How the Kotare School Was Conceived and Why

Below is verbatim article from “Common Ground”, March 1995, newsletter of Sue Bradford’s, People’s Network. The article is unsigned, but “Sue and Karen” of the Auckland People’s Centre are listed as contacts. These were almost certainly, Sue Bradford and Karen Davis.

“For many years it has been apparent to people working in community in Aotearoa that there is a real lack of training available for people who want to improve their skills and analysis in the area of community organising.

Over the last year or so a number of people have come together as a result of the Building Our Own Futures project to look again at actually getting such a school up and running in Aotearoa. Some of us have looked to the model of the Highlander School in Tennessee as an example of what we’d like to achieve here.

Highlander was set up by Myles Horton and others in early ’30s Depression America. The school’s aims have always been to “work with people struggling against oppression, supporting their effort to take collective action to shape their own destiny”.

In the 1930s and ’40s Highlander mainly worked with people trying to organise trade unions in the Deep South of the US; in the ’50s and ’60s with people active in the civil rights movements (Rosa Parks and martin Luther King trained at Highlander); and in the ’60s and ’70s the school became very involved in the struggles of the Appalachian people against economic and environmental degradation.

Cultural work has always been an integral part of the Highlander process. For example, the song which has become an international anthem “We Shall Overcome” spread from 1946 union workshops at Highlander.

Those of us seeking to establish a school like Highlander here in Aotearoa do not want to simply replicate their US experience. Obviously whatever we do must be relevant to local conditions and have thought through our relations with our Treaty partners.

At this early stage there are about 60 people involved from around the country. Some of the groups supporting the project include the Federation of Workers Educational Associations, Auckland Unemployed Workers Rights Centre/Peoples Centre, people involved in continuing and adult education at Auckland University and other trade union, youth, church and community education activists.

The new initiative has also received added impetus with the purchase of land near Wellsford by a group based at the Auckland Peoples Centre. This group hopes to see the school built on a portion of this land, but retaining its own legal and financial autonomy and kaupapa.

Early disccussion about kaupapa has lead us to formulate some goals

We aim to use participatory educational methods which acknowledge the worth of each person, as we seek to empower people to take democratic leadership towards fundamental change.

To provide residential and outreach training for people who are already part of a group or community in struggle.

To be actively involved in local and regional efforts to work towards de-colonisation, to build genuine political and economic democracy and to maintain and develop links with national and international organisations which share our kaupapa.

To use cultural work to and participatory research to strengthen our programmes.

To actively promote equity in our work and in society.

Our next step is to hold a national meeting for everyone who supports this project to look at further defining our kaupapa, at establishing a legal structure, training needs for those who intend to be educators with the school, and all other areas of initial implentation.

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