The Radical Education Workbook, Part 3: Self Organisation

Arts Everywhere is republishing the Radical Education Workbook (Other sections published thus far: Part 1, Part 2). The PDF with the entire Radical Education Workbook as it originally appeared, is available here.

Self Organisation

Free University of Liverpool


At the Free University of Liverpool we are convinced that education happens all the time, even during sleep. In this light we are drawn to contemporary examples listed below (by no means exhaustive).

The following links will get you to the ‘intro’ pages of each initiative.

We were also spooked to find out that an education alternative was set up in Liverpool by a married couple under the influence of Spanish radical Ferrer. Check out Nellie Dick, aged 96, recounting her experiences of setting up schools in the first decades of the 20th Century:

Christine Stansell’s American Moderns also recounts, in lucid and readable detail, the politicised contexts within which alternative education strategies were being put into practice, with some significant beginnings in Liverpool:

For a well informed article about Liverpool’s special relationship with anarchist education, spanning most of the 20th Century (including Jim and Nellie Dick’s International Modern School, The Scotland Road Free School and others), investigate

What all of these examples have in common is the explicitly politicised nature of the education they offer. It seems that politicisation is the key to education. For us this means engaging in a praxis of critical self-reflexivity. It means always asking ourselves two key questions. What is political about what we are doing? And, much more importantly, what is political about HOW we are doing it?


This is one of the games we have played to try to bring these issues to the fore, especially during presentations with other people not familiar with The Free University of Liverpool. We did it once as follows and may repeat:

  1. Put the kettle on and make a cup of tea.
  2. Whilst drinking the tea together brainstorm questions you think you might be asked by people who do not know what you are doing.
  3. Write down those questions
  4. Do not answer them yet.
  5. Double check them between yourselves making sure that they are questions you yourselves would like to know the answers to.
  6. You may not necessarily know the answers.
  7. Accept an invitation to present your project (in our case The Free University of Liverpool).
  8. At the beginning of the presentation scatter the questions across the floor.
  9. Sit back to back on chairs in the centre of the circle of people.
  10. Put bags over your heads so nobody can see your face.
  11. Tell people to pick a question up off the floor and ask it.
  12. The audience member is asked to remove the bag from the head of the person they have chosen to answer the question.
  13. You have no longer than one minute to answer the question.
  14. Your colleague will count to 60 and say ‘stop’ when they get there.
  15. When all the questions have been asked take the bags off your heads and engage normally with the other people in the room about some of the issues that came up.


Higher Education is a right for all not a privilege for the few. It is on this basis that the Free University of Liverpool is committed to FREE education for any student who wants to study with us. At the Free University of Liverpool we believe that critical thought and action are at the heart of changing the world we live in. With this in mind we support, teach about and practice cultural activism. We believe in the strength of intervention, in the necessity of interruption and the efficacy of interference in the powers that seek to privatise and instrumentalise education. The current cuts the ConDems announced are promising to ruin civil society in the UK. This is the last straw! We will not sit here and take it any more. We will rise up and educate each other and ourselves to FIGHT BACK!

We are interested in those who wish the world were otherwise and are willing to take steps to make it otherwise. Students wishing to learn with us will take a Foundation Degree: a six month introductory course to changing the world or Bachelor of Arts in Cultural Praxis: a three-year course, taught on the ground in Liverpool by a dedicated team of cultural activists, educationalists and cultural workers with experience and formal qualifications. The first Foundation Course started in October 2011, with the BA in Cultural Praxis in October 2012. Lectures, seminars and workshops form the core activities of the university, with equal weight given to the power of words and the power of action. Praxis is our watchword.

Every meeting with other people is act of education. Either you learn or they do or both. Education as a term is a reactionary concept because it assumes that it only happens under certain conditions, and that those conditions can only be reproduced within an explicitly educational environment.

Worker Education

Presented at the Radical Education Forum Workshop held at South London Gallery in December, 2010.


In October 1908 industrial workers, who were trade union-sponsored students at Ruskin College in Oxford, United Kingdom, founded what they called the League of the Plebs. Former students who had returned to their jobs as miners, railway-workers, textile workers and engineers, supported them. From January 1909 they began to organise socialist education in working-class areas of the country, and under the umbrella of the National Council of Labour Colleges (NCLC), there were, by 1926-27, 1,201 classes like this across Britain, with 31,635 students. Many classes that had begun in this way were still running in 1964. In February 1909 the students launched the monthly Plebs Magazine, which continued until 1970. Between the 26th of March and 6th of April they conducted the ‘Ruskin College strike’ (actually a boycott of lectures). In September of that year, with union and socialist support, which they had built, they opened the Central Labour College, which survived until 1929.

Working class political independence demanded that workers produce for themselves, from amongst their own ranks, thinkers and organisers who remain answerable to them. The Ruskin students and ex-students understood this and went a long way towards creating the mechanisms necessary for achieving it, seeing adult education as key to their success.

Due to the revolutions in 1789, 1830 and 1848, universities on the continent produced a thin layer of educated people who were prepared to throw in their lot with the working-class movement (examples include Marx, Plekhanov, Kautsky, Lenin and Luxemburg). However, in England the two main universities at Oxford and Cambridge – especially Oxford – reflected the compromise between the bourgeoisie and aristocracy at the end of the Civil War. They were dominated by the need to produce Anglican clergymen, civil servants and colonial administrators. If Oxford graduates became socialists at all, they became Christian socialists, not revolutionaries. Working class activists had to do most of their thinking in isolation from educated people, which forced them to rely on reading the main socialist texts for themselves. On top of this, many texts that we now think of as essential had not yet been translated into English.

During the 1870s, Cambridge, Oxford and London Universities all developed what they called ‘extension networks’. These sent lecturers across the country, giving talks on topics of general interest, often to very large audiences. Although some working-class people did attend extension lectures, by about 1900 it was clear that working-class people in general, and union activists in particular, were rejecting them. It was equally clear that socialist ideas were gaining support amongst a growing minority of militants. This was a period when some workers would go without food to buy a secondhand book, and risk the sack by reading it at work.

In 1899 two American socialists, Walter Vrooman and Charles Beard, funded by Vrooman’s wife, tried to create a movement for working-class adult education in England. They were inspired by the ideas of the former Oxford university professor and art critic, John Ruskin. In addition to the residential Ruskin college in Oxford, they set up Ruskin ‘halls’ in several working class centres, a system of correspondence tuition and local discussion groups linked to it. At the start, the project was a mixture of utopian colony and labour college. But, within a decade, working-class activists, sponsored by union branches, came to form the overwhelming majority of its students.

The students who were at Ruskin in 1907, for example, had their own ideas about the type of education workers needed. They called this Independent Working-Class Education (IWCE). This was flatly opposed to the extension model as set out at Oxford. Instead of revering mainstream higher education, they saw it as ‘orthodox’, reflecting the class interests of the well-off and therefore necessarily mis-educating workers. They believed that the content of education for adult workers should be Marxist economics, industrial history and philosophy, which to them meant the capacity to reason things out for oneself. In this light, they emphasised the importance of participatory teaching and learning methods to support the needs of the proletariat.

In 1908, against an attempt by the Workers Education Association to seize control of the Ruskin School, the League of Plebs published a pamphlet, The Burning Question of Education. In this, they argued that Ruskin college should have ‘a more satisfactory relation to the Labour Movement’. In January 1909, they began setting up local classes. The editorial in the first issue of The Plebs Magazine stated that the League of the Plebs ‘endeavours to permeate the Labour Movement in all its ramifications with the desire for human liberation’.


  1. Groups engage in close readings and small group discussions of classic socialist texts
  2. Readings result in collectively articulated positions on the text
  3. Activists then disseminate these positions or descriptions to others in their endeavor to further the class struggle, both to working class people and ruling class spokespersons.


In our discussion, we were struck by the familiarity of the description of the ‘Plebs’ today. Universities in Britain continue to conduct a revised version of ‘extension’, called ‘widening participation’. In the name of ‘access’, such well-meaning programmes actually disguise a hierarchical and highly classist approach. Rather than meeting the needs of locals, these programmes centralise the university and its ways of commodifying knowledge over informal and committed self-education. While universities must remain open and remove barriers to higher education, attention must also be paid to the kind of education that is put forward. The struggle against the cuts must fight not only for wider access to a university education, but also for a re-formulation of education to serve more than the interests of today’s ruling classes: corporations needing workers, financial institutions seeking debt repayment and urban developers requiring a ‘creative’ class. The Bologna Process and other Europe-wide reforms have already reshaped the university to serve these interests.

In response, we noted that the Ruskin School managed to incorporate both the inside (through a college at Oxford) and the outside (through hundreds of worker self-education groups). This is important, as many of our ideas in the education movement polarise self-education and university education. This position has left us very vulnerable to, for example, the current forces of a conservative government who suggest autonomous education or ‘free schools’ which further privatise public education. What the Ruskin teaches us is that it is not simply a choice between education that takes place in the university or in anarchist centres and squats, but rather a question of an open declaration of commitment between multiple parties, with the interests of the under-privileged at heart.

Context / history and practice taken from Colin Waugh: ‘Plebs’ The Lost Legacy of Independent Working-Class Education, A Post-16 Educator occasional publication.

Self-Reliance: Discussion on the University of Islam


The University of Islam is a network of schools. Through donations made to the Nation of Islam, these schools manage to rent spaces, purchase new textbooks and employ trained teachers. The University of Islam does not receive state funding or any form of financial support from private corporations— its schools are the community’s.

The first school was established in Detroit, Mi in 1932 out of necessity. It was during this time that Jim Crow America embodied a commitment to upholding an unequal distribution of power. As a result, the public school system was not a viable option for African American children. In response to this environment, the University of Islam schools have taught its students to rely on oneself; to be disciplined enough to create and sustain a life for a community; and to be able to survive without the support of American society.

The encouragement of self-reliance within this model is implemented in two steps at once. The first step is a series of courses that support self-employment (agricultural sciences and business classes for example). The second step is a consistent and strict call for self-discipline (this is exercised through mock military drills). It is through the insistence and practice of self-reliance, that the University of Islam schools offer an alternative model for education. We can learn from these schools. They offer a response to the exclusivity of comprehensive education. By stringing together a number of core features of the University of Islam schools, we can begin to draft at least three possible amendments to comprehensive education.

Possible Amendments:

  1. The narrative constructed in history courses must be re-written from the position of the powerless.
    In addition to a curriculum of core subjects, the University of Islam offers a revisionist history course titled ‘Chronological History from 13,000bc’. By beginning with 13,000bc, this course contextualizes Western history as being part of a much longer history that includes a wider scope of protagonists. In doing so, students are encouraged to re-imagine historical narratives.
  2. Discipline should be the responsibility of the parent, not the school.
    In the early sixties, the Chicago school administered a radical disciplinary system where parents were disciplined for students’ behavior. This ability to hold parents accountable was at least partially made possible by relationships formed with these parents in adult education courses also offered by the schools. In recent years, the Sacramento school has penalized parents for their child’s tardiness by charging an additional fee.
  3. In addition to core academic courses, all students must learn a vocational skill from reception.
    Many University of Islam schools teach its students a trade in attempt to introduce the young students to skills that can provide lucrative options for self-employment. Teaching students from a young age suggests that vocational training is not simply an alternative plan for students who are unable enroll in higher education, but instead necessary skills that all students should master regardless of their academic ambitions.


Ideas for a history lesson on the Civil Rights Movement

  1. Organize each page of the newspaper so that the group can see
    the entire paper at once.
  2. Review some of the headlines:
    ‘Districts study “progressive” year round school’
    ‘Community control advocate, ‘‘saddened” at Black mis-education
    ‘Educational Self-determination’
    ‘Native Palestinian Arabic teacher a “blessing”’
    ‘Education or Mis-education of Black man?’
  3. Then review the adverts that sit alongside the articles:
    Guaranty Bank
    Salaam Restaurant
    Nation of Islam Information Centre
    Shabbazz Bakery
    ‘Your’ Super Market
  4. What are the key principles of the U of I schools in 1970s America?
  5. What do the images in the Muhammad Speaks Newspaper tell us about the University of Islam?


We noted the way that the articles on education were buttressed by examples of self-reliance through the adverts for Black owned businesses. Though we were sure to note that students need not be part of the Nation of Islam to enroll, we questioned the feasibility of this educational program working outside of a religious community. After reviewing the reference to ‘self’ in the paper we began to understand the self as not only the individual; but as the community, in this case the Nation of Islam. We do not want to opt out of public education. We instead wanted to bring some of the features of the schools into mainstream education.

Open Archive: 56a Infoshop


Within the four walls of the small backroom that makes up 56a Infoshop in Walworth, South London, there is a large open-access archive of radical publications. Not only are there books, newspapers and pamphlets but there are much more ephemeral items such as leaflets, stickers and fly posters from hundreds of different social movements, tendencies, conspiracies, temporary alliances and individual human beings.

Begun in 1991 as a squatted anarchist Infoshop – quite literally a store for alternative and radical information that seeks to be free and circulate outwards to the places where it needs to go and where it needs to be – the Infoshop remains today a trusted site of commonist activity, conviviality, antagonism and the place to find info within the collection of tons of printed matter.


For example, over the years, by default, we have been collecting texts and images from various alternative education modes – from free skools, home school, school striking to f*cking school up. Or a different strand – from open university, working class university, Plebs League to occupying the Edu-Factory. One leaflet describes the running amok of school kids in Sheffield town centre during a series of school strikes in 1985. Another text from Nantes, a beautiful relic these days with its fragile purple mimeographed pages, describes the struggles and debates around the clamorous period of May 1968 in France. It would be better to come and see what is there, than to read here a longer list that would only be frustrating to those who seek info, knowledge, shared learning, conversation and so on…

However, a mere fragment of what we have is acceptable:

  • The Pedagogy of Celestin Freinet
  • On The Poverty of Student Life
  • Vision Of The New University and a Brief List of Impossible Demands
  • Nanterre, Here, Now – Jean-François Lyotard
  • Occupation: A Do-It-Yourself Guide
  • Communique From An Absent Future: On The Terminus of Student Life
  • Proletarian Philosophy: A Version of Pastoral – Jonathan Ree
  • The Pitfalls of National Consciousness – Franz Fanon
  • The False Principal of Our Education or Humanism And Realism – Max Stirner
  • Paulo Freire and the Politics of Postcolonialism – Henry A Giroux
  • The Autodidacts and Their Literary Culture: Autobiographers in Nineteenth Century France – Martin Lyons
  • Autodidacticism And Their Desire for Culture – Rosemary Chapman
  • Beyond Zombie Politics
  • Recomposing The University – Tiziana Terranova and Marc Bousquet
  • All Power To The Copenhagen Free University – CFU
  • Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom – Bell Hooks
  • Key Terms and Concepts Related to Critical Pedagogy and Educational Theory and Practice
  • Feminist Critical Pedagogy and Critical Theory Today – Ilan Gur-Ze’ev
  • Towards Pedagogies of Freedom – Solange de Azambuja Lira and William T Stokes
  • Deschooling, Conviviality and the Possibilities for Informal Educations and Lifelong Learning – Ivan Illich
  • Towards a Non-Repressive Critical Pedagogy – Ilan Gur-Ze’ev
  • Francisco Ferrer and The Modern School – Emma Goldman


Once, we were working on our usual once-a-month Archive night where the volunteers who tend to the collection get together to file, sort, rethink, categorise and all that. There was a moment where a discussion of precarity and the rhythms of work in the modern age were present. One archivist autodidact got excited and pulled out the box file that contains the 1980’s US journal Processed World. What could be made of this radical prehistory of the debates around precarity that only really came more into the movement psyche in 21st Century? Processed World was made by computer temps, short-term office workers, programmers and so on in the Bay Area. People who were insistent on the damage of computer terminals to the working body. People who dressed up as computer monitors or boxes of cornflakes and demonstrated in the streets against work itself. People who had read about the refusal of work in 70’s Italy, digested it and brought it into their daily lives and struggles through humour, sabotage, sharp and fresh satire.

It was later in this moment of people digging into the copies of Processed World and making all these connections (some of a revelation too, it seemed, for some!) that an image jumped off the page. It was the picture of the aftermath of the police bombing of the MOVE house in Osage Avenue, Philadelphia on May 13, 1985. Some people did not know the story of how the police had fired 10,000 bullets into the home of the MOVE, a radical black organisation in an attempt to suppress the group. In the evening, a helicopter dropped a 4 pound bomb of explosives on the house resulting in a fire that killed 11 MOVE members and burned 65 houses in the neighbourhood. It is a horrific story.

We were then able to pull from the Archive, a few books and some texts about MOVE and to read the story aloud. In this moment, feeling like we were on some kind of archival educational chain. What could we find in the story of the history of MOVE that then might take us somewhere else? Which section of the archive would we be pulled into next? It seemed like a real archive movement. Caught up in the social and collective effort of making the archive, we also fell deep within it, stirring both the papers that make up the collection and ourselves as we put some events and ideas together.

This is why the archive exists. To be a living collection that moves people to act, from reflection, from passion. Please come and use the archive to make things anew.

56a Infoshop

56 Crampton St, London, SE17 3AE
Wed 3-7, Thu 2-8, Fri 3-7, Sat 2-6pm



Between Radical Theory and Community Praxis: Reflections on Organizing and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex presents a case study of dilemmas based on the experiences of Sisters in Action for Power, a grassroots community organisation in need of addressing financial stability for survival. The contradictions played out through the case study highlight how the requirements and expectations to formalise as a not for profit organisation in order to access funding streams generates a number of compromises including over-commitment in workload, twisting of core organising values, and adopting new methods and strategies in community organising to fit with funding criteria.

The text goes on to detail a campaign set to challenge the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. While the Act declares itself as increasing freedom, choice, quality and achievement in education, Sisters in Action for Power critique the NCLB Act stating that it “discredits, defunds, and dismantles public education and teachers unions”[1] as schools are closed for not meeting educational targets and pupils’ are funnelled into a privatised education system.


This raises a number of key questions:

  • What are the guiding factors for aims and objectives of funding applications?
  • What stories are being told about how funding is used ‘successfully’?
  • What kind of dependence / independence is created as a result of funding relationships?


As a group we discussed the text and the relationship between funding and education, a summary of which is outlined below:

Funding comes with strings attached, and will be granted only if the aims and objectives outlined in the application are complementary to the aims and objectives of the funder. This may mean for some organisations, shaping and moulding in order to fit with the requirements of the funder.

This impacts on what success story is being told, and not only what is recognised as good work, but also what is recognised as a good quantity of work and in what timeframe. While evaluation and reflection is an essential part of organising, when reporting back to funders this becomes about gathering evidence for how targets have been met, and doesn’t create space for self critique, pressurising organisations to overextend in the reflective process in order to both meet the requirements and to carry out meaningful reviews.

When funding is associated with education, this becomes the product that is sold to the funder in exchange for the resources to carry out the educational promise. This transaction generates a very different kind of relationship, where the education of those in mind becomes part of an economy that needs to be predicted, measured and successful in relation to the funding aims.

The not for profit model borrows shape and structure from a business model. It has administrative responsibilities, corporate appearances and communication structures and desires to grow and expand. Yet administration is a costly commitment to upkeep, expansion is not always complimentary to the needs of the community and the skills of the organisers, and business models do not warn against burnout in the face of social and personal responsibility.

The relationship between organising and funding is not one that generates independence. If funding could facilitate financial and structural independence, the funder would render themselves irrelevant. The funder needs to be needed, and therefore it is not in the funder’s interests for independence to be fully achieved.

The relationship between education and funding, and in particular the relationship between funding as a reward for meeting formal educational targets in schools and colleges, can easily translate to penalising and excluding those experiencing poverty and those higher support needs.

The funding of education by private means is an open canvas for cooptation, selective teaching, funnelling workforces into particular industries with particular companies and interest groups.



As workers in the sex industry we are often denied a voice, we are considered only passive victims, we are taught to be ashamed of our work, we are made invisible by discriminatory laws that illegalise our work and us, and we are spoken for and about but rarely are we allowed to speak for ourselves. As migrants even more so. Sometimes our voices are not heard even amongst each other because we don’t speak the same languages.

The x:talk project is a sex worker-led workers’ co-operative which approaches language teaching as knowledge sharing between equals and regards the ability to communicate as a fundamental tool for sex workers to work in safer conditions, to organise and to socialise with each other. The content of the x:talk English classes, the examples, language and words used are chosen with an understanding that language is a powerful tool in shaping the meaning of the way things are in the world. Language is a tool used to communicate, empower and also to oppress. If it matters what we say and how we say it, then it matters how we teach it.

We understand language to be a politically and socially charged instrument of power, which we aim to teach critically and thoughtfully. Our English classes are organized to create a space where sex work as work can be openly talked about and does not have to be concealed or hidden. Through providing such a space we aim to challenge the stigma and isolation attached to our profession while at the same time we guarantee confidentiality and respect for those involved. In addition to providing free English classes to migrant sex workers, we support critical interventions around issues of migration, race, gender, sexuality and labour, we participate in feminist and anti-racist campaigns and we are active in the struggle for the rights of sex workers in London, the UK and globally.



We consider confidentiality to be crucial for everyone involved in the x:talk project – including for students, teachers, teaching assistants and allies. We understand confidentiality to mean not only that all personal information about people involved in the project remains private but also that information is on a need to know basis. If students feel in a position to share personal information we welcome the exchange – however no one in the classes should ever be required to answer questions about who they are or what they do. As is usual in the sex industry – students are welcome to use their working names if necessary.


Our project comes from our experiences as workers in the sex industry. x:talk is sex worker-led not because we think that being a ‘sex worker’ is a fixed identity, but because those who have experienced the material conditions of the sex industry are in the best position to know how to change it.

We do not wish to participate in a politics that creates individual ‘celebrity’ superstars. As a result we use the collective identity of Ava Caradonna (which roughly translates to ‘Eve the Good Woman’).

Ava Caradonna is a migrant, a sex worker, a student, a mother, a citizen, a transgender, a person of colour, a teacher, a lesbian and a militant.

She allows us to speak from different positions as sex workers and as allies, without the stigma of using our ‘real’ names and allows us to speak to the different realities in the sex industry and beyond.

Respect for a diversity of experiences:

We are interested in organizing to radically transform the sex industry so that sex workers have more control over their lives and work. We are not interested in passing judgement on what type of work people do. We recognize that many women, men and trans people have a diverse range of experiences in the sex industry – good, bad and ugly. Our project is open to people who sells sex or sexual services – including workers in brothels, escort agencies, outdoors, flats, independents, bars, on the phone or internet, strippers, dancers, models, porn stars and glamour models. We respect people’s choices or circumstances about continuing to work in the sex industry or exiting the industry.

Combating the desire to help and save sex workers:

x:talk was born in a brothel in south London. The project grew out of the experiences of a prostitute called Alice who was working in a flat with many women from Thailand. They had paid £20,000 to come to the UK to work, they did not have their passports and they earned less money than Alice who was considered to be ‘European’. One reason they did not earn as much money as Alice was because they couldn’t negotiate with English speaking clients very easily. When Alice asked the women how she could help them – they expressed very clearly they did not want to be ‘helped’ but instead that they wanted to learn English. So began the first x:talk classes – in between clients and during the long hours of waiting. It was clear to Alice that we need to be able to speak together to be able to organise at work. x:talk is not about helping people, but about collective action and solidarity.


In order to gain the trust of the people we are working with and teaching, we need to be clear about what the x:talk project can and cannot do – we teach English and offer a space for peer-to-peer networking, translation and information sharing. We are not lawyers, social workers, immigration agents or charity workers.

[1] Page 96, Between radical theory and community praxis: Reflections on Organizing and the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, Amara H. Perez, Sister in Action for Power, in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the non-profit industrial complex, Edited by Incite! Women of Colour Against Violence, South End Press, 2007.

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Filed Under: Articles & Essays


Ultra-red are a sound-based art and political collective founded in 1994 by two AIDS activists. Originally based in Los Angeles, the collective has expanded over the years with members across North America and Europe.


The Radical Education Forum is a group of people working in a wide range of educational settings in the UK. We meet monthly to discuss radical pedagogical theories and techniques, and contemporary issues of interest to those involved or interested in education.

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