Entering into the latter half of my first semester as a part-time student on the MSc Education (Philosophy of Education pathway) seems a reasonable point to start producing content for a personal / academic blog. Right now we’re in Week Seven (7) of the semester and thus far it’s been very hit and miss, arguably more miss within the core programme (I may get into at a later point), however reading back over Callum McGregor’s (Programme Director: MSc Social Justice and Community Action) feedback on my for-university blog post considering investigative approaches to Activist Social Research has encouraged me to start this. Find Callum over on Twitter at @callumkmcgregor. I’ve borrowed a few lines from that for this entry as well as another blog that I submitted a while ago for one of my core courses. Generally, I’ll try to restrict myself to entries of between five hundred and eight hundred words (500-800) drafted in around one hour, and look to update on a semi-regular basis – however, I’ll breach my own parametres with this opening post and go just a little over the word count – double it, in fact… Forgive me.
My core programme is made up currently of three courses within Moray House School of Education – ‘Education Policy and the Politics of Education’ (split between semesters one and two), ‘The Nature of Enquiry’ (by far my most engaging course thus far thanks to John Ravenscroft’s [Chair of Childhood Visual Impairment] dynamic style of participatory session), and ‘The Philosophy of Education’ which I understand should be the foundation of my studies on my programme pathway. Being part-time solely for funding reasons rather than due to other commitments (I work in an overnight capacity) has meant that with a little pre-planning, I’ve been able to undertake three additional courses in an auditing capacity (sitting in on the class, sometimes participating, but with access to all of the resources) – ‘Religion, Violence, & Peacebuilding’ with the School of Divinity; ‘Class: The Psychology of Wealth, Poverty, and Social Rank’ in at the School of Psychology, and the online course in ‘Activist Social Research’. Each of these, I believe, will enable me to better prepare for my Master’s Dissertation Project, to be handed in around seventeen / eighteen months from now.
I feel that with this blog post I should provide a little background to my own academic studies. My undergraduate degree project (within the University of Edinburgh’s BA Hons Community Education) involved interviewing thirty-seven (37) adults living in North Edinburgh on whether they believed that association football (soccer) could be utilised as an effective medium in challenging racism, xenophobia, and sectarian forms in discrimination within the local community. This research actually led to a successful interview and subsequent internship with Scottish national anti-racism charity Show Racism the Red Card where I met and worked with one of my favourite people, Show Racism the Red Card Scotland’s Campaign Managed – Nicola Hay. Nicola has recently started her PhD in Glasgow (check her out on Twitter by following @N1colaHay). As with most research, my findings suggested that association football could be utilised as a partially effective medium for education – certain biases from my interviewees being exposed around race and religion, some mistrust towards local authorities running community initiatives, and concerns over affordability impacting opportunity to participate. Since producing my research in early 2016, the ‘Helping Hands’ initiative, run in North Edinburgh’s Muirhouse area on Thursday evenings by Holyrood Boxing Club, has gone some way to realising my hypothesis through their free football coaching session which have helped remove barriers to access such as cost by providing equipment, football boots, and healthy snacks at no cost (read about the project at http://www.edinburghspotlight.com/2017/06/footballedinburgh/ and follow them on Twitter at @EdiHelpingHands).
As indicated through my Twitter bio, my academic interests (as arguably is often the case) are fairly autobiographical to my personal life and to my professional work. My social media feeds tend to be filled with a mix of coverage of systemic and subjective violence, informal forms of education, domestic and international social movements, analysis and identity struggles over social class, stories of addiction, of recovery, and insights into the latest developments in artificial intelligence (AI) – interspersed with hot gossip over who’ll succeed Ray McKinnon as Dundee United manager (I’d quite like Billy Red though Csaba Laszlo could be exciting). Thus far the six university courses I’m taking (which is turns out is more than the average full-time education student [four courses]) have offered limited opportunity to develop these interests. I’ve shoehorned significant references to social class, rehabilitation, and violence into my coursework, however during class I’ve generally I’ve had to focus on the relationship between students and their teachers in formal education settings, analyse policy documents such as the Department of Education’s (for England and Wales) November 2010 ‘The Importance of Education’ document (with a focus on the terminology adopted in the foreword from then-UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg), and role play debates over whether parents should be able to decide what their children learn.
Understand though, that this is not to say the MSc programme has been without use. The aforementioned UK policy document highlighted the shift in focus of UK educational systems towards discipline, teacher power over students in the classroom, and the ever increasing emphasis on the economic benefits that governments stand to gain from an educating particular demographics within the public rather than the social benefit to the individual. In line with the latter point, my most enjoyable and engaging task thus far was a graded blog post of no more than five hundred words for the Philosophy of Education course on the purpose of education. I sought to demonstrate that the context in which the education occurs dictate that purpose. I utilised French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan’s (1967) notion of ‘place’ and American educational philosopher John Dewey (1916)’s depiction of ‘bearings’, describing a dual narrative of ‘an abstract utopian society, devoid of national and religious histories, […] that encourages free thinking for the ‘common good’ (Alasdair McIntyre, 1987) and ‘matters of public importance’ (Fleischacker, 2003)’ situating this juxtaposition to what Brazilian Educator Paulo Freire (1968) termed ‘domesticisation’ [modern] ‘market-driven societies in which a majority of people live in or are at risk of poverty, priced out of an education by tuition fees, facing precarious low-paid and insecure employment, burdened by care responsibilities with limited state support’. I enjoyed that. On Monday of this week we also had a guest lecturer for the policy course who taught on my undergraduate degree, Jim Crowther, presenting on his 2011 paper ‘Really useful knowledge or merely useful lifelong learning?’ Jim’s inclusion gives hope that there is some room for me to develop academically along the lines I intended to prior to the Communities pathway within the MSc Education programme being cancelled – necessitating my switch to the Philosophy pathway. I’ve also been able to spend time deepening my understanding of Freire’s body of work, and to study the publications of Ira Shor (City University of New York), Nancy Fraser – critical theorist and Professor of Political and Social Science and professor of philosophy at The New School (New York City), (US) American sociologist C Wright Mills, political theorist Hannah Arendt, French sociologist Loïc Wacquant (University of Chicago), and Pan-Africanist Sociologist W.E.B. DuBois.
Much of the first two months of the MSc Education programme has felt very isolating and somewhat exclusive. Even after four years of undergraduate study at the same campus, I still don’t feel comfortable spending the majority of my day time each week on site. The money-making drive of the modern university and elitist mentality I have experienced as evident given that a mere handful of us are domestic students, learning of the tuition fees many of my classmates are paying, realising each of we domestic students are only able to afford the tuition fees thanks to a combination of loans, grants, and scholarships, and I believe it is even more telling that each of us has already had to access welfare support – perhaps that can be a focus for later blog entries… In class I recently confessed to my reliance on YouTube videos by the academics we study or at least considering their work to help me get to grips with the readings, and outside of this a significant number of the podcasts I subscribe to support and develop my academic understandings – do take the time to check out ‘Nothing Never Happens’, ‘Slavoj Žižek – Collected Recordings’, the ‘Verso Podcast’, and more casually ‘The Chauncey DeVega Show’ and ‘Under the Skin with Russell Brand’ which both regular feature academics and other critical thinkers. Many of my classmates at postgraduate level have been shocked to hear that I was asked twice to “consider my place” at the University of Education during the first two years of undergraduate study due to my ‘poor grades’. Some credit goes Akwugo Emejulu (now Professor of Sociology at the University of Warwick) and her course during my third year as a key reason I stayed on, along with the fact that a lecturer retired and sold off his books in exchange for charity donations. I found myself far better able to engage with the physical copies of the texts, and this has led to my use of eBay as a means for sourcing second, third, and fourth copies of key texts for my courses. Do check Akwugo out at @AkwugoEmejulu. I went on to achieve a 2:1 BA Hons Degree – the first in my family to achieve this.
In addition to my work and (more-than) full-time hours of study, I’ve also dedicated myself during the next two years of part-time study to dragging the University of Edinburgh off campus and into our communities. Pissed off to have been told by three different members of university staff that I “must be brave” to live in Pilton, I’ve worked to get beyond that initial disheartenment and submitted applications to several different university funds to run off-campus events. If successful, I’ll be running a free facilitated evening lecture seminar on the theme of ‘Violence, Austerity, Community’, featuring a combination of brief in-person presentations, live-streamed sessions and pre-recorded lectures. Each presentation would last for twenty minutes with a further ten minutes for question and answer at the end of each session. I’ve also applied to a fund which offer £5,000 project run to run a conference of academics and community groups in North Edinburgh on the theme would be ‘Disposable Youth – Left Behind in a Globalised World’. I should know before the end of the year if either of these will come to fruition. In the last week I’ve started drafting a third proposal, this time for a podcast series where academics would discuss their work outside of academia, the impact that their research as had beyond journal publication, and be offered a chance to promote the work of others in their field. Let’s leave it there for now.
What next? If you’re interested in the things I’ve discussed in this inaugural blog entry check out Jim Crowther’s ‘Really Useful Knowledge’, Russell Brand’s ‘Under the Skin’ podcast, Helping Hands Edinburgh, and follow Callum, Akwugo, and Nicola on Twitter! If you need a hand locating or accessing any of these then drop me a line.
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