Posts filed under ‘Related To Free Schooling’

A Call For Teaching Guides On Workplace Democracy, Worker Cooperatives, and Collectives

Hey there folks, I’m putting together a mini-curriculum on teaching workplace democracy, starting worker cooperatives, and so on. It is going to be based on critical pedagogy/popular education models, and it will be designed so that it uses the least amount of (and least expensive) resources available so that it can be replicated by as many people as possible. I’m also planning on eventually expanding this mini-curriculum into a full-fledged teaching guide.

So, I’m wondering if anyone out there has had any experience in teaching workplace democracy or about cooperatives/collectives? Would you be willing to either correspond with me about your experience, share resources, or make available your curriculum (or ones you know about)? I would love to not have to reinvent the wheel and see what other folks have done so I can get a sense of what to try.

If so, please either leave a comment or send me an e-mail at brian AT freeschooling DOT org. Thanks!

(Just FYI: the mini-curriculum will be completed no later than December 18th).


November 18, 2008 at 9:32 pm 1 comment

Cultural Genocide and Education: The Story of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School

This is the second in our “History of Schools” Series. This is also an attempt that requires some editing.


After the famous battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, the surrender of Geronimo in 1886, and the massacre at Wounded Knee in 1890, the so-called “Indian Wars” came to an end (Adams, 1997), (Marshall III, 2007). According to historian Howard Zinn, these events solidified nearly four-hundred years of European and Euro-American conquest and genocide against the original inhabitants of the North American continent (Zinn, 2005). Many Native Americans now faced a harsh and unknown way of living. For them, the reservation system was a new and almost completely controlled existence. Lakota Indian historian Joseph M. Marshall III writes that a “loss of dignity came on the heels of [the] loss of freedom” (Marshall III, 2007, page 140). For the Lakota, living on vast plains became an extinguished reality, and instead they were reduced to miniscule agencies where they were trapped and confined (Marshall III, 2007). All the while, the United States government continued to take lands from the natives and attempted to destroy their cultures, societies, and identities. This was the process of assimilation.

One of the most powerful tools for cultural genocide that the United States had in its arsenal was the school. Both on reservation schools and boarding schools served assimilation goals by targeting native children and attempting to turn them into, what Euro-Americans identified as, “civilized.” The school that started this all was the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, begun by Captain Richard Henry Pratt of the U.S. military. Supporters referred to this movement and its schools as a “noble experiment” to turn native children into mirrored images of the “white man.” This, they contested, was the only way that American Indians would be able to survive the “progress” of white expansion. They would either have to perish in its path or become assimilated into its borders (Adams, 1997).

This discussion will center on Carlisle and the role it played in founding the movement. We will also look in depth at both the history and philosophy of Pratt. Carlisle was his brainchild, and thus both the school itself and the movement it gave life to are intricately related to his actions and words. However, this dialogue will not center on a few topics that are sometimes discussed about Carlisle – including its football fame and celebrated athlete, Jim Thorpe. Instead, the intention here is to explore the use of education as a means of cultural destruction and replacement, and as a process of securing domination over American Indians. Nevertheless, as the Carlisle Indian Industrial School Research Pages expresses, “[i]t is our purpose to respectfully honor those students and their descendants who lived the experiment, to celebrate with those who prospered from it, and to grieve with those whose lives were diminished by it” (Landis, 1996). As we shall explore shortly, the legacy of Carlisle is a complex and intimidating one to comprehend. Yet, it is one we must attempt to familiarize ourselves with in order to understand the powerful role education has and can play as an instrument of oppression.


November 14, 2008 at 6:19 pm 8 comments

The Education of Mondragón

(Please note that the following is a first attempt, and needs some editing. Also, I decided in this essay to examine the aspects of Mondragón’s education that bears respect. This is not a critical examination of the education of Mondragón in regards to what it needs to improve, although such a discussion would be a good, lengthy, and important one. Instead, this is an exploration of the aspects of Mondragón’s educational philosphies, techniques, and models that should be regarded as beneficial influences):

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge must be socialized so that power can be democratized.

After the socialization of culture, inevitably follows the socialization of wealth and even of power. We may say that this is the indispensable and prior condition for the democratization and socioeconomic progress of a people.

-Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, Reflections


The above quote illustrates the unique tie that exists between workplace democracy and learning-place democracy. Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, the founder of the Mondragón cooperative movement, argued often about the distinct and important ties that exist between working and learning. Through his community and cooperative organizing efforts in the Basque region of Spain, Don José María was able to tirelessly paint education as the core to any successful implementation of revolutionary change towards democratic workplaces and a just society.

Mondragón is currently one of the largest worker cooperatives in the world and is an impressive and vital example of worker’s self-management and democracy. It is, in fact, a co-op of co-ops – held together via a cooperative bank, a cooperative congress, a dedication towards expanding democratic-economic opportunities, and the overall cooperative experience. The first cooperative of the Mondragón group was a child of a school built with the labor and the capital of a community desperate for social justice and economic security. The community of now 100,000 workers has its roots in a school that begun with twelve-pupils. Five of these pupils went on to start Ulgor, the first cooperative of the Mondragón movement. Their teacher, Don José María, continued to be involved with the new movement and wielded great influence over its direction and message. Thus, this cooperative movement was created out of an educational movement; consequently, the natures of working and learning have become inseparable in the experience.

There are many written documentations of the overall history, structure, and functions of Mondragón. This will not be one of them. Instead, this discussion will specifically focus on the philosophy of education that makes up the cooperative experience and specific educational implementations that exist within the Mondragón structure. In addition, it would take a great deal of time to explore every single aspect of Mondragón’s educational model (the primary schools, research institutes, the training methods of workers, the University of Mondragón, and so on), and to analyze both the promising aspects and those characteristics that need improvement. Therefore, this conversation will focus on particular examples that should be regarded as inspirational models.

Mondragón is by no means perfect, but there are multitudes of critical lessons to draw from its example. Throughout this dialogue, we will explore four specific arguments: 1) Cooperativism as an educational movement that uses economics is an exemplary model, and socialized knowledge is a direct prerequisite to socioeconomic progress and justice; 2) Mondragón’s link between workplace democracy and learning-place democracy are strong in the schools, but imperfect; 3) democratic and ongoing education is not only important in the promotion and establishment of cooperativism and workplace democracy, but it is also crucial to the continued maintenance and safeguarding of such movements and institutions; and 4) the Mondragón workplaces of democracy are also learning-places of democracy.

It All Started With a School

“It has been said,” Don José María wrote, “that cooperativism is an economic movement that uses education; we can also alter the definition, affirming that it is an educational movement that uses economic action” (Morrison, 1993). From both this quote and the one we began with, it can be determined that Don José María saw a distinctive and inseparable link between work and education. Among the Mondragón movement, Don José María is regarded as an almost sacred figure. This community organizer’s words and works are still used for inspiration and guidance, and the existing morals of the cooperative experience remain heavily rooted in his teachings. In fact, while I spent time at Mondragón, one cooperator explained that the movement was in need of a new Don José María Arizmendiarrieta – a true leader, an inspirer. These words were spoken as the entire world, including the Basque country and Spain, began to see banks around the globe crumble and a new economic crisis was being unraveled. As global capitalism crashed down onto itself, the Mondragón cooperative experience was certain it would survive. It had done fine in the calamity of the 1980’s, and it was structured with the intent purpose on the just sharing of wealth and burden, which would help to cushion the blow of the 2000’s (something the rest of the world was just beginning to realize). Even with all of this, they were still looking to an educator and an organizer who had jump started the cooperative journey in the 1940’s – and who helped the democratic work-experience thrive despite its existence within a repressive, fascist state. (Travel Notes, 2008) Therefore, it is important for any of us interested in a new, cooperative, and humane form of economics to examine this rich history.

In 1941, a young priest named Don José María Arizmendiarrieta was assigned by the Catholic Church to a small, obscure, and war-ravaged town by the name of Mondragón. This town, which was in the Basque region of Spain, was suffering under a ruthless tyrant and recovering from the Civil War. Franco’s regime suppressed the Basque language and culture and had killed the leaders of the town or forced them to flee. While it might seem that entering a town as a priest was an influential role at the time, the Basque Church had not sided with the rest of the Catholic Church during the Civil War and had opposed Franco (Kurlansky, 2001). Yet, almost immediately, Don José María began to teach religious and human values at the only local apprentice school. This school was part of a steel company (the Union Cerrajera), but it only admitted the children of its employees, plus about 10 to 12 other students per year. These students were then obligated to work for the company. In all, this served only about 15% of Mondragón youth who might have been interested in furthering their education. Don José María came to realize that this teaching post would not allow him the opportunity to reach and effect the youth of the town. Despite his offers to help raise the funds to expand enrollment at the apprentice school, the firm refused any such action. (Morrison, 1993), (Mondragon Cooperative Experience, 2007)

Rather than surrendering to defeat, Don José María took action. The priest traveled around the small town and presented the residents with a proposal for a new independent training school. Following this, Don José María placed ballot boxes on street corners and asked folks to indicate their willingness to support such an enterprise. An overwhelming 600 responses came in, pledging support with either cash or some other form of contribution. October of 1943 saw the grand opening of a new community-run training school, called the Escuela Profesional (or in Basque: Eskola Politekinoa), with twenty pupils ready to start. (Morrison, 1993), (Mondragon Cooperative Experience, 2007)

As the means to make this school possible came directly from the population of Mondragón itself, it seemed only right that the contributors should elect the school’s management committee (Morrison, 1993). In addition, the students played a critical role in the fund-raising efforts, and Don José María organized those who were invested in the college to perform community service, including fixing homes and other basic necessities, to garnish more support from the population (Travel Notes, 2008). From the beginning, Don José María turned towards members and participants of the new training school for self-financing self-governance. Easier paths were avoided, such as placing the school under the control of the Catholic Church (Mondragon Cooperative Experience, 2007). In 1947, with the support, guidance, and organizing of Don José María – twelve students of the first graduating class continued their education with five-year University studies (Morrison, 1993). In 1955, five of these pupils founded the first industrial cooperative, named Ulgor, in the town of Mondragón. As more cooperatives sprung from this training school and cooperative movement, and as they became linked through inter-cooperation and the formation of the Caja Laboral (the cooperative bank), the school itself grew and become more complex. It itself transformed into an education cooperative; cooperative elementary schools plus other training and educational ventures formed into The League of Education and Culture (now called the Hezibide Elkartea); and in 1997, the University of Mondragón was born. Today, there are well over 45,000 pupils in cooperative and educational programs in the Mondragón structure: from elementary schools, to research institutes that serve to make inquiries for other Mondragón cooperative businesses, and to adult education facilities (Morrison, 1993), (Travel Notes, 2008).

It has been recognized that Mondragón’s schools were largely the foundation for its existing cooperative system. These schools, institutes, and programs helped develop technically trained, competent, and free-thinking workers and the foundations for specialized co-ops. It is important here to recognize that the training that students and workers received was more than just technical. Instead, the Mondragón educational systems were also providing social and ethical education that was considered inseparable components to the technical training for the cooperative experience (Morrison, 1993), (Travel Notes, 2008). This is an essential component because of the direct challenge it posed to the traditional “the son of an engineer shall be an engineer and the son of a worker, a worker” (Mondragon Cooperative Experience, 2007) social model. Consequently, this method also trains a worker to be a free-thinker, and thus allowing the worker to engage in the democratic workplace experience – and additionally to combat any form of worker subordination. In the early days, this model that characterized the schools of Mondragón helped lead pupils to participation in the cooperative enterprises and helped motivate future decisions (Morrison, 1993).

Before beginning the first cooperative, the early students spent up to eleven years in environments that cherished cooperative values. And by the time the first co-op began, there were more workers who had come to share cooperative ideals. They had been exposed to the teachings of Don José María, the other teachers, the community members who supported the enterprises, and the other students. Although it should be recognized that it wasn’t the Escuela Profesional intention to start a cooperative movement, that is what it de facto accomplished through democratic risk taking and decision making.

The Educational Philosophies of Don José María Arizmendiarrieta

As illustrated, Don José María Arizmendiarrieta was an instrumental figure in the initial creation of the Mondragón cooperative system. Yet, he continued to play a leading and transformative role in the continued development and expansion of the movement. Through his wielding of great influence, Don José María was able to impact the future of the huge cooperative movement that sprung out of the tiny Basque town. What follows bellow will be an exploration of his philosophies, writings, and influences regarding working and learning.

For Don José María, education was simply good economics. Without education, scarce goods and services would go unproduced or undistributed. Alongside this, Don José María argued, education is an indispensible element to the emancipation of the worker. A redistribution of wealth is essential to the overall cooperative movement, but without the socialization of knowledge there is no way to humanize and democratize work. “Teaching,” he wrote, “should be ongoing in order to be effective. Tools and machines need to be continuously renewed but above all there has to be a renewal in the mentality of human beings because they are destined to be the masters or these tools” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2007). The worker, then, must experience ongoing education in order to participate in a democratic workplace. But in addition to this, the workplace must be a place of learning for the worker – so that the worker avoids becoming a tool or a part of a larger machine. Education in the cooperative movement is thus not only a critical part for the starting and maintaining processes of a co-op, but it is also an indispensable element in the safeguarding of the movement from a takeover by tyrants. Don José María, however, took it further:

Knowledge is power and in order to democratize power, one must socialize knowledge beforehand. We accomplish nothing with the proclamation of rights, if afterwards the people whose rights we have proclaimed are incapable of administering those rights or if, to be able to act, these people have no recourse but to count on only a few indispensable members in the group.

(Arizmendiarrieta, 2007)

The Mondragón cooperative movement as we know it today begun in a small, war-torn, and extremely impoverished town. The people who populated the movement were under a double oppression: first from the militaristic and economic forces of a fascist state, and second for being Basque – whose language, culture, and leaders were brutally repressed. These may have been several factors that led Don José María to proclaim that we must fight economic poverty directly alongside the “poverty of intellect” (Arizmendiarrieta, 2007). The poverty of intellect, or rather the control of knowledge, is an authoritative mechanism used to keep the powerful in power and the poor in poverty. We can determine that Don José María was correct about this. Mondragón the town, as it is today, has grown extensively and now holds over twenty-two thousand residents and its economic poverty has chiefly been erased, largely due to the cooperative movement that it spawned (Travel Notes, 2008).

Don José María noticed a trend amongst communities whose economies improved due to revolutionary movements. In such movements, he argued, education is grabbed by a privileged few who generally come from a single social class. This “implies an anti-economic and anti-social enslavement at the same time,” he insisted. This could not be allowed in the young and growing Mondragón cooperative movement.

The socialization of education, the access to it by everyone in the community without discrimination, the granting of opportunities to all persons… are fundamental postulates of all social movements of our times. The proclamation of human rights that are not matched by economic and educational guarantees are ephemeral concessions just for show and are destined to produce poor results… These people must be concerned with education, because only slavery will be found if they follow the path of illiteracy and ignorance instead.

(Arizmendiarrieta, 2007)

Learning Cooperatives

In 1997, three cooperative schools of the Mondragón movement – a business school, an engineering school, and a humanities and education school – came together to form Mondragón University. To this date, the University now consists of these departments and other research centers. It is also home to the two innovative examples of ALECOP and Saiolan (we will come to these shortly) which demonstrate what can be accomplished with a cooperative learning movement. (Travel Notes, 2008)

The structure of Mondragón University itself is a complicated one, and it consists of both promising and lackluster elements. The University is a cooperative, made up of students, faculty, staff, and more. When the University began, it used essentially traditional teaching techniques: teacher-centered, focused on the transmission of knowledge, almost completely exam and lecture centered, and the works. However, in recent years, it has adopted an educational strategy known as Mendeberri, which is similar in many ways to the philosophy of Paulo Freire. This model is learner-centered, focused on the learner’s integration of knowledge, problem and project based, and more. (Morrison, 1993), (Travel Notes, 2008)

Yet, it would be a completely separate discussion to asses all of the pros and cons of the Mondragón University system. So instead, we shall focus heavily on two inspirational and informative programs of the University.


November 3, 2008 at 4:37 am 3 comments

Mass Education for Mass Production

By Brian Van Slyke

This is the first in our new series “History of Schools.” Please note, also, that this is a first attempt and it needs some editing.


The history of mass and forced schooling in the United States can speak a great deal to the current nature of our educational model. It can also help us understand the culture of work in this nation. Our contemporary structure of education prepares the vast majority of the country’s children for a specific form of work that mirrors the industries that arose during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Compulsory schooling’s legacy thus has much to teach us about our current society – and also where we can go from here.

Yet, when this topic is discussed, it is often dichotomized into a tail of heroes and villains, purely nefarious forces or people’s movements. In reality, as is the story of nearly all political, social, economic, and cultural histories; compulsory schooling was born out of a mixture of aims from different groups, movements, interested parties, and alliances. In the end, the alliance in favor of compulsory schooling was victorious. Resistance and non-compliance ensued; but the most powerful faction of the pro-compulsory schooling alliance, some of society’s elite citizenry and businesses, were able to effectively enforce the system and tailor it to their interests and goals. While humanitarian players were involved in the initial implementation of compulsory schooling, including anti-exploitative child labor concerns and labor unions, their struggles were usurped by the powerful and were instead used to create a mass population of diligent, obedient, and complacent workers and “Americanized” citizens.

It is therefore important to examine the driving factors behind compulsory schooling and its immediate aftermath. Such an exploration will allow us to exam what systems our current structure of education serves, how it came into being, and what lessons we can take away from these histories to help us work for a more just and equitable future.

This is the story of compulsory education.


October 24, 2008 at 3:13 am 4 comments

Read “The Underground History of American Education” Online and For Free

That’s right, you can read The Underground History of American Education in its entirety online – and for free! Just go here. While I don’t agree with everything in the book, it’s definitely an important social critique and historical interpretation about schools in the United States. It is certainly worth checking out.

I think it’s really important when books, especially ones that are not of the mainstream, do this and make their work and knowledge available to everyone and for free. (Plus, it’s just a good way to promote a book.) So, kudos to Gatto for that.

October 22, 2008 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

An Explanation, Apology, Question, and a Quote

Hey readers,

So, I know I said I was going to blog about each day at Mondragón. However, unfortunately, my first night there my computer’s hard-drive collapsed and I lost everything on it. Needless to say, I didn’t really have access to the internet often – and I was kind of preoccupied with dealing with that crisis. I’m sorry for that, though.

Regardless, Mondragón was an amazing and a life-altering experience. Because I was not able to post about it nightly, I’m going to write one large report back and discussion of the Mondragón, education, and worker-cooperative experience – and the links Mondragón draws between workplace-democracy and learning place-democracy.

Additionally, I’m going to be doing something a little different with this blog from here on out: instead of posting small-posts on a regular basis, I’m going to begin writing much longer and more in-depth ones with more time in between their submission. While this means that there will be less activity on this blog, it also means that there will be much more content in each discussion. However, I will still be posting other occasional short discussions and learning-tools and activities in between.

Now, this leads me to the question: are you interested in having something posted at or writing something for the Adventures in Free Schooling blog? It can be about anything you please: a discussion, an argument, a history, a workshop, a curriculum, a personal story, and etc. I’d love to expand this site beyond primarily my voice. If you are interested, send an e-mail to: brian AT freeschooling DOT org – and let me know.

And to hold you over for now, here is a quote from Don José María Arizmendiarrieta, founder of the Mondragón cooperative experience:

Knowledge is power.

Knowledge must be socialized so that power can be democratized.

After the socialization of culture, inevitably follows the socialization of wealth and even of power. We may say that this is the indispensable and prior condition for the democratization and socioeconomic progress of a people.

October 6, 2008 at 11:50 pm 1 comment

Mondragón and Education

UPDATE: You can now read my report on the Mondragón Cooperative educational experience here.

On September 27th, I will fly from New York to Bilbao, Spain. The purpose of this trip will be to participate in a program run by the Praxis Peace institute to learn about the Mondragón Cooperative Corporation. Specifically, I will be looking at how Mondragón functions democratically and as a worker cooperative, its relation to and involvement with education, and how themes of Mondragón could be related back to the learning-place democracy movement here in the United States.

What is a Worker Cooperative? What is Mondragón?

According to the International Co-operative Alliance, a cooperative is “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” There are many different types of cooperatives, but in the United States two of the most common types are worker cooperatives and consumer cooperatives. Consumer cooperatives are businesses that are owned by the customers for the customers’ mutual benefit. Worker cooperatives, on the other hand, are cooperatives that are owned and democratically run completely by its employees. Thus, the workers are also the owners (worker-owners). (more…)

September 22, 2008 at 11:43 pm 2 comments

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