Politics in action! In the wild!

IMAG3347We talk a lot about experiential learning here at ALPSblog, so it’s always good to see that happening elsewhere. Last week, I talked about my podcasting venture as a demonstration of this, but this week we’re going even further afield. To Somerset.

In 2011 a group of independents set up in the small town of Frome, to try and run their town council. They diagnosed various problems, from a lack of engagement with local issues, to the obstruction (conscious or not) of ‘the system.’

They were able – in a few weeks – to establish a set of ways of working together and a list of candidates for seats, and won a majority that is still going strong.

Their experience has already been shared with other such groups across the UK and their website and book are both well worth the time to investigate, as are the write-ups they’ve had (here and here).

From our perspective, we might learn a couple of things.

The first is that experiences need to be shared and discussed to be meaningful: much of the material available is actually auto-critiquing of practice, with a view of finding solutions and incremental improvements. As Peter Macfadyen, a leading light in the group, notes, there has to be a readiness to admit that you’re not always right and that somethings your critics and opponents have a point.

The second is that the emergence of such movements offers up new potential for higher education, as a way of building engagement and connection of study to, well, ‘the world’.

This isn’t to suggest that our students should be running the local council (although we do actually have some of our students elected to local offices), but rather than looking for reasons why we can’t get access, we should be thinking about how to play the system to make it work for us. That might mean thinking about different ways we can achieve our goals, ways that might be more constructively aligned with the pressures other actors face.

In short, it’s about using our ‘academic’ knowledge of politics to practical purposes. As I wrote last week, it shouldn’t be enough that we say it to students, but that we practice it ourselves.