The MA CEESA (Community Education, Equality and Social Activism) took this year out to think about what we do and how we can do it better. We've been doing a lot of thinking and talking to people in that time and the result is that we're making some changes in the course while keeping the basic principles intact.
Course review and reflecting on what we do
In 2015 the CEESA team reluctantly decided not to run the Masters for 2015-16. We realised that the likely numbers for that year would not enable us to create a genuinely participatory group environment in which everyone could “learn from each other’s struggles”. After five years of the course, we also felt that it was time to practice what we preach and reflect in a more in-depth way on our own practise (we had already reworked the course after its first two years). And we needed to take stock after a key member of the team was let go by the university. So we turned to other work and took a year out from the course to rethink and reorganise it.
What we’ve been up to this year
Since that time we have done several things. We commissioned in-depth research from past students on their experience of the course, the things that worked for them and the things that needed greater work. We consulted with colleagues working on some of our sister courses about what works for them, the differences and similarities between our situations. We also published an interview (in German!) with the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation in Berlin, and an article in Studies in Social Justice setting the course in its movement context.
We organised a series of public events thinking outside of the regular routines of the university: with oral historian Terry Fagan, independent researcher Tomás MacSheoin and journalist William Hederman we hosted a discussion on “Intellectual work outside the academy: researching, thinking, teaching … and social movements”. With Ian Manborde (Ruskin College Oxford’s MA in Global Labour and Social Change) and Brendan Ogle (Unite’s Education and Development organiser) we organised a discussion on “What education do union organisers and other activists need?” Connolly Books hosted a discussion around CEESA staff member Laurence Cox’s book We Make Our Own History: Marxism and Social Movements in the Twilight of Neoliberalism, structured as a discussion about the state of our movements chaired by community activist John Bissett and with contributions from Andrew Flood (Workers Solidarity Movement), Margaret Gillan (Community Media Network) and Fergal Finnegan (MA CEESA). With the organic farm and yoga / meditation centre at Macalla Farm on Clare Island we are co-organising an activist sustainability / engaged Buddhism event on “Changing the world and changing ourselves”.
Alongside all of this (and of course our own work as educators and involvement in movements) we have held a series of structured discussions about what is working and what isn’t, and how we can reshape the course to speak more closely to the needs of movement activists and radical educators.
What’s changing with the course
On foot of this, we are relaunching CEESA in an Ireland that has changed substantially since the course started – most recently with widespread participation in movements and community struggles around water charges, marriage equality and fracking, but also around many other issues. In this period many people have become newly politicised, or returned to community and movement activism after a long downtime. As the limitations of the easier victories – and the difficulties with the obvious answers – become clearer, there is more of a place than ever for a course dedicated to supporting activists and radical educators who want to take the time to think seriously about the big questions, of what we are trying to do and how we are going about it, and to learn from each other’s struggles. Our aim is thus to return to our original intentions in starting the course, and review the course structure as well as individual components and our own practice, in the light of what is working and what could do with development.
Perhaps the most obvious change is that we want to strengthen the participatory and emancipatory structure of the course much more. Rather than a curriculum fixed before students arrive, we plan on spending the first part of the course (approx 1/6 of the total time) in introducing students to the various dimensions of the course, exploring what participants really want to focus on and enabling the group to develop and take ownership of the direction of the course as a whole. In this context we want to support participants much more in articulating their existing knowledge and practice for each other to learn from and as a basis for our collective learning (“teachers” as well as “students”) during the rest of the year. Beyond this, we aim to integrate theory and practice much more closely in the different aspects of the course; to focus more directly on everyone’s experience of the course as a way into reflecting on how we work together in movements and community groups; to reflect on issues of diversity, class and gender in the classroom and group environment and how we can work with them in our own activist and educational practice; and to engage with the challenges of the different learning needs of different students much more openly.
What isn’t changing
As always, the core principles of CEESA remain at the centre of our work. The course remains a practitioner-level Masters focussed on advanced work geared to practice within social movements and community education and with a crucial research component. We treat participants as skilled actors in their own field, and underline that we “learn from each other’s struggles” - seeing how other movements tackle familiar challenges in order to rethink our own practise, but also learning how to make longer-term alliances with movements beyond our normal comfort zone. We work across a wide range of social movements and issues, rather than focussing on any single one in isolation.We do not treat teachers as experts and students as passive, but work with a wide range of theoretical, practical and pedagogical approaches to develop a real dialogue around what we are doing as activists and educators. The big picture – in terms of community and movement struggles, history and international perspectives; in terms of critical theory and practice; in terms of the meanings of equality; in terms of feminist theory and practice; and above all in terms of how we can develop our own practice individually and collectively, contribute to our own movements and to building stronger alliances for equality – remains at the centre of our work. We hope you will join us in 2016-17!
Full details on the course at the link below.
Contact: Dept. of Sociology, NUI Maynooth, Co. Kildare, Ireland at firstname.lastname@example.org or (+353-1) 708 3659.
Deadline for applications: 30 June 2016.