The US has recently seen a large upsurge in social movements, most visibly around “Occupy” events in 70+ cities and 600+ communities, but also as a more general grassroots phenomenon. However this is much less well reflected in academia, despite the fact that there are many long-term organisers as well as younger people interested in making this their central focus. The MA in Community Education, Equality and Social Activism (CEESA) is directly geared to people in this situation who are interested in widening their analysis, reflecting on their own practice and gaining accreditation for their existing skills and knowledge. Our participants are able to return to their movements or move to new fields of activity with a wider range of experience, a greater confidence and an ability to respond to new problems and situations. – The MA CEESA includes discussion of US social movement and popular education experiences and theorists but sets this on a much more international stage than is common in many US classrooms. Our modules, and the experience of staff and other participants, draw strongly on a wide range of European movements and educational approaches as well as African, Asian and Latin American experiences. This comparative perspective in turn gives US participants a much more global education than is usually available in US courses. – US students engaged in social movements and popular education have a number of options which are specific to a particular movement (eg women’s studies, environmental advocacy, adult education) but no courses which bring together practitioners and staff from a wide range of movements to learn from each other’s expertise and reflect on different models of political organising. The MA CEESA places “learning from each other’s struggles” at the heart of its programme, both in terms of the diversity of experience and expertise among its staff and also among its students, and treats networking and alliance-building between movements as central rather than an optional extra. – Most educational options available in the US for movement practitioners have a strong policy and technical focus, rather than a strategic focus on popular organising, although this is a large-scale reality in the US. The MA CEESA steps back from the “nuts and bolts” which are in fact relatively familiar to most participants to ask wider questions about the effectiveness of different organising strategies and techniques. Participants typically experience this wider perspective as refreshing and challenging, and opening new horizons for them personally as well as in terms of their practice. – Finally, the MA CEESA (and the prospect of a year abroad in Ireland) offers US participants the chance for “time out” from what is often an exhausting working environment characterised by constant crisis and shortage of resources, to reflect in a supportive group about the wider purposes and strategies of their own practice. We have heard from past US and international participants how valuable it has been to have this partial “retreat” and the invigoration that comes from encountering different experiences and approaches, and how this has fed back into their own work following completion.
This programme is almost unique internationally in being geared towards practitioners in social movements and popular education and focussing on independent organising and strategic reflection rather than policy skills etc. The course brings together the sociological and political analyses required to change large-scale structures of inequality with the skills of popular education and reflective practice needed to organise well. Participants have a unique opportunity to spend a year in a small-group environment with other practitioners from a very wide range of different movements and communities, enabling the building of wider alliances and “learning from each other’s struggles”.
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