Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Would the Pitman Painters classes happen today?

It’s Adult Learners' Week here in the UK. Adult education is one of those things that makes me feel proud and sorrowful about being British – like good council houses, allotments and Greggs pasties. (Where else do you still find organisations called things like Workers Education Association?) The Ashington Group, subject of Lee Hall’s The Pitman Painters that I wrote about recently, began as a WEA class in the 1930s. And that tradition carries on today with many thousands of people enjoying the arts through adult education, and artists and arts organisations being heavily involved in both formal and informal adult learning. (Literature in the North East has always been particularly strong in this field, with writers and editors like Michael Standen, Gillian Allnut, Andy Croft and the late Bill Scammell amongst many others having played especially important roles.)

In recent years some of the tradition of adult education has come under attack by the forces of modernisation. Some of this has been for the good – there have been benefits from professionalisation of teaching – but other effects have narrowed the people who can benefit, and narrowed the activities. I did a lot of adult ed teaching earlier in my career, and got a huge amount from it. I also saw some great writers emerge who might not have taken the first steps if adult education had not been so welcoming. Increasingly, though, you could harshly characterise the approach as being that most people will need to pay, need to get accredited whether they like it or not and they’ll only be able to pay for things for which are deemed ‘useful’. (Unless we’re especially keen to get them off benefits.)

The government is currently consulting on proposals for ‘informal adult learning’ which seem to be something of a corrective to that trend. There do seem to be dangers within – not least the idea that a Google search and an online experience is as effective adult education as meeting other human beings in a room. (Call me old-fashioned… I know it’s AND not or.) If your practice or your work brings you into this sphere it’s worth looking at that and responses such as those from the WEA and NIACE and perhaps putting your two pennorth in.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi MArk

I came to this blog because I was reading up on the Ashington painters.My thoughts may be way off target of what you wanted by way of contributions- but here they are anyway!

I came from a mining estate. My dad retrained as an art teacher - long story. As kids we always had access to art materials- it was just a way of life, part of what we did, no big value judgements, no one telling us what things should look like or what was "art" and what wasn't.

None of us made a career in art but all of us still dabble- paint a bit , enjoy photography, go to evening classes from time to time, belong to art and craft related organisations.

I know I was very fortunate - we didn't ever have much cash for the latest toys or gadgets or clothes - but we were better protected from those sorts of pressures then. Now kids think they have to have the latest trainers or get bullied.

I trained to teach and got very disillusioned about schools, the national curriculum etc.

Now I home educate our children and they have access to art materials and resources which are actually relatively less expensive than when I was small ( and the local scrapstore is great too) Doing things, like painting and drawing, learning about spinning and weaving are child led and intrinsically motivated.

Completely agree with you on adult ed.Community based courses which you do because you enjoy them, because they add to your quality of life and develop your skills and creativity - for its own sake- have almost completely vanished.

I stopped going to pottery sessions at the local college - they have been drastically cut anyway.I have all the bits of paper but I still have to sign up for a curriculum and be assessed- and that process confines creativity and restricts the materials I can use. Hmm - and it costs so much too.

I'd like to do more art related sessions for our local home ed group- but of course you get no funding if you home educate and the cost of regularly renting somewhere is prohibitive.

Thinking about some artists and particularly the great engineers I wonder how many would have achieved what they managed to achieve had they gone through the testing regimes and national curriculum?

Can you image some of the engineers being allowed to make anything at all with their educational backgrounds today? Yet we still depend on many of their magnificent structures.

Look at the catherdals - can you imagine Mr Balls and co getting up there and creating anything like that? No.That was the working class wasn't it ?

Why is working class culture and achievement ignored, played down, forgotten?

Could it be to do with the demise of the old communist party? Warts and all - " bread and roses too!"

The work ethos and the rush for qualifications seems to be all that matters now.You are told you are "good" at art and could get a GCSE- or that it's best not to bother as you won't do well in the exam.

I think it was Tony Benn who said school taught me what I was no good at.

I think Ministers like their middle class life and think we should all toil to have the same. We should all be middle class and sacrifice everything - time with our kids etc in the rush to get there.

Things like Ashington and memories from my childhood are for me a much better model of how communities could work with a little encouragement. ( and yes I do know it could be stifling too for some people in those communities).

Maybe if we could relearn those values we wouldn't have to satisfy ourselves with more and more consumer goods, foreign holidays etc. Good for us, good for the planet.

Just don't get me started on allotments, walking and cycling groups,the Kinder tresspass, the beginnings of the YHA and all those other things which a couple of remarkable generations did for themselves!

Not sure if I'll get back here but thanks anyway! very thought provoking - better get off the soapbox and back to the kids!

home ed mum