“Employ your time in improving yourself by other men’s writings, so that you shall gain easily what others have labored hard for”



mycelium tree link

The Ragged project is an informal collection of people, efforts and interests brought together to create a free environment to enjoy sharing knowledge in.  To give an understanding of what has been achieved and what ideas have been patched together to lend explore education and learning this presentation was made several years ago.


Since then, lots has been learned in terms of how a community project can exist in the current and continuing inhospitable organizational climate of the UK (2010 onwards).  In terms of drivers of the project, only one of the original collection of individuals is still organising the activities of the organized component of what people encounter as ‘Ragged University’.


That person from the original group in Hackney (Will Bentinck, Grant Crosier, Jes Haley) is Alex Dunedin, but if people are going to apprehend what this embodied project really is, people must understand that what they can see represented in the website all belongs to the individuals who created the work and did the activities which make up the whole.  Since the first organisation of public events – pioneered by Will, Grant and Jes – a large collection of people have made them happen.


Rather like a song is sung differently by each different person, or a loaf of bread is unique to each baker, each different person has organized the events through their own hospitality, finding people who love what they do and setting up the circumstances where they feel appreciated and welcome to share what they love through talking – or whatever means they like.


A chief fallacy is to imagine that any of the people who have made this project are not still doing a form of this in their own personal lives and locales. It is John Dewey who is famous for saying “education is not preparation for life, it is life itself” but it is something that many people know without having been taught it.


As the author of the narrative which accompanies the continuing Ragged University project (Alex Dunedin), I am anchored to the contributions which have made the apparent organized part of the project of education real – of which there are many kinds.  The tip of the iceberg can be seen and articulated, but only through involvement can the incalculable riches be understood.  Only through my encounters with each person on their own terms have I gone on the greatest learning experience of my life for from each one I have learned a wealth which multiplies.


If the story is ever to deviate from this, as I absorb and am shaped by the technical or academic language which I use, then the use of this language has become barren and the roots of knowledge estranged.  At the same time, spoken and written language is a commons of the people and should be understood to be a part of our lives; it is a fraud perpetrated on people to suggest to them they do not own all of living language. The organization of Ragged University has it’s origin and life in friendly social behaviour which we did and do anyway. The irony is I have strained friendships at times through trying to organizing circumstances which support friendly opportunities to learn.


Everyone who has done anything that is reflected here (and much much more which is not) is an independent social and intellectual agent who is constantly sharing and continually evolving – an illusion of the formal university is the idea that it is constituted of buildings and material.  Learning and education exists as part of our social landscape and it is disingenuous to separate it from that through artificial structures.


It is a mistake to think that the language which gets used inside the formal spaces has no life beyond those formal spaces.  Language is as useful as it’s power to explain, describe and communicate. It is an issue when what happens outside of formal spaces does not get valued or recognised within those formal spaces.  Ragged University has come to be a construct to symbolically value the knowledge and wisdom of the people; as such it is in dialogue with the scholar who recognises the imperative of a culture to acknowledge the wealth stored in its peoples.


Practically the project has had to evolve organizationally via the generosity of social relationships.  This can never be fully accounted for by means other than itself – it is anathema to attempt this task.  My hope is to over time paint a reasonable enough idea of the eternally unfurling fern leaf of social interactions which ultimately embodied and embodies the fuzziness of a community involved in sharing and learning.


Some names of people which ‘the project’ is endebted to: Daniel Zambas, Mandy McGuire, Gary Boast, Graeme Sturrock, Scott Porter, Liz Windsor, Aaron England, Chris Behr, Roy Gurvitz, Carrie Westwater, David Newman, David Hughes, Heather Sinclair, Sukh Krishan, Susan Brown, George Fyvie, Jamie Cooke, Anthony Ellis, Steve Tilley, Desmon Ryan, Mike McInnes, Keith Smyth, John Morrison, Antonella Sorace, Joseph Cranwell, Tommy McMullan, Hilary McLeod, Luke Woodbridge, Ray Miller, Derek Howden, Peter Shukie, Mark Johnson, Joel Petrie, and many many more… Just have a look at the website, there are no editors – only authors.


[If your name has been left out and you would like a mention, just get in touch and it will be added]


With thanks to the many venues and small businesses which shared the space for free so that things could happen.  Also thanks for all those who gave equipment to communal use, especially Graeme Sturrock owner of Edinburgh Computer Repairs who has always provisioned technology resources for educational purpose without want of reward.


Special mention needs made of George Fyvie, an Edinburgh Lad through and through who has gone above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that community always has a place to meet and share.  Hospitalier par excellence and friend of the people.


There is a parallel list of people I am endebted to for their making it a reality in my life which must be acknowledged to understand how ‘the project’ is being storied.  Apart from that, everything on the website should speak for itself as belonging unedited to the authors.  Each article is owned as a contribution to the public domain under the auspices of free knowledge.


The typeset and printed presentations graphically designed by Chris Behr are in the process of being updated.  Commercial and financialised elements of the previously perceived project are no longer understood as compatible with a particular view of inclusion, education and social spaces.  The website sits as an open copybook to reflect what has been learned over the years, and how it connects to the field of International Development on our own doorstep.  Metrics have been abandoned as distortionary and the production of knowledge artifacts is currently being explored as offering qualitative ways of appreciating learning achievements and valuing a human for their capabilities.


The running thesis which has emerged in Education as Human Development brings together an argument that John Dewey expressed in his axiom “Education is not preparation for life, it is life itself” and whilst it reads as a technical document what it speaks of should not be understood as different from the everyday.  In this vein Ivan Illich offers some profound and important ideas to contemplate for our times – one of a broad range of thinkers who enriches our understandings of institutions in our lives.