On June 28th and 29th, the Learning Together Network convened in London for our annual conference— an opportunity for forging connections among colleagues, celebration, reflection, and above all, discussion that leads us forward in the sharing and exercise of good practice.
We gathered at HMP Brixton for the first day, surrounded by storyboards of the Learning Together journey and student work from the HMP Brixton and LSBU and LSHTM universities partnership. Consistent with the theme of the conference, “Values in Action,” colleagues held workshops that were informed by their own courses. These workshops on the values of potential, progression, participation, and praxis truly embraced the “in action” spirit of Learning Together by modelling the style of a Learning Together class— presentation, with more of the time devoted to a following discussion. We all became students as we discussed the potentials for realisation as well as discomfort, role-played as psychologists, police officers, and social workers approaching a case, and formed creative responses by drawing and sharing our Learning Together journeys.
In Brixton, we also celebrated the students who completed the education course. In his speech, one student powerfully placed his Learning Together experience and politics into conversation. He advocated for the value of inclusivity in action in both the educational and political spheres. We’d like to share a portion of his speech here:
“‘Twenty years ago I made a mistake. I deeply regret it and I hope you’ll give me a second chance.’ Those words may sound familiar to you. They are, as closely as I can recall without access to the internet or on-demand TV, the words used by Michael Gove recently, after admitting that he had used cocaine. He didn’t just want a second chance of course, he expected and even demanded it. In a way, I suppose, he was saying that he wanted the selection process for the next leader of the Conservative Party to be inclusive — or at least, more inclusive than it would have been without him in it.
One of the things that has transformed for me over the last four weeks of our Learning Together project here in Brixton is my appreciation of the value of real inclusivity. We learn better when we learn together, and the diversity that we brought to our classroom provided the richness of the experience. We learnt as much from each other as we learnt from our tutors [. . .]
I began by recalling the words of Michael Gove, but I too have a confession to make. Twenty years ago I also made a mistake that I deeply regret. Unlike Mr. Gove, however, my mistake caught up with me a couple of years ago and I’ve spent the last twenty months in prison. I’m due to be released in about three months and I don’t mind admitting that I’m as nervous about that prospect as I was about coming to prison in the first place. I too would like a second chance as I think I have something to offer that could enrich the lives of others. A more inclusive society could give me that chance — or is that kind of inclusivity just another perk for the privileged few?” – Chris
Our second day took place at London South Bank University, where presentations on the Network’s work over the past year, developments in access to technology as tools of education in our classrooms, and exciting research findings on student growth in a Learning Together course, were also followed by an afternoon of dynamic discussion. We broke off into small groups to discuss the Network and Course Convenor Toolkits that we have been developing, and possibilities for peer review that strengthen that sharing of good practice in our Network. The whole group came back together for a last discussion on “Hot Topics.” Building on reflections that had arisen throughout the conference, we explored topics such as the role of research and conscientious language, finding ways to productively examine ourselves before ending with action planning for the year to come.
The ethos of discussion that shaped the conference brings to mind bell hook’s vision on the power of conversation. She distinguishes between two modes of speech—monologue and dialogue. She writes that those who communicate through monologue are “the people who talk at us, who by refusing to converse, promote and maintain a hierarchy of domination wherein withholding gives one power over another person.” Conversation—conversation worthy of the name—is a dialogue. Because dialogue must involve an exchange, “conversation is always about giving. Genuine conversation is about the sharing of power and knowledge; it is fundamentally a cooperative enterprise.” In our conference, we participated in conversations. These conversations, whether formal group discussions or informal conversations during tea and coffee breaks, or even “presentations” in which a few people spoke to a larger group that listened, became conversation through that notion of giving. We gave each other our ideas and our willingness to listen, and in doing so, gave each other voice. Voice that emerges through conversation is voice that reshapes the paradigms of power and knowledge in ways that are more democratic and inclusive— its own “value in action” visible at the conference and in our classes and Network as a whole.