From (co)Learning to (co)Disco

edited by Hans Bryssinck, Anna Czapski and Laura Deschepper.

This text was edited by Hans Bryssinck, Anna Czapski and Laura Deschepper. It is based on the documentation of experiences and conversations with many others over the last two years: including Simone Basani, Marcus Berger, Maarten De Vrieze, Pierre Huyghebaert, Katharinajej, Heike Langsdorf, Vincent Pierre Alexis, Aay Liparoto, Sarah Magnan, Sawsan Maher, Mathilde Maillard, Mirra Markhaëva, Kate McIntosh, Diederik Peeters, Agnes Quackels, Erika Sprey, Barbara Van Lindt and Elli Vassalou.

It all started with some people from S P I N inviting some other people, because we were interested in exchange around different learning initiatives and in supporting each other. A changing constellation of people gradually created a shared understanding of what ‘co-learning’ had to offer them.

March 2019 . Six people are sitting in a living room in downtown Brussels. One person joins them via a screen. Some more people were invited but couldn´t make it.

We start by creating A, B, C’s related to learning: Antidisestablismentarianism, Affect, Active participation, Body, Being, Care, Community, Circle, Consensual, Celebration, Discrete guidance, Disturb assumptions, Doubt, (…), Kinship, Mash mush, (…), Self-organise, (…), Un-silence, … These words guide us in the first steps of our exchange.

July 2019 . Nine people come together in the radical_house, a permeable and supportive space for living, experimenting and meeting in Ixelles (Brussels).

In the morning we have an exchange of practices. Hans invites us to speak from our own subjectivity and to share stories about situations in which we had learned something in a meaningful way. Elli and Mirra speak about The Post Collective and about how they work on deconstructing the solo-identity of an artist, exploring what collective creation can be, and creating a community that is a space for co-learning. Anna and Diederik make us play around with some futurological techniques, inventing new neologisms and pretending to be experts on the topic.

In the afternoon we do some futuring on what a co-learning trajectory could look like involving the people in the room. We imagine a platform that would support and connect different initiatives in Brussels that deal with the question of alternative models of learning. We come up with several metaphors: a round table, or rather several round tables and sitting around those tables as a practice; a tube through which we all put our learning practices from time to time; and an octopus with several thinking limbs and the features of changing color, fitting in different places, pretending to be something else, and communicating via ink blobs.

Time passes . Some people are developing different strategies for finding money. We decide to take a risk and to be ambitious; to look for funding outside of the arts.

February until May 2020 . Anna, Hans and Laura spend quite some time talking and thinking together, via voice calls, messages and e-mails. Together they will write a funding application. They regularly communicate with a group of around 15 people. For the sake of the application this group is called the research team.

Laura asks: “How to resurrect knowledge that lays dormant within me? How to create ghosts of knowledge that actively and playfully haunt me? How to create new understandings of matter that we have been taught means only this one thing? How to feel it? How to understand without speaking? And how to be a body rather than just having one?”

We start dreaming of a pedagogical environment that is radically open. An environment where we try to undo the hierarchies between different types of knowledge, know-how and wisdom. Where we don’t regard anybody as an expert in something but where we regard everybody to be experts in their own life. We imagine a space where there's no binary divide between learning and teaching, between the person who learns and the person who educates. A space where everybody engages in processes of learning and teaching, often simultaneously. A space for sharing, exchange and experiment, combined in the act of embodied learning. We want to practice curiosity. We want to learn in order to transform ourselves, our relations and our surrounding. We give it a name: Codisco. “Co” evoking the idea of knowledge as a common, “disco” meaning “I am learning” in Latin and it's also a nod to joyful dancing as a part of popular culture. Learning as a celebration of the commons.

July ‘20 . Computer says ‘no’. No luck with finding money so far.

We are stubborn, but we also have doubts: was what we wrote in the application a truthful reflection of the interests of this particular constellation of people? How to initiate, host and guide a group process without imposing our own ideas? How to translate these ideas into a reality? What is the concrete territory in which we would do this work?

It feels like we have been doing the ground work; research, reading, reflecting, developing ideas. It is ready to be activated and transformed into concrete realities, into a world where many worlds could fit.

We stick to our excitement and to each other. So far our exchange and our research has been valuable to us, so we continue, alas, without any money.

September 2020 . Anna, Hans and Laura are preparing three co-learnig days, one every first Friday of October, November and December. After so many months of research, we want to get into action. We want to learn by doing. We want to experiment with a wild practice of co-learning, with all of our vulnerabilities and our desires of the moment. But above all, after so many months of pandemic social isolation, we want to connect to our bodies, our spontaneity; we want to be well together.

We shape those three days by using the Open Space Technology, a participant-driven method for organizing meetings. While to some people this is a familiar method, to others it is new. Together we hack the technology and tinker with it, to develop co-learning sequences. Each day we start with compiling responses to this central question: “What do you desire to learn and do together?” Some folks propose activities, others simply participate in the activities.

October 2020 . Eight people sit on the ground floor of the radical_house. We introduce ourselves by talking about our relation to learning. The introduction offers a space to share little, a lot and all the variety in between. The introduction is precious and is resonating.

“I got interested in learning by having a kid. I’ve been building a site where kids can learn by doing, without rules. I’m interested in the anarchy principle”

“What if we start to be the teachers of the kids?”

“I work with so many young people (…) teaching (… ) coming together in the same place (…) in this regularity there is so much adventure.”

“I’m interested in changing points of view. I’m always learning. That’s a life necessity for me. A lot of my personal life is based on exchanging and connecting to people. It is connected to political awareness.”

“I learn a lot about meeting people. And in these meetings the necessity arose to find ways to tell certain stories that I heard, to search for ways to be more active in the public sphere, and to share knowledge.”

“How do I come to absorb knowledge? I found out that joy and doing it with others helps me to engage with learning. I don’t only share knowledge to be more productive, but also for joy, to lead a better everyday life”

“I worked as an independent producer. It was a job that I learned. Since 3 years I can say I’m learning to be an artist. There is a learning situation in becoming professional. What does it mean?”

The activities of today include: a DIY health practice exchange, reading out loud in a documentation playground, learning a method for turning your back on something or someone that is unwanted, learning about squat-hunting, singing what comes to our mind and a safe rave. During the safe rave, someone is doing their laundry. Learning, dancing and householding are all coming together.

At the end of the day we say:

“Questions are important and it is about finding the right question.”

“What would happen when these practices reach other people?”

“There were layers of interaction. It was soft.”

“It felt good, it was not too discursive.”

“Some days I would like to be a bumblebee.”

“There is a common interest in doing and reflecting and in going back and forward.”

“We have to look into ways of how we can document and follow up on the traces.”

November 2020 . Some people spend a hybrid day apart together, on- and offline, learning by doing. There is a program for today. People can choose to spend time with the Amoeba, the Firefly, the Giraffe, the Golden Hamster, the Humpback whale and/or the Seahorse.

The activities of today include: developing a gender pronoun workshop for transgender allies, building a sweat lodge and discussing the experience, finding a language (a score) to report on where you are and how you feel 'from that spot', engaging with online sound poetry in 18 different mother tongues, slow & lazy reading and an introduction to bokashi, a pre-composting technique for people living in apartments.

But before we start, some things are being said:

“When there is no hierarchy in knowledge, I feel myself coming more into the practice, into that idea. Knowledge about composting in an urban situation can co-exist with other knowledges that are viewed as more complex. The Open Space Technology allows what is important for one person to maybe also work for other people. This feels good.”

“We can think of how to take care of an ecology. Like the gardener, you can not only be busy with the rose stock, otherwise you don't see that something else needs attention.”

At the end of the day we speak about opening up to a larger group of people.

“I share that we should open up, especially now. I'm very excited about meeting a stranger. On the other side, I need an environment for dealing with feminism, anti-racism,.... When engaged in community organising, I also deal with this tension between inclusion and exclusion. How to open up? For who? What is a good mix?”

“It's not about trying to get more open, because we can, but to make it integral to the practices.”

“Whenever you say it is open, people are afraid and don't understand what this openness is.”

“It is all about being able to host interest. If we open up it needs to be with a conscious hosting, we need to orientate the people.”

We go on to talk about the openness of the framework.

“This openness to really explore any kind of knowledge without any pre-judgement might also be difficult to relate to. Maybe you have to experience it, before you can relate to it.”

“At first I didn’t think so, but now I do: every subject that comes on the table, is the right thing in that moment. It’s interesting to look at what comes on the table, and look at how it relates to the context and situation. What is the plat du jour?”

“Codisco becomes more and more a space where I am confronted with opportunity and with choice, it creates a sense of what comes together between people.”

“The driver of learning is excitement, because excitement means ‘I want to live with this, I want to engage with this.’ “

Afterwards Anna, who participated from a village in France, writes to us:

“My friends to whom I tell about the project say that I should do a special Codisco with the people of the village. See what they want to learn and what we can learn from each other. But before that I would like my friends and my family to participate. That we first try to transform ourselves instead of transforming the village. The village, the kinship, these are already other areas of experience. The Codisco space becomes the solution for everything. To revitalise the village, to prepare for resilience by experimenting with cooperation, to rethink the extended family and child-adult relationships. (…)

The maximum openness of Codisco to any proposal pleases me. Because it guarantees that everything that happens, must happen, has meaning, is useful, is urgent. And indeed, everything that happens and is proposed seems urgent and necessary to me. It disrupts my vision of what is useful, urgent and a priority in life (…)

What we share is not just knowledge, know-how. We share the support in the exploration of new fields, we share the support in keeping time away from work (…) We are practising more freedom.”

December 2020 . Four people come together at the radical_house and other people join from a distance. There is a program for today but it’s very fluid. People can choose to spend time with the Amoeba, the Giraffe, the Golden Hamster and/or the Seahorse.

The activities of today include: an exploration of vocalising, translanguaging and communicating in an online session with The Post Collective; an introduction and an exercise in narrative practice, a practice in which words are used to mutually reconfigure reality, part of what Hans is studying at the moment; I Ching, a Close Reading On Demand; and an exchange on how to make a proposition to learn something in group.

The narrative practice exercise consists in one person playing the role of representing a problem, another person who interviews the problem, and someone in charge of documenting the interview. The problem that was interviewed for the occasion was “exclusion from participation in city development”. The interviewer was trying to look for the small cracks, the micro resistances that are maybe already in place somewhere; how to name them, how to articulate them, what are their qualities and what are their effects, how can they be strengthened by building a narrative around them? While doing the exercise we come to an understanding that the people affected by the problem are removed from the problem. We decide that it would be best to look for someone who has an awareness of the problem, who already experimented or perceived the impact of the problem on them or on the neighbourhood.

In the exchange on how to propose, we realise that “knowing how to propose is linked with knowing how to speak”. “We are - a life time - educated not to think about what we feel or desire. We still need to learn to recognise that what we already know has value, that we already possess skills that should not be taken for granted.” We wonder “what happens when we can easily propose, starting from what is already present?“ It is interesting, but feels counter-intuitive.

“Codisco in itself is a proposition for a space where one can trust to come up with anything, including things that are not finding immediate validation.“

Words that resonate throughout the day are desire, expectations, excitement, joy & necessity.

End of 2020 . Four people meet online. A fifth person writes a letter. They reflect on the past experiences.

“I had the feeling we started from the idea of how we can do co-learning together, but then the focal point gravitated towards curiosity as a vehicle for learning. That gives me joy and energy.”

“One of the strengths of Codisco, is that you can propose almost anything within limits of time, space and bodies.”

“It’s a place where you learn to be available to your own and others’ curiosity. I was interested to see if this could become a place that defines itself like that and then make that public. It was nice to see that it actually already happened.”

“Here at the radical_house we also think about what maintenance means as a practice and an activity. And we think Codisco needs maintenance. (…) to see how people can take it, use it, inhabit it.”

“I think about these long term desires to have another type of schooling.”

“I would like this as a next step: to go beyond being a peer group, to go out into the world, to engage with more and with different people, to work with younger people.”

“I think Codisco could help to build a new dynamic in our community; even more cooperative, more sensitive and open to the unexpected. I think it corresponds to a need, that of finding new ways of living and working and transforming the world.”

“How Codisco feels? That it is welcoming, that what you want to learn is key.”

“I think I have already become a different person since I met you.”