For our 120th celebrations, we are talking to some of the people that helped make the WEA what it is today. One such individual is Colin, a former tutor organiser at WEA, whose work helped to advance Scotland's educational system.
"I was appointed to the WEA south-east Scotland district as their only tutor organiser, starting in September 1976, and became district secretary in December 1983. I left in September 1986 to train as a counsellor and psychoanalytic psychotherapist. I taught the core course in community education at the University of Edinburgh for the following six years, and have continued to be a member of the WEA ever since. I still regard myself as an adult and community education learner and teacher, at the ripe old age of 79!
In my work as an adult and community education learner and teacher, there is a context which I want to define quickly. In many ways, I began my writing life as a poet and prose writer, and all that continues to be very important to me. I write from the heart and the head, speaking to real and imagined communities of readers who I am addressing directly as persons."
Colin's introduction to adult education
"My sense of this plurality of persons in relation (and also points of view) begins in Staveley, a mining town in north-east Derbyshire where I worked from 1969 to 1972 as area principal for adult education. I worked there with a friend, Rob, a great community worker, with whom I am still in touch today. I felt a sense of relatedness also with Tom, who was working as a WEA tutor organiser in Liverpool. Tom then went back to Northern Ireland where he worked for the rest of his life, in Derry, Coleraine and Belfast.
My wife Gerri and I then returned to Scotland and lived for the next five years in the Castlemilk Housing Scheme on the south side of Glasgow. It was then that I applied for and got the job of WEA tutor organiser in south-east Scotland. Gerri and I had both become very interested in the work of Paulo Freire (a Brazilian educator and educational philosopher), whose ideas and methods have influenced us ever since."
Shaping Scotland's educational landscape
"In Glasgow and in the WEA, we began to study the work of Paulo Freire: in Edinburgh, I ran three courses on his work. On one of these, I asked the students to do a bit of homework, thinking about how to adapt and adopt Freire’s ways of thinking and working to the circumstances of a northern under-class, working class and lower middle-class socio-cultural environment such as then existed in Edinburgh. Fraser Patrick and Douglas Shannon brought back a very well-argued proposal, on which course members made comments and enthusiastically endorsed. Fraser submitted it to the Scottish Education Department of the then Scottish Office of the British Government. It was adopted, and a year later the Adult Learning Project (ALP) was born! It ran for over 40 years. It's influence is still felt today."
(The original workers on ALP were Stan Reeves, Gerri Kirkwood, Fiona McCall and Joan Bree. I acted as an unofficial consultant to the ALP project throughout my WEA years and beyond).
Developing courses for unemployed individuals
"In 1979, the District Committee of the WEA asked me to develop work with unemployed men and women, and also an approach to writers and readers workshops. With the vital help of community education, social work and community development workers, we devised an approach to investigating the life experiences and views of 31 unemployed men and women. The 31 interviews we conducted were then summarised by myself in a WEA Research Report entitled Some Unemployed Adults and Education (1980). We then developed an approach to adult education with unemployed adults based on their accounts of the whole range of their life experiences and their study wishes. These courses proved very popular. They ran for at least 15 years as a rolling programme. This work was written up after five years in a book published by the WEA in south-east Scotland entitled 'Adult Education and the Unemployed', by myself and Sally Griffiths (1984). This was an edited volume with contributions from all the tutors involved. All of this work was done with participants sitting in circles, not in rows of seats with a teacher on a platform."
Making inclusive writing courses for all
"In tandem (and overlapping) with this work, we developed an approach to writers’ and readers’ workshops. We were interested in making contact with and involving people who felt they had failed at school. No attempt was made to improve the quality of people’s speech, expression or writing. People were encouraged to write from their own life experiences, in their own words, and read their contributions out at weekly group meetings. We published booklets of stories and poems by all participants, including the two coordinators. This approach to writers and readers workshops became very popular and spread rapidly in Edinburgh, Glasgow and other parts of Scotland. We also ran an annual Writers Workshop Come-All-Ye, at Newbattle Abbey College in Midlothian. This approach was also used in the unemployed courses.
The WEA can feel proud of its contributions. It has been called “so noble an institution” a description with which I enthusiastically agree. The WEA embodied a genuinely democratising and decentralising spirit."