“Cooperative School Governance”
Relations of production characterize the economy. The way people treat one another as they produce their lives together shapes the kind of social formation they live within. Educating for new relations of production–changing existing relations–can therefore recharacterize that economy. Capitalist relations of production, for example, are exploitative.
One alternative to exploitative relations of production is the cooperative relation of production. From the Park Slope Food Co-op in New York City to REI to cooperatively-run restaurants, childcare facilities, and factories, a number of large and small organizations use cooperative models of governance which, to varying degrees, undermine the exploitative quality of capitalist relations of production. The lines between workers, employees, and owners blur in these organizations. Yet these organizations and their alternative relations of production are neither commonplace nor well-known. Is it possible to educate for a greater awareness and abundance of cooperative relations of production? Can this help to create a certain density of anti-capitalist learning in the United States?
Two parallel questions emerge with respect to cooperative education, which derive from two meanings of education. Roughly speaking education can be becoming and/or schooling, the latter a special case of the former. Education as becoming is when an entity–individual or collective–changes its constitution in some meaningful way. Education as schooling is a special case of becoming: when individual or collective change is directed by institutions loosely resembling schools which the state, in any iteration, organizes and legislates for children and adults who identify somehow as students. All this is to say that the present essay broaches two questions simultaneously: 1) Can cooperative schooling help people learn the commons? 2) Can cooperative education in institutions beyond schools help people learn the commons?
I will focus more attention on the first question, borrowing reflections and research from surveys and texts addressing the second. The proposal of this essay is that cooperative schooling is one option for unlearning capitalist relations of production and learning new relations which take the commons seriously.
The next two questions that arise concern the scope of the cooperative governance intervention in educational institutions. 1) How would cooperative governance work in K-12 schools in the United States? 2) How would cooperative governance work in higher education? The motivations, concerns, and models for governance would differ between these two scopes. In this research I will consider precedents for both, as well as motivations and models for primary, secondary, and tertiary education.
philadelphia O&O: A worker education program. (Of peripheral interest, to focus my project: this is NOT what I’m interested in, though it is interesting):
The educational program of PACE (aka PACE of Philadelphia) was also path-building. Formed in 1976 as the Delaware Valley Federation for Economic Democracy, a branch of the short-lived Federation for Economic Democracy, PACE was given several responsibilities that have become familiar territory for technical assistance organizations – feasibility studies, organizational and legal structure, loans and capitalization planning, and advocacy. Their worker education program was, it appears, unprecedented. PACE trained more than 700 worker owners in the transition for A&P to O&O.
Rather, I’m interested in schools for students (adults or children) that are governed cooperatively. Some precedents and resources include:
- Illinois special ed coop?
- Cooperative colleges in Kenya and Spain
- Social movements and cooperative education: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/mar/26/free-university-cooperative-model-sustainable-alternative
- A cooperative elementary school: http://www.ucoopschool.org/
- Center for cooperatives at UW-Madison: http://www.uwcc.wisc.edu/