Saturday, August 12, 2006

WEA William Morris Study Circle

The Leek WEA William Morris Study Circle was started, as a pilot, in the autumn of 2005.
The name is now (2009) The ODD Circle (The Open Democracy Discussion Circle).

Information below:

1. Summary of developments 2005 - 2009
2. Why William Morris?
3. Changes in the WEA and adult education
4. Raymond Williams' connection
5. Links and networks
6. The future...

.............................................................................................................

1. Summary of developments in 2005/06

The Study Circle was started as a pilot in September 2005, not as revival of the William Morris Labour Church (see below) but attempting to address, through weekly debate and discussion, ’the great problems which face us all’ in the 21st century. The pilot was modest and experimental, beginning without a budget and so with no advertising - informal contact was made through WEA, U3A, and other organisations to establish a network of participants who were invited to attend weekly meetings in The Blue Mugge pub.
Regular meetings have been held weekly (with just a few breaks) from September 2005 to the present (2009).
Participants and those expressing positive interest reached 35 or so, with an average of 9 attending the meetings none of which were cancelled owing to low numbers. (We agreed that 8 - 12 makes an ideal number for this kind of seminar discussion group). Participants have been mainly older (retired) WEA/U3A activists but we also have several younger members (40 plus…). There has been a reasonable gender balance at most meetings. We've still not succeeded in gaining younger participants (18 - 40).

Themes and issues chosen for discussion were broad ranging - for example, Fundamentalism; Climate Change; Dumbing Down?; Elites and elitism;
Marx - Work and Human Nature; - all attempting to get to grips with big issues which are inevitably challenging, contentious and, often enough, controversial but the Study Circle itself (like the WEA & U3A) is non-party and un-sectarian.

Notes (usually one side of A4) are provided in advance for each weekly meeting, which is chaired usually by the same person who has prepared the notes. Some discussions have prompted lively e-mail response.
The idea was based on several assumptions and principles and these were set out in a paper in the autumn of 2005.(see below) - essentially pitching the SC somewhere between the WEA, U3A and Reading Groups and seeking to use the strengths of each to test whether it would work.
The term Study Circle was used, taking example from Scandinavian countries where Study Circles are very popular (2 million or so attending annually in Sweden). We've found most of our participants don't easily take to the phrase Study Circle... using instead 'discussion group'
or the 'pub group'. Obviously in the Scandinavian languages the phrase is OK and even sexy,
the Scandinavians not perhaps having much else to do in those long dark evenings?
Anyway, we've adapted - now simply referring to our discussion group or, more formally,
The ODD Circle, given our links with and use of the resource http://www.opendemocracy.net/


2. Why William Morris?

William Morris lived and worked for a time in Leek in the 1870s. Shortly after his death The William Morris Labour Church was started in Leek in 1896. "The movement involved many of the Victorian artists and writers... and those in the new Arts and Crafts Movement...which found expression in Leek in the works of architects, William and Larner Sugden. Larner Sugden was a generous benefactor to the Labour Church. Many outstanding figures in the Socialist movement and the Fabian Society came to Leek to give addresses or lectures at the Labour Church, covering a wide range of social, political and moral issues.
The initial membership of the Labour Church in Leek was around fifty. Meetings were held in The Friends Meeting House on Sunday afternoons and midweek evenings until activity ceased in 1932.
Sidney Webb wrote sending his congratulations to Leek at the opening of the Labour Church, offering his hope that "it will become a centre for earnest study of the great problems which face us all".
Many of those great problems are still with us and we also face some major new ones.
Serious discussion of these issues is still as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the early decades of the last century.

3. Changes in the WEA and adult education.

The main reason for this SC/ODD group initiative is because many of us are only too aware that social and political education through the WEA and other formal adult learning agencies has diminished considerably since the Leek Labour Church eara. In WEA branch courses during the early years of the C20th and up to the 1950s, 'social studies' averaged over 50% of courses but was down to less than 5% in the 1990s; 'international affairs' = 22% in the 1940s to less than 2% from the 1970s and too insignificant to be recorded today.
Recent cuts in funding for adult learning, and now the 2008 crash and recession, sign-post a worsening situation - the problems stemming from market priorities in adult education where fees for liberal adult education courses are rising well above inflation. Yet we know that significant numbers of citizens - even record numbers - are interested in serious social and political issues (Iraq, G8 and environmental issues have involved large numbers of people across the generations).
We also know that despite the above pressures the WEA continues to do impressive
work - through branch provision; within community learning programmes; workplace learning with the expansion, for instance, in our West Midlands Region of the TUC scheme and the partnership with the GMB union; growth of health and fitness education for black and minority ethnic communities.
Our project aims to connect with these developments and with the extraordinary growth of the U3A and Book Groups where again, however, social and political themes tend to be on the margin.
We noted that at a Westminster Hall Adjournment Debate in June 2005 NIACE's presentation included in its section 'What is to be Done?' - "Government might in particular assess the benefits that state support for study circles has brought to Nordic countries in terms of social cohesiveness...".

4. The Raymond Williams connection...

Raymond Williams (1921-1988) was one of C20th Britain's most influential and prolific thinkers.
From 1946-1961 Williams worked as a teacher in adult education and in those years he produced such seminal works as Culture and Society; The Long Revolution and Communications. After his death, the Raymond Williams Memorial Fund (RWMF) was established in association with the WEA and the Wedgwood Memorial College primarily to assist aducationally disadvantaged adults attend WEA or similar courses. Williams wrote extensively about, and in support of, adult education.
Williams expression of his own commitment might still stand (adapted a little maybe) for the aims of the Study Circle?
"The corrresponding societies, the Hampden clubs, the secular Sunday schools, the
cooperative circles. the WEA, the labour colleges; we can learn more now from these about
the crisis in education than from the more formal institutions...
The WEA represents a vital tradition which we are always in danger of losing but which
we can never afford to lose. It has always stood for the principle that ordinary people
should be highly educated, as an end justifying itself and not simply as a means to power.
It does not see the good things in society as benefits to be handed down by an elite, or as
bargaining counters to win the favours of an electorate. In the end, it has insisted, they
will only be good things if people have made them for themselves".

Williams was extraordinarily prescient in his 1983 book Towards 2000 where he wrote about major benefits from the 'new interactive technologies... strengthening every kind of voluntary and informal association, from special interests and charities to alternative and oppositional political and cultural groups.'
We are using e-mail and intend to use the internet more to strenghen our participative network
beyond Leek.

5. Links and networks

The direct link with the WEA, but also links with U3A, the RWF, other groups and associations will be important because we want a network which may offer in one of our early educational adviser's words 'just the minimal central support... pumping out guidelines... and some material'. This too is what the late Jack Taylor (former Asst. General Secretary of the WEA) had stressed, based on his knowledge of the Swedish ABF (WEA) which has up to 2 million participants each year in study circles - 'the importance of professional back-up, written texts focussing on well-defined issues'.
Our 2005/06 programme did this using, for example, notes based on OU Professor Andrew Dobson's lecture on climate change; summaries & quotes from books; advance circulation of a book review on 'Dumbing Down' etc.. The special lecture on architecture which we promoted as part of the 2006 Leek Arts Festival attracted an attendance of more than 120 and notes based on this were used for the next Blue Mugge debate and discussion. Attendance at our
Study Circle prompted two of our most active participants to join, for the first time, the Raymond Williams week-end at the Wedgwood Memorial College in May 2006.
Hence, we see the potential for a symbiotic partnership - professional WEA lecture/course
with more informal networks? Each feeding the other, especially from autumn 2008, through developments with the Raymond Williams Foundation (www.raymondwilliamsfoundation.org.uk ).


7. The Future

We can operate in Leek, having lively debate over a pint or a fruit juice, extending and enjoying ourselves even when looking into the abyss... and this is how it may remain - and end.
We know also, though, that we can gain from an extended network and especially through
electronic, interactive communication. We think others out there interested and involved in all 'the great problems...' might gain in the same way too. That's on our agenda.
Comment, criticism and advice will be welcome from anyone interested, anywhere, at any time.

derektatton@btinternet.com

9 Comments:

Blogger tatton said...

I would like to see a blog which was black on white to be honest rather than white on black. I think research shows that it's easier to see, especially for people with visual impairment.

Also, and I know I don't do this - but having good links is really helpful ie is there a william morris website? Is there a WEA website? I can't do it, but I think it's quite easy to put website links on the blog.

Also the Sun is aimed at people with an average reading age of 8. Are you aiming at them or are you aiming at academics? If you're aiming at academics then I think you need more references.

Personally I think you should keep the esperanto blog as a website - ie information and not updated that often. This one is ok as a blog, but blogging is really good for creative writing and/or journalism so keeping it up to date is totally crucial. I notice that you did this yesterday - no mention of Europes' biggest peacetime explosion/fire.

Otherwise good effort. 6/10.

11:02 AM  
Blogger wea. william morris study circle said...

Test comment

1:45 AM  
Blogger wea. william morris study circle said...

At last evening’s meeting (13 December 2005) of the William Morris Study Circle we discussed Climate Change/Global Warming.
We must recall that in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, it was agreed to try and halt climate change. It was intended to reduce emissions of Carbon Dioxide and thus to lower world-wide pollution. Scientists had begun to speak of “climate collapse” by 2050.
Most concerned people thought of Kyoto as a “good thing”; governments, but not the chief polluter, were at least acknowledging that a problem existed.
It is generally believed that the problem is urgent and that we can do something about it.
However John presented to the Circle Bjorn Lonborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist and appeared to suggest that Kyoto was a waste of time. Lonborg evidently believes that we are in one of the “ages” (lasting millennia) and that the efforts most environmentalists believe might halt, or even reverse climate change, are doomed to failure. Lonborg’s proposal (with which we can all agree wholeheartedly) is that we should devote far more resources to the disadvantaged in the “Developing” countries. The majority of the Circle however would probably agree that this action should not preclude our doing everything we can, as individuals, communities and countries, try and prevent the “climate collapse”. There are those who believe that we are too late with such measures, especially as the USA, refusing to join the Kyoto agreement, and only half-heartedly lending measured support to the decisions in Montreal, has its citizens continuing each to release 40,000 pounds of Carbon Dioxide every year, the highest of any country in the world and more than China, India and Japan combined; around 50 million new cars roll off US assembly lines each year; 16% of world oil production goes into American cars alone.
John quite rightly warned of the partial use of statistics, but the above come from the US itself.
The fear remains, of course, that, even if one could persuade the USA and the “developing” nations with massive potential growth, to sacrifice “growth” in favour of measures to prevent further global warming, that it is already too late – our attacks on the globe we depend on may be irreversible and future generations will have to cope with the consequences.
Incidentally (and not perhaps relevant to the discussion) a study published in the journal of the American Medical Association has recently concluded that people living in the most heavily polluted Metropolitan area have a 12% increased risk of dying from lung cancer than people elsewhere – and yet petrol is still cheap in the States!
We are blindly going forward to a future, which, according to the science magazine recently warned that up to 37% of terrestrial species are committed to extinction by 2050.




Few mountain glaciers illustrate climate change so starkly as Mount Kilimanjaro. At the present rate of loss it will be ice-free in 20 years time. The snows have long been a source of sweet water for drinking and irrigation, so the 1,800 flowering plants there will gradually disappear and the animals, and, of course, the humans will be drastically affected.
WHS

2:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

At last evening’s meeting (13 December 2005) of the William Morris Study Circle we discussed Climate Change/Global Warming.
We must recall that in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997, it was agreed to try and halt climate change. It was intended to reduce emissions of Carbon Dioxide and thus to lower world-wide pollution. Scientists had begun to speak of “climate collapse” by 2050.
Most concerned people thought of Kyoto as a “good thing”; governments, but not the chief polluter, were at least acknowledging that a problem existed.
It is generally believed that the problem is urgent and that we can do something about it.
However John presented to the Circle Bjorn Lonborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist and appeared to suggest that Kyoto was a waste of time. Lonborg evidently believes that we are in one of the “ages” (lasting millennia) and that the efforts most environmentalists believe might halt, or even reverse climate change, are doomed to failure. Lonborg’s proposal (with which we can all agree wholeheartedly) is that we should devote far more resources to the disadvantaged in the “Developing” countries. The majority of the Circle however would probably agree that this action should not preclude our doing everything we can, as individuals, communities and countries, try and prevent the “climate collapse”. There are those who believe that we are too late with such measures, especially as the USA, refusing to join the Kyoto agreement, and only half-heartedly lending measured support to the decisions in Montreal, has its citizens continuing each to release 40,000 pounds of Carbon Dioxide every year, the highest of any country in the world and more than China, India and Japan combined; around 50 million new cars roll off US assembly lines each year; 16% of world oil production goes into American cars alone.
John quite rightly warned of the partial use of statistics, but the above come from the US itself.
The fear remains, of course, that, even if one could persuade the USA and the “developing” nations with massive potential growth, to sacrifice “growth” in favour of measures to prevent further global warming, that it is already too late – our attacks on the globe we depend on may be irreversible and future generations will have to cope with the consequences.
Incidentally (and not perhaps relevant to the discussion) a study published in the journal of the American Medical Associat

2:51 AM  
Blogger wea. william morris study circle said...

The Observer on 27 November last had an article about "The Klondikers of global warming"!
It seems that men from all over the world are arriving at Hammerfest, gateway to the Barents Sea, to make their fortune from new resources - oil, gas, fish and diamonds - made accessible by the receding ice
It's an ill wind that does nobody any good! WHS

3:39 AM  
Blogger wea. william morris study circle said...

The Observer on 27 November last had an article about "The Klondikers of global warming"!
It seems that men from all over the world are arriving at Hammerfest, gateway to the Barents Sea, to make their fortune from new resources - oil, gas, fish and diamonds - made accessible by the receding ice
It's an ill wind that does nobody any good! WHS

3:39 AM  
Blogger wea. william morris study circle said...

The Observer on 27 November last had an article about "The Klondikers of global warming"!
It seems that men from all over the world are arriving at Hammerfest, gateway to the Barents Sea, to make their fortune from new resources - oil, gas, fish and diamonds - made accessible by the receding ice
It's an ill wind that does nobody any good! WHS

3:39 AM  
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