5 Ways To Occupy Learning


Right now, it’s close to midnight in Sydney and I’m currently watching a livestream from Foley Square, in New York, where many of the  Occupy Wall Street protestors moved to, following the eviction from Zucotti Park. It’s a remarkable observation on the immediacy of communications – #foley has been trending for the last couple of hours, and it speaks volumes for the protesters’ media strategy that they are  providing fly-on-the-wall-commentaries as events unfold.

Whatever position one takes on the occupy ‘movement’ (and, with over 2,000 cities around the world, I think it’s safe to call it a movement) you have to admire their capacity for self-organisation.


Much of the inspiration for the  #occupy movement originated in the Rainbow Coalition Village in Parliament Square, earlier this year. Just like Zucotti Park, it got closed down, but the way in which lessons have been learned in a relatively short space of time, is impressive. Yes, the impression one gets from the occupy.tv is that this is still a slightly rag-bag collection of people, with no clear, unified demands. But as Naomi Klein pointed out recently, that’s precisely one of its strengths : the single issue protests of previous G8/G20 summits, were ‘pop-up’ protests – they came and went with the event they were opposed to. These people look like they’re here for the long-haul. And they offer some powerful indicators for the kind of learning we’d all like to see in our schools – the trick would be  to see what we can learn from them.


1. Like the slogan says ‘ this is what democracy looks like’ – the determination not to have leaders might seem weird to many of us (as is the ‘mic check!’, ‘jazz hands’ ‘crossed arms’ signalling) but it’s effective. As I’ve been writing these few paras, the protestors have taken a consensual decision to move for Foley Square, to attend mayor Bloomberg’s ‘public’ press conference, to be subsequently barred from that and then themselves blocking the press from attending the same conference. 20 minutes max. How long does it take schools to act on student voice input?

2. This is a global learning commons in action. Live streams are available from many of the occupy sites all around the world, and through social media and blogs, a huge amount of learning is being shared, rapidly, globally. Dissent is encouraged, as are visitors from outside the protests. The learning is reciprocal.

3. The power of video learning (not to say propaganda – see this #ows tv ad) is clear to see – why do so many schools block social media sites, where so much video learning sits?

4. Social learning is not the same as social media – these people seem to recognise that the best learning happens in groups, with care and respect for each others views, and by mixing content with eating, dancing, music-making and a real sense of community.

5. Head and hands are fully integrated. Alongside sessions on capitalism and the power of the 1%, are workshops on how to stay healthy and warm when camped out in the approaching winter conditions. People who have slept rough in the past become respected tutors with skills to share.

But perhaps the most striking lesson is not what the protestors are against, but what they are for. These protests around the world are not just sending a strong message to governments about the obscenity of gross economic inequality, they are also modelling alternative societal norms. These camps (and there are lots of others – check out the Seasteading Institute, for example) allow participants to imagine ways in which the world might be different – and too little of schooling offers that, sadly.

Whether all of this is furtther confirmation that, following the Arab Spring, we are now seeing the start of a re-ordering of democracy and capitalism in nations around the world, or whether it will all fizzle out, the occupy movement further underlines the power of social learning, and the ways in which corporations, as well as schools, struggle to keep pace with these new forms of learning.

Leave a Reply