Kotare Trust

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Kotare Trust is a New Zealand based activist training school.

The Kotare School is openly modeled on the Communist Party USA linked Highlander Research and Education Center in Tennessee, famous for training Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks and many other prominent “civil rights” activists.

Several Kotare personnel, including Sue Bradford and Quentin Jukes have Workers Communist League backgrounds. The school teaches “social activism” based on the teachings of Brazilian Marxist, Paolo Friere.

Kotare Trust emerged as a response to the call for a ‘school for social change’ which came out of an early 1990’s national dialogue of people and sectors working for change – ‘Building Our Own Future’. We were set up to offer Tiriti based social change education and research and have been offering programmes regularly since 1999.

Kotare Trustees

2005 Trustees

Kotare Trustees were: Tim Howard (Whangarei) Chair, Sue Bradford (Wellsford) deputy Chair, Quentin Jukes, Noelene Landrigan (Wellsford), Kate Abel (Opotiki), Gordon Jackman (Gisborne) Kay Robin, Ngai Tamanuhiri (Manutuke), Tali Williams (Wellington) and Sue Berman (Waitakere).

2013 Trustees

General Trustees:

Youth Advisory Group

According to Kotare’s Spring 2006 newsletter Kotare Trust has a Youth Advisory group of people under 25 who have volunteered to give us feedback on how we are working generally and also specifically with younger people. We are meeting with them on November 11 and 12 to discuss our work. The advisory group members are Tali Williams from Wellington, Frances Mountier from Christchurch, John Darroch from South Auckland and Tui Armstrong from Whangarei. These young people have all participated in Kotare activities since the age of 15 and have active networks and great ideas!

Kotare cookoff


Undated, but circa 2010 - Kotare Trust held a cooking fundraiser;

Come and join a fun weekend of cooking with curry, cakes, salads, soups and more on the menu. This will be a hands on workshop based in the Kotare Trust kitchen, cooking a wide variety of vegetarian food – and then eating it.
This is a fundraising workshop with all profits going to Kotare Trust.

Cooks/Facilitators: Quentin Jukes and Claire Dann. Kotare Trust contact was Tanya Newman.[3]

Koare profiled

Workshop 64: Kotare: Building a radical alternative in New Zealand adult education, John Benseman, School of Education , The University of Auckland Auckland, New Zealand.

Introduction In this paper, I will start by giving an overview of what has happened politically in New Zealand over recent years to provide a context for the second part of the paper which looks at the development of the Kotare centre and then concludes with a general discussion on the role of radical programmes in adult education.

Although the world of the 1980s had seen the likes of General Pinnochet in Chile, Margaret Thatcher and John Major in Britain, Brian Mulroney in Canada, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating in Australia, Ronald Reagan and George Bush in the United States and others all implemented (to varying degrees) New Right economic policies inspired by Milton Friedman of the Chicago School, 'the New Zealand experiment' outdid all of these in the degree and speed of its reforms. Kelsey (1995, p.1), claims that the New Zealand experience has been particularly significant for these reasons:

the large scale radical 'structural adjustments' were undertaken by a democratically elected government in an advanced capitalist economy, rather than a Third World country as a condition of gaining credit from international financial institutions pure economic theory was applied with generally cavalier disregard for the electoral or social consequences the restructuring was initiated by Labour, a political party traditionally opposed to such policies.

The changes worked on the fundamental formula of privatisation + deregulation + open capital markets + government confined to balancing budgets and fighting inflation, all of which were strenuously sold as 'given' (the TINA principle – "There Is No Alternative") and 'common sense' to remedy the heavy-handed interventions of past governments ("get government out of people's lives")- thereby achieving 'consensus' and acting beyond challenge. The impact of the political agenda of the past 15 years has been profound in most spheres of New Zealand life. The degree of change has probably only been matched in New Zealand history by the first Labour government of Michael Savage in the 1930s which put in place an extensive social welfare system that was a world pioneer at that time.

The key assumptions behind the reforms were:

that at the heart of the country's problems was 'the crushing burden of government spending' and that the solution lies in reducing the size of the state and its social spending (including social services)...

Impact on education

In education there have also been far-reaching changes, despite there being "no groundswell of dissatisfaction with the education system to justify reform" from either the general population or from international reviews such as OECD (Kelsey, 1995, p. 218). The New Right educational policy was based on two fundamental principles (Lauder, 1990, p. 11)

that education is a private good and should therefore be paid for by individuals who will want to pursue the course that maximises their wealth and status.

that competition is inherently good at every level and leads to optimal performance of individuals and unparalleled efficiency of the education system itself.

In order to put these principles into practice the new education regime (known as 'Tomorrow's Schools') was guided by "three contradictory goals: a deregulated, artificially constructed education market, where education was a commodity subjected to the rigours of supply and demand; the development of a highly skilled and technologically literate population, which require a centralised, skills-based approach; and community participation, diversity and accountability, which demanded effective democratic input into decisions on policy, operations and resources" (Kelsey, 1995, p. 220).

Also underpinning the reforms was an espoused commitment to lifelong learning to be achieved through a 'seamless system of provision' that was competitive, flexible and open to all learners. Although this sounds a potentially sympathetic environment for the education of adults outside the formal education system, the emphasis (as reflected in funding criteria) was predominantly on lifelong learning in relation to vocational skills and within a formal framework of unit standards and qualifications (the New Zealand Qualifications Authority).

Impact on adult education

The complete ignoring of adult education in key educational policy documents such as 'Education in the 21st Century' the abolition of the Trade Union Educational Authority and provision for paid educational leave for workers (for many of the participants TUEA provided their first educational programmes since leaving school (Law, 1996)

As at December, 1999 New Zealand society has undergone a period of extensive deregulation and opening all aspects of social life to competitive principles dominated by an obsessional belief that 'the market' is the most efficient and effective mechanism for decision-making. The net result of these changes is that there has been a massive shift in resources to the rich (the top 10%); a middle group scrambling for their share of resources in a climate of uncertainty of employment and the transfer of costs of social services from the State to private means; while an increasing bottom group have been consigned to a world of unemployment and decreased State support which has embedded poverty in successive generations (especially Maori and Pacific Island people).

Education has become increasingly dominated by vocational motives from higher education through to community education programmes. There is basically one game in town – upskilling to ensure competitiveness in the international market – and those organisations and individuals who don't play that game are doomed to increasing insecurity and marginality.

Kotare – genesis

It is in this context that the Kotare Research and Educational Centre has been planned, and started running its programmes in March this year. But its origins go back more than five years when a number of strands came together to form a coalition to plan its development and put in the hard work of getting it up and running. These strands included a strong core of people from the unemployed workers' rights movement, a network resulting from the 'Building Our Own Futures project sponsored by the Conference of Churches in Aotearoa New Zealand and others from the Workers Educational Association who had endeavoured to build their own residential centre (the WEA had operated its own small residential centre for weekend workshops in the 1930s, but this had not lasted long). Many of these people and others had also been inspired and associated with the Highlander Center and Myles Horton in Tennessee and Philipino popular educators who had visited New Zealand.

From this core group a mailing list was built up and consultative meetings were run around the country to start the process of clarifying Kotare's kaupapa (philosophy) and the means of achieving it. These meetings attracted a range of individuals and groups from People's Centres, trade unions, church organisations, universities, youth activist groups, women's groups and anti-racism groups. Some stayed, others didn't. Most had plenty to say about what Kotare should do and how it should operate.

The net outcome of this process was the forming of an incorporated society, a growing mailing list (approximately 180) of members and a commitment to build a distinctive form of educational programme effective in countering the hegemony of the New Right. While the character and methods of Kotare are still in formation, a number of key features emerged from the beginning and have been accepted as central to its operations:

  • That the centre stands as an independent entity, supported by kindred organisations, but always separate – this includes government, which is the predominant source of funding in New Zealand for adult education

that it reflects a strong commitment to the Treaty of Waitangi, although it would probably be predominantly Pakeha in its membership.

  • The value of residential programmes in a centre with its own wairua (spirit) and growing sense of history and tradition

that while places like Highlander are useful for inspiration and methods, it is essential that Kotare treads its own distinctive path of development.

  • Although Kotare had its own site and buildings, it would endeavour to offer programmes throughout the country.

In terms of its educational and philosophical intent, the following statement identifies its kaupapa.

Kotare works with people in Aotearoa struggling for liberation from oppression through collective action. We aim to use participatory education methods which acknowledge the worth of each person. We seek to empower activists to take democratic leadership to realise fundamental change for social justice. We make a commitment to ecological sustainability and to Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

More specifically, Kotare aims:

  • To provide residential and outreach education for activists who are working in a group or community in struggle
  • To bring people together to learn from each other through sharing experiences and wisdom and then to develop collectively the resources needed to take further action, creating a physical and social environment conducive to our goals
  • To be actively involved in local and regional efforts to work towards decolonisation and to build genuine political and economic democracy and ecological sustainability
  • To maintain and develop links with national and international organisations which share our kaupapa
  • To use cultural work and participatory research to strengthen our programmes
  • To actively promote equity in our work and in our society.

Concrete developments

Commitment and clarity of purpose are important elements of developing a centre like Kotare, but they do not bring dreams into reality on their own. Over the past five years, largely due to the efforts of a core group of about a dozen people, Kotare has come into physical existence on a farm one hour north of Auckland. The farm is owned by four of the core group, but Kotare is in the process of sub-dividing off several hectares under its ownership. Second-hand buildings have been shifted on-site and are well on the way to being fully refurbished, albeit modestly. Two Kotare members live in the buildings, acting as caretakers and much-appreciated cooks for the residential courses now running.

Funding these developments has not been without its problems, but is now in reasonable shape, due to multiple grant applications, donations and regular payments from supporters. Government sources are notable for their absence in the list of funders to date.

Course leaders

To date eight courses have been run, involving about 20 potential and actual course tutors. The courses have been held mainly in Auckland, but also Wellington and Christchurch and most have been residential along the lines of what is envisaged as a typical Kotare format (Friday afternoon start, all-day Saturday and then finish by midday Sunday). The courses have covered what would normally be expected in such courses, but have also placed particular emphasis on techniques and methods that help develop critical analysis such as structural analysis, Highlander's workshop format, Ira Shor's work, Dennis Howlett's Ah-hah method, and 'cultural work' – such as songs, role plays and art work around various themes.

Educational programme

This year has seen the start of Kotare's educational programme in earnest. To date the following programmes have been run (mostly at the Kotare site):

  • Writing for social change workshops (2)
  • National youth leadership workshops (3)
  • Current issues in the community sector (2)
  • Community building workshop at Raglan
  • Women leaders – validation, communication and strategies for political effectiveness.

Over the coming months planning includes additional community-building workshops for Gisborne and Whangarei, two rural workshops for local economic development workshops a Treaty of Waitangi workshop for environmental groups, an action research workshop and a summer school. In addition, the Kotare venue has been used by a number of outside groups for their own educational programmes (e.g. Creative Writing courses and conferences).

The programmes so far have included a range of different types which can be plotted on the following model.

(A) - pre-designed courses on specific content for an 'open' audience (i.e. across various groups but still within Kotare's kaupapa such as the writing workshops)

(B) - courses with mainly planned content aimed at specific groups (e.g. women)

(C) - 'open' courses with content mainly generated from the participants

(D) - courses for a 'closed' group on content generated from the group (e.g. the Raglan workshop on sewerage).

While these developments are still evolving and not set in policy as yet, the likely priority of courses is D, B and A. Type C courses appear least likely.

Current issues

Kotare is undoubtedly at a crucial point of its development at present, balancing the financial demands of paying off the buildings, the costs of re-furbishing the buildings and surroundings plus on-going running costs, against the need to get programmes up and running (which also carry their own costs). Achieving a balance among these factors has not been easy, but has been achieved so far. With the re-payment of the building capital due at the end of this year, a corner should have been turned and programme should be able to be given increasing priority.

Related to this issue is the need to create and maintain support on the one hand and yet not promote unrealistic expectations on the other. Kotare must be seen as viable and active, but not overreach its limited resource base and risk failure. It is always important to note that programmes like Highlander did not develop successful programmes overnight , and and that their current success represents the accumulated experience of over 50 years of development.

Thirdly, while there will inevitably public flac at some point if it is at all effective in its work, it has been important not to attract public controversy while it is still in its early stages of development and still somewhat vulnerable. For example, gaining local authority planning permission to sub-divide, building consents and achieving charitable status are all made that much more difficult if surrounded by controversy. Such controversy is typified in the hysteria that can be generated by local talkback radio hosts – one recently concluded his attack on Kotare with the statement "As the person who sent me this suggested, no longer will our activists have to go to Libya for their training, they'll be trained right here in New Zealand in Wellsford. You can expect more on this I think in the future". Of course such statements are somewhat flattering and can also generate support from potential allies.

Finally, mention must be made of the on-going issue of funding. While it is undoubtedly liberating not to be concerned with treading fine political lines (if not outright deception) that go with accepting government money, there are very real constraints that result from this decision. Government funding in one form or another is the main source of most education in New Zealand. Unlike the private foundations like Carnegie and Ford used by Highlander and the EC funding used by the Ulster People's College in Northern Ireland, New Zealand has few philanthropic bodies and certainly none that provide more that a few thousand dollars at a time. And even further down the track when Kotare has established its credibility, it is unlikely to improve as funding bodies increasingly have policies of helping seed only initial developments, but avoid providing on-going financial support. Generating enough income to run even a 'bare bones' undertaking like Kotare will inevitably stay with us as a concern on our future journey.

Kotare as a radical programme

Kotare has set out from the outset to establish itself as a radical form of education for adults. But what does this mean in terms of its aims, and more importantly, in terms of what it does? Furthermore, how does it compare with other forms of educational provision and what is its significance in New Zealand adult education?

One tool for analysing adult education in terms of its political stance has been provided by Teddy Thomas and Gwyn Harries-Jenkins . They suggest a continuum of perspectives with four main positions (see figure below) ranging from,

  • Radical where education must challenge established economic and social assumptions
  • Reform which pushes for reforms, while not challenging the basic assumptions that legitimise the status quo
  • Maintenance aims at the development of people's 'maintenance' needs for individual happiness
  • Conservative which seeks to preserve the existing system by rejecting change and upholding elite traditions.

The first two of these positions fit within a conflict analysis of society which focuses primarily on the analysis of the struggle to obtain and maintain power; the latter two fit into the consensus model which endeavours to understand what societies need to do in order to function effectively.

Conflict Consensus

In reality of course, neither adult educators nor programmes always fit so neatly into one of these categories – most straddle a number of them, even simultaneously!

In my experience, most philosophical debate amongst adult educators centres on the distinction between the Radical and Reform (or liberal) stances. The Maintenance and Conservative positions are largely taken as given – and incorporate most adult education programmes. The distinction between Radial and Reform is to do with the extent of the social change sought – while liberal reformists are happy to re-arrange the furniture within the political house, radicals seek to demolish the present structure and re-build it from a new design. The latter intention of course is why such programmes are seldom encouraged and often not tolerated by the status quo power structures from government ministers to talkback hosts. But perceiving radical programmes only as strident, Marxist-dominated rampant anarchists is to under-estimate the variety and guises of radical educational agendas that do operate in our midst.

Two examples of radical educational programmes that have had a sustained and substantial impact on most Western societies over recent decades are the feminist and green movements – both of which do evoke strong reactions in some quarters, but are essentially 'tolerated' by mainstream society.

Using the above model, radical education occurs in quadrants A, B and to a lesser extent, D. For example, these could include,

  • Anti-racism workshops open to anyone
  • Structural analysis workshop for unemployed workers
  • Creative writing courses for women

Radical programmes in adult education

There is little doubt that radical adult education programmes attract a disproportionate amount of interest among adult educators. Highlander is undoubtedly one of the most quoted programmes in adult education literature internationally and radical adult educators such as Mike Newman and Jane Thompson sell large numbers of books and regularly pick up major awards for their writing about their work and theoretical analyses. And yet the number of actual radical adult education programmes in operation is probably very small in number and their overall impact is probably minimal at best. (I am referring here to programme providers whose primary function is adult education, rather than organisations such as social movements which use education as a means for achieving their overall goals). So, why the degree of interest in these programmes and writers when they are so few and far between?

Firstly, I suspect that a lot of us are actually 'closet radicals' and feel that we have been unable to practise in ways that are consistent with our espoused beliefs. We are prevented from doing this for a variety of reasons – the paucity of 'jobs' available in the few programmes operating, financial constraints (radical jobs are not renowned for their pay rates), an uncertainty about how to match our practice to our ideals and institutional constraints.

These constraints are often imagined on our part (such is the power of hegemony), but can also be real. In my experience as a WEA tutor-organiser in the 1980s, I was twice 'investigated' by a Department of Education official for using government resources to pay tutors to run 'subversive courses' that were raised by National Party MPs in Parliament. The first involved a course on 'political subversion' (a local activist had been approached to run a workshop on an unspecified topic) and the second allegation involved a 'guerilla training course' which was a non-violent action training course at the time of the 1981 Springbok Tour.

But I suspect that while our consciences often convince us that the radical argument is valid given the overwhelming evidence about inequality, most of us are not, in Freire's words, prepared to commit 'political suicide' and bite the hand that feeds us and provides us with careers. In other words, we like to talk about radical education, but are not prepared to follow through on it. Myles Horton once told me the story of a very well known radical adult education theorist who visited Highlander and said to him after participating in several Highlander workshops, "You know Myles, I'm really envious of you, 'cos while I've been writing about all these things, you've been actually doing it".

Secondly, although we may not always be totally consistent in our ideals and our practice, radical education programmes play an important role in reminding us of the ideals that we pursue – albeit, inconsistently. They are useful 'conscience prickers'.

Allied to this, radical programmes can act as 'lightning rods' and create political room for mainstream providers to push the boundaries in their own contexts. For it is important to see that it is not a matter of being either radical or part of the status quo. Social change occurs as a result of numerous influences across the board, including within the mainstream. The 'flying wedge' model of social change used in structural analysis is a useful reminder of the different roles we can all play in bringing about social change.

Kotare – the future

For the past 15 years New Zealand has undergone a radical New Right revolution that has resulted in increased social inequalities and a fairly demoralised adult education sector. In this context, Kotare has stood out as one of the few really different developments in adult education to emerge and almost certainly the only one whose political agenda is unashamedly partisan in the fight to achieve a fairer society. The journey to build this radical alternative has barely begun and its future survival is far from assured, but we believe that it represents an important development nonetheless.