Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Who is more civilised?

As a former student at Ruskin College (but not at the times of either John Prescott or Dennis Skinner), I recently went to an ex-students’ get-together at the Rookery at Headington, near Oxford. Much to my shame it was the first time I had been to one of these Ruskin Fellowship events for about 40 years. I had even fallen out of membership.

It wasn’t that I had had a fit of conscience. They invited me to speak. But I have re-registered and paid up. It was good to be back, so this is nostalgia time.

There are two sections to Ruskin College. The one at Headington which has further scope for development, and the site near the heart of Oxford at Walton Street. The latter is hemmed in by surrounding developments, including that of Worcester College.

Way back when I was a Ruskin student from 1960 to 1962, most of us studied for the Oxford University Diploma in Economics and Political Science on a two year full-time course. In our first year we studied at the Rookery and then moved on to Walton Street.

We did not make it to Ruskin due to any formal qualifications we held. It drew students mainly from the wider labour movement who were late developers.

To gain entry, I had to submit two essays. One was entitled “Does it make sense to speak of a ‘Welfare State’ in Britain today?”. (It sounds a more relevant question for 2006). The second essay asked “Do you consider yourself more civilised than your grandparents?” (I will put that one to my 17 month old grandson, Joseph , in a few years time.)

My references came from Manny Shinwell my local M.P., my Trade Union Branch Secretary and a former school teacher who was active in our local Labour Party as he was looking for a Headteacher’s job in a Labour dominated area. I, for instance, was a local School Governor.

I was Secretary of both my local Labour Party and of the Local Fabian Society, so my first visit to the Rookery at Headington was to a Fabian Society Summer School. The speakers included Hugh Dalton, Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland; whilst Bill Rodgers was in charge as the General Secretary of the Fabian Society. It was at the School that I first discovered that “Ruskin was for people like me.”

The Fabian-do was a bit of a right-wing shin-dig (given that Crosland had written the major work of socialist revisionism and Jenkins and Rodgers would eventually break with Labour to help found the Social Democratic Party). My political schizophrenia is revealed by the fact that although I consorted with such company, I came across the advert calling for applications to Ruskin in the pages of the left-wing Tribune.

Once I was accepted by Ruskin, I was eventually placed on a transformation belt from being a Railway Clerk to an Adult Tutor in Politics and Industrial Relations; numbers of whose students went on to Ruskin and its equivalents.

Over 40 ex-students registered for the week-end at the Rookery. Only half a dozen were from a more modern setting than mine, where the scope of provisions at Ruskin have altered to accommodate for changing educational patterns . Some had been students even before my time. A 1951-53 student having made it to University Lectures addressed by GDH Cole (see my “GDH Cole and the root of the matter”).

I intend to comment on Ruskin College and the changing world of adult education in a future blog. But this is still nostalgia time.

I had just started my talk on Iraq when in walked John and Vi Hughes who were Ruskin College Lecturers back in my days as a student. John was my tutor in Economic Organisation. I eventually attended his tutorials with a friend of mine - Ian Pickard. But first of all, I had listened to him lecture. Vi taught on other courses.

After nearly half a century, the roles were now reversed. In the Lecturer Room, John was now listening to my words of wisdom. In fact he had gone on to be the Principal at Ruskin (1979-89) and I took up a parallel job to an earlier appointment he held at the Sheffield University Extramural Department. The current Principal was also present which all added to my sense of having cracked it , as if I was a novice giving an initial lecture in a time warp!

I told John afterwards that he had written a comment on one of my essays saying it lacked an “analytic framework” and I had then wondered how on earth to find one .

As I later studied Philosophy, I can now come up with analytic frameworks at the drop of a hat. It is the empirical detail to back them up that is now problematic ! But not I hope on the topic of the Iraqi Trade Union Movement.

In fact, my notes for my talk were really the headings for my analysis. I am now padding and polishing to make these into a finished article, which I will at least provide blogging access to in the future.

The end of my talk was as pleasing as events at the start, for I sold all my six copies of the TUC book “Hadi Never Died : Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Union Movement.” I have now ordered ten more, as I “Have Speech, Will Travel”.

The next two stops are Exeter Labour Students and the Sheffield Fabians. I have also fixed for Sue Rodgers (Chair of the TUC’s Iraq Solidarity Committee) to address a discussion meeting of my local Labour Party at Dronfield. Whilst I am looking to help launch a North Derbyshire Fabian Society around the topic.

Organising and participating in political/adult education meetings is where I came in and this gives some sense to that Kierkegaard quote which is above this item.

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