutions at higher levels so the unscrupulous can secure greater freedom to exploit and oppress others. Do have a read of that before 23 June.