Ragged University Events: Opening the doors again…

Well, it has been a long past few years hasn’t it.  Alex Dunedin here. This is the first email I have sent to the Ragged Uni followers for a long long time and speaking for myself Ragged University events have been hugely missed.  I hope that this finds everyone safe and sound, and in good health. This email is a bit of a catch up, a bit of an introduction, and a bit of an explanation of the philosophy going on behind the Ragged University ahead of events starting up again.


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Over the last part of this year, now that the public health crisis is moving into the wings, I am planning to start Ragged University events again where we can meet, eat, share knowledge and enjoy learning.  The last few years for me has involved doing other things which are typically associated with universities; researching, writing, and planning.  Some of this can be seen published on the Ragged University website (which anyone is free to publish to following the guidelines).


The website has scaled up now and had to be moved to new hosting due to the increased amount of traffic it is getting.  This is good but it does mean that for it to be sustainable as a public information resource a plan to take donations for upkeep has had to be developed – more details on that in the coming months.


For those who do not know, the events have – and always will be free.  The concept is simple, someone wants to share their knowledge and passion for a subject, we meet in a public space, we bring along a little bit of food to put on the table, we help take away everything at the end, we enjoy thinking, learning and discussing in the time.


It is a friendly space, an informal space and especially a space for curiosity.  It is a space where we learn through doing – that is, we learn through communicating what we have learned and understood to others.  It follows traditions of social learning which go back centuries and are exemplified in the histories of the Ragged Schools, an inspiring piece of history which many decades later created the primary school system of the UK (https://raggeduniversity.co.uk/2012/08/08/history-ragged-schools-2/).


It all started from individuals like John Pounds sharing what he knew with others and understanding that as a rich and enjoyable part of his life. There are opportunities to learn through teaching at any level – the key is that you are teaching what you care about, what you delight in.


All the events are informal and happen in places like pubs, cafes, libraries, parks, galleries etc. There are no name badges and people choose what they share with others on their own terms. There are no obligations to talk and people are most welcome to just enjoy coming along of a day or an evening just to listen.  There are no obligations to write but people are most welcome to write something about a subject and share it through the website.


Ragged University is a place where we challenge ourselves on our own terms, with our own motivation and learn through doing and discussion.  I would argue that I am one of the greatest beneficiaries of the idea of Ragged University because I have exercised so many skills through the practice of organising events; I would also argue that people do this independently all through their lives, just maybe not organised in the same way.  It keeps my brain and body healthy, I get to meet the world in a social way, and I discover things I have never thought about before.


Over the 12 years of doing the project I have found myself learning and developing more than any period of my life.  For someone who has no formal educational qualifications I have had the benefit of learning from and working with a vast number of people including those from colleges and universities.  I have contributed to a range of conferences and publications and thrived because of where the social practice has led me.


All of this I relate to the practice of sharing something in a pub and exercising skills over time. Whilst I have worked with professors and academics who have got involved in Ragged University I have discovered that as teachers and educators they have overwhelmingly related that each person is their peer; that people develop understandings of knowledge in their own lives which are deep and equally valuable, sometimes academic, sometimes expressed through their own conventions.


This all put me in a really good mood about education and learning, and hence I continued doing Ragged University as a practical philosophy related to human development.  Just like many set aside time to go hill walking, swimming or go to the gym, Ragged University is the equivalent of doing the same things with knowledge.


The website which was originally donated many years ago by a web developer to serve the informal community of autodidacts and leisure learners has not just been a publishing medium for people who are involved with Ragged University but also it has served as an open copy book for the thoughts and ideas that have occurred over the years.  It serves as many things including advertising when and where the next events are and as a historical archive of past events.


The project is non-commercial and whilst it was awarded charitable status a few years back the decision was made to close it as a formal charity as it would change the nature of what Ragged University is; that is, it is more a social practice, a practical philosophy which anyone can do independently in their own lives or in association with others. Thus, there is no money involved in the heart of Ragged University – being not based on finance it also means that it is not prone to boom and bust funding structures, committees, bureaucracies and such things.


So, the food mirrors the knowledge; people can choose whether to bring something to the party to share, anyone is welcome, and people choose what they want to bring or eat.  It kind of represents the spirit of the enterprise as based in sharing – in my own experience I have found life much better when everyone has some food rather than my concerns being just focused on myself.  It exercises us in a special way.


For those who are tempted to do a talk and are worried.  It is like swimming – nerve wracking if you have never done it before but once you get in the water and splash around a bit, you get a realisation of how much fun it is, how embodying your capabilities makes real their pleasure. In a friendly atmosphere we discover new angles on what we know, new people who share the interest, new facts, new capabilities; all this along with affirmations and the pleasure of getting outside views on what we have been working on – constructive criticism which can help bug fix ideas which are works in progress. It is nice to be nice and it is interesting to be interested.


Anyway, I hope this gives you a flavour and recap of what the soul of Ragged University is.  I am programming up some events to get the ball rolling and will aim to hopefully do some more as time goes on. More information to follow in the not too distant future.


Kind regards, 

Alex Dunedin