Co-operative Principles, Today and Tomorrow - Chapter 8 - Education (1986)

    This document has been made available in electronic format
         by the International Co-operative Alliance ICA 
                         May, 1986

          (Source:  Co-operative Principles, Today & 
               Tomorrow by W.P. Watkins, pp.109-122)
                         Chapter Eight


Experientia docet (experience teaches) said the Romans. Life
educates, said J.H. Pestalozzi, the great Swiss educationist,
echoing them with a difference. Co-operation, as a part of life
and experience, also educates in the same sense. This sense,
however, is more restricted than at first appears. Experience
teaches those, and only those, who are willing and able to learn
from experience and only within the limits of their experience.
Life educates, but it can equally mis-educate through the force
of bad examples and even render people, through privation,
disillusionment and despair - perhaps also unexpected or
undeserved prosperity - ineducable. Co-operation educates by
making demands on its participants which they can meet only in
so far as they are able to acquire fresh knowledge and adopt new
modes of behaviour. This education can sometimes be very
effective, although - possibly because - there may be no
conscious effort to learn.

Nevertheless, while that may illustrate the close affinity of co-
operation with education, it is not what is meant when Education
is discussed as a Co-operative Principle. Education is a
Principle, an indispensable element in co-operation, because it
is essential to the existence of Co-operatives, to the
understanding and practical application of the other Co-operative
Principles, to the growth of Co-operative organisations and to
the progress of the Co-operative Movement - a movement which must
begin and continue in the minds of men and women. There can be
no co-operation without co-operators and Co-operators, unlike
poets, are not born but made. Co-operation, therefore, cannot
trust to unconscious education alone; it must consciously employ
suitable kinds and methods of education as instruments to achieve
its ends.

Since Co-operation implies not simply knowing but doing (and
doing effectively), education for its purposes must be given a
very wide denotation which includes much besides the ordinarily
accepted types of academic instruction. In one sense, it is
roughly equivalent to the sum-total of acts and experiences which
promote the mental and moral growth of the individual Co-operator
and the development of his or her capacity for working with
others according to Co-operative Principles. Man's collective
work, an eminent contemporary sociologist has observed, cannot
rise above his personal scale of values. The progress of Co-
operation cannot continue unless co-operators are both resolved
and able to attain ever higher standards of efficiency and
morality. They have to be not simply educated for co-operation;
they have to be continuously re-educated in co-operation. The co-
operative movement cannot regard Education as any other than a
life-long experience.
Co-operative Education must be given a wide definition for
another reason, which is that in the final analysis all education
is self-education. Learning, like Co-operation, is a form of
self-help. There is force of course in the aphorism: He that is
but self-taught has a fool for his master. But learning for
oneself need not imply learning by oneself, any more than self-
help in the economic sphere excludes mutual aid. It is important
to recognise, however, for the purpose of Co-operative Education,
that learning, whether to know or to do, precedes teaching and
depends upon the unquenched appetite of the individual for
knowledge and skill. Teaching is relevant or important only in
so far as it may be the best method of promoting learning. The
test of any system claiming to be educative is whether it
provides experiences enabling the learner to develop his own
powers and personality, and this is an added reason why the Co-
operative Movement, in applying its Principle of Education, is
bound to go beyond traditional academic education, which in its
purposes and its methods is often totally unsuitable for the aims
Co-operation has in view.

Does the definition of Co-operative Education include propaganda?
If in theory `no', in practice `yes'. Much of Co-operative
Education cannot help being propaganda; all co-operative
propaganda ought to be, to a considerable degree, educational.
It is important, however, for co-operators to understand the
difference between education and propaganda so that they can
easily tell one from the other, even when the two are presented
in a compound or mixture. One obvious difference is that, whereas
the educationist usually endeavours to influence the masses
through his action on individuals, the propagandist will more
often be found trying to influence individuals through his action
on masses. On a deeper level, there is a vital difference of aim
from which differences of method mostly arise. The aim of the
propagandist is to persuade people to think, feel and act as he
wishes, whether that be to accept the product he advertises as
the best and to buy it, or to accept the political doctrine he
advocates and vote for his party or candidate. If people do what
he wants, his object is achieved, no matter if, next week or next
year, he tries to persuade them to do just the opposite.

The educationist on the other hand, is not primarily interested
in what the individual thinks or believes, but rather in how he
thinks and reaches his opinion - that is, in his power to
apprehend facts clearly and to reason from them to valid
conclusions, and how that power to think for himself can be
developed. In the practical sphere the educator is concerned with
the individual's power to act, with his skill and performance in
various directions, in order to develop them to the limits of his
native ability, as means whereby he can serve the community and,
may be, express himself. Whereas the propagandist's aim may be
a momentary act, such as making a cross on a ballot paper, the
educationist's aim is to cultivate a talent or capacity which
remains the individual's permanent possession. These distinctions
are not absolute, but they indicate the necessity for co-
operators to be able to distinguish education from propaganda and
to be clearly aware what they are doing when they employ either. 
Finally, it must be observed that a place must be reserved in
every system of Co-operative Education for the impartial,
dispassionate pursuit of pure knowledge, undisturbed by any
practical aims. From this realm, propaganda must be strictly
excluded because of its unavoidable exaggerations, distortions
and suppressions. The educated co-operator must be capable of
contemplating in cold blood the uncoloured truth - even about co-

The educated co-operator, what sort of person is he or she? This
question is not in any way idle or irrelevant. The proof of the
effectiveness of a co-operative or any other system of education
lies in its power to set its stamp on the minds and personalities
of those who pass through it. The social Principles of Co-
operation, regarded on their reverse side, are principles of
conduct for the individual co-operator. The educated co-operator
will be distinguished by his competence in conducting co-
operative affairs according to Co-operative principles, by his
capacity to frame policies and build institutions which satisfy
the demands of all the Principles in the manner best suited to
the objects in view and the circumstances of the time, and by
ability to work happy and successfully as a member of a team.
These are his general characteristics, despite the infinite ways
in which men and women can differ in intelligence, character and
temperament. His co-operative education must be a synthesis of
the knowledge, technical training and social discipline required
for the competent performance of his functions in the co-
operative movement, whether as a member, elected officer or
salaried servant in an executive or subordinate position.

The Principle of Education requires that the smallest and
simplest of co-operatives, no less than the biggest of co-
operative federations, shall constantly strive to increase its
members' fund of knowledge and to perfect its working methods by
whatever educational methods and agencies are available to it.
New co-operative societies, especially in the developing
countries, may well first appear to their prospective members as
education in the embryonic form of friendly discussions between
neighbours on their common economic problems and difficulties,
instigated perhaps by a field worker, versed in adult educational
method, in the service of a government co-operative department
or a co-operative union. The field worker's first aim is not to
impart knowledge, for the requisite knowledge is all within the
experience of the group, but to provoke discussion and
unobtrusively to guide it along constructive channels towards
practical attempts to solve common problems through joint action.
At the point when the general consensus recognises that such
action is possible and desirable, the field officer can begin to
supply factual information about co-operatives, leading on to
theoretical knowledge of the Principles on which they work. Once
action is decided upon, the discussion group evolves into a
primary co-operative, framing its rules, defining its objects,
possibly accumulating capital, as the debate continues.

The co-operative once formed and registered and its officers
elected, the members will need training in the procedures of
general meetings and the working methods of their society; the
management committee members will require guidance in the
performance of their duties; and whoever is appointed manager or
secretary will probably also need instruction and supervision,
at least at first. All will continue to learn, it may be hoped,
as the society's work develops, and begin to distil some
practical wisdom from their experience. The process here
described, or something very like it, was followed with
conspicuous success in the co-operative pioneer work carried out
some 50 years ago in the Maritime Provinces of Canada by the
Extension Department of the St. Francis Xavier University of
Antigonish, Nova Scotia. Thanks to the training carried out by
the University in social leadership through the Coady Institute,
this system of co-operative education is spreading far and wide
in the developing countries. Its great merit is that it
exemplifies not merely education in co-operation, but also co-
operation in education. Practice and theory are not divorced but
united as aspects of one concept - co-operation.

In the simple example just given of the role of Education in the
formation of a primary co-operative, it will be observed that the
elements of knowledge, technical training and social discipline
are already all three present. In old established co-operative
movements they may be seen in an advanced stage of development
as a network of interlacing institutions. These may include adult
educational courses, a popular and a technical press, co-
operative training schools and colleges, departments for
publicity and public relations, departments for film or video
distribution and production and so forth, all co-operative
organisations of all types. By no means to be ignored is the co-
operative education organised within the academic world in the
form of school and student co-operatives and the institutions for
co-operative studies and research established by a number of
famous universities within their faculties of economics and
sociology. The scope and structure of these various co-operative
institutions are bound to differ according to the circumstances
of every country, the development of its system of public
instruction and the policies of its educational authorities and
organisations. In applying its Principle of Education, the co-
operative movement is not obliged to provide every kind of
education its members and officers require. Its responsibility
is simply to ensure that co-operators are educated in the ways,
and to the degree, that their functions in the movement demand
for efficient performance.

This has meant, both in the past and today, that where national
systems are underdeveloped and their deficiencies are not made
good by other agencies, the co-operative movement has provided
the education which its member or personnel lacked. As is well
known, the Rochdale Pioneers in their early days helped their
illiterate members to become literate and provided a lending
library and reading room so that all members could continue their
general education and keep reasonably well-informed on current
events. Over the years, the Pioneers went even farther in the
direction of co-operation for education by arranging lectures and
courses for adults in different branches of knowledge for which
a need or an interest existed among the membership, thus helping
to make good for working people, who normally left school at 14
years of age or earlier, the omission of the State system to
provide systematic education for adults. In time, as other
institutions such as the Workers' Educational Association and the
extra-mural departments of universities staked their claims in
this field and the State came to recognise its responsibility for
aiding them, the co-operatives took a less prominent part, while
continuing to support, financially and in other ways, forms of
adult education directly beneficial to the movement. The
relations between the Co-operative movement and other educational
agencies must remain fluid and flexible in a rapidly changing
world, first in order that the co-operative movement can make the
most effective and economical use of whatever resources it can
devote to education, and second that it can contribute, more
especially to the education of the citizen, that combination of
thought and action, of the ideal and practical, of stability with
progress, which is its outstanding merit.

There is always a close correspondence between the development
of adult education in any country and the level of the
performance of its co-operative institutions. The classic example
is, of course, Denmark where a system of adult education - the
folk high schools or people's colleges - was in existence almost
a generation before there was any large-scale co-operative
development, particularly among the rural population. There is
no doubt at all that Denmark's rapid advance to the forefront of
the agricultural co-operative movement is due tot he liberal
education received by young farmers in the people's colleges
during the winter months. The close and friendly relations
between the co-operative movement and the people's colleges did
not obviate, however, the need for the co-operative movement in
time to establish its own schools and courses for training in co-
operative and business techniques, as well as its own press for
keeping its members' knowledge up-to-date.

Among the most exemplary systems of co-operative education are
those developed by the Swedish consumers' co-operative movement
for employees and members during more than six decades. They owe
much to the late Harold Elldin, the most original of co-operative
educators in this century, who was appointed head of the
Department of Co-operative Studies of Kooperativa Forbundet, the
Swedish Union-Wholesale, about 1920. Since space will not permit
an adequate account here of his methods and ideas, it must
suffice to say that he broke completely from traditional pedagogy
and started afresh from a consideration of the geography and
social life of Sweden, the working lives of the students he had
to train and the kinds of service for which he had to make them
competent. He rejected the lecture as a method of teaching as
conducive to mental and physical torpor and substituted for it
study in small graded groups in which the participants learned
by gathering their own information from original sources,
discovered every aspect of the subject studied, and worked out
practical solutions to problems of modern retailing.

Sweden has a large territory with a relatively small population.
In order to avoid excessive expense of travelling and long
absences from the employees' daily work, Elldin based his
instruction on correspondence courses, bringing students to the
College only for periodic short interim study sessions. In time
he was able to recruit assistants from the older students. These
acted as advisers and guides to the study groups but also
continued their studies of advanced technical problems. Only a
few of them remained on the college staff; the rest mostly left
for management positions in Kooperativa Forbundet or one of its
affiliated societies. The learning system thus maintained a
constant supply of competent workers, but it must also be said
that it did not necessarily meet all the movement's needs in

Discussion groups also formed the training skills of Co-operative
member-education. They are numbered by thousands and their
studies extend to subjects other than co-operation. They are
never left to flounder their own way along, but are provided with
ready-made courses and expert advice and guidance by the staff
specially trained in a department of the head office of the Co-
operative Union. The groups not only receive help; they are
expected to report the course and the conclusion of their
discussions to the central office to be commented upon by the
advisory staff. This remarkable combination of discussion groups
with correspondence tuition results in a wide diffusion of sound
co-operative knowledge and opinion throughout the consumers' co-
operative movement; it enables the leadership to take the pulse
of the membership and to gain understanding and support in
advance of major changes of policy. Special research has again
and again been organized and text books written. It meets the
particular need of the discussion groups. In the famous
confrontation between Kooperativa Forbundet and the European
electric lamp cartel, Anders Hedberg was commissioned to write
a book on the role of the cartel in the electricity industry. The
book was studied in the groups while KF's factory was being built
and the whole market represented by the consumer co-operative
movement was aware of what was at stake, ready to purchase the
lamps before production began.

In a brief review of the `content' of co-operative education -
knowledge, technical training and social discipline - we may note
first of all that the knowledge needed by co-operators is
systematic in varying degrees. All co-operators need information,
that is, up-to-date, accurate knowledge of facts and events
bearing upon practical tasks and decisions to be reached or
executed. All co-operators need the technical knowledge which
relates to the working of co-operative institutions, particularly
the movement's democratic machinery. Beyond this are fields of
knowledge which are extremely valuable without being always
indispensable to efficient co-operative practice, notably the
history of the movement's origins and development and past events
which have determined its present situation. There is also the
economic and sociological knowledge yielded by the scientific
study of co-operation as a social phenomenon among many others
knowledge which becomes increasingly systematic as research
extends and criticism becomes more searching.

The constant aim of education must be to create and maintain in
the minds of co-operators a many-sided awareness of the movement
and the manner in which it promotes their interests. This aim
cannot be achieved unless information is conveyed to them in such
a way that it is virtually impossible for them to ignore it. It
must be taken to them; it is useless to expect them (or many of
them) to seek it, especially in our contemporary society when
such a multitude of interests and causes clamour for their
attention. In many countries where the movement is long-
established, the membership is now so large as to be
indistinguishable from the general public. The Movement is unable
to keep its members aware of co-operation without resort to some
of the techniques of advertising, publicity and mass
communication employed by competing interests. Moreover at this
level, the movement has to aim at attracting the attention of
prospective as well as present members.

Dr. Otto Neurath, the Austrian sociologist, once remarked that
it was impossible for any one living in London to avoid being
told by paster and newspaper advertisements that a certain
beverage `is good for you'. If profit enterprise can achieve this
result, how much more ought the co-operative movement to tell its
members and the citizens at large, with no less inevitability,
other things which are `good' and probably better for them. Mass-
communication media are expensive of course, but not so expensive
in the long run as failure on the movement's part to make its
mission understood or to hold its ground in a competitive world.
The question is really whether the movement intends to survive
or not. The co-operative presses of certain countries were on the
right track when they decided many years ago to distribute their
members' journals by post, as do some large primary societies
their periodical reports, because they recognised that what the
postman delivered was almost certainly read.

The importance of prompt, accurate and full information is
enhanced by its intimate relation with democracy, which can
hardly hope to operate in any co-operative society unless matters
of common concern are also matters of common knowledge among the
members. The practice begun by the men of Rochdale of convening
regular reports on the society's operations and precise financial
statements is still the general practice of all types of co-
operative. The evolution of the members' meeting has already been
discussed in the chapter on Democracy, but from the standpoint
of education, the important consideration is that through the
very growth of membership, the members' meeting has declined as
a medium of information and has had to be supplemented by printed
word which in its turn has been supplemented by other media
including television and radio.

Noteworthy is the evolution of the Co-operative Press from
periodic bulletins of the character of house organs towards, on
the one hand, magazines serving less as media of specific co-
operative information that as windows for co-operators on the
world at large and, on the other, towards technical journals
dealing with events and problems of management and administration
of significance to special branches of the movement or particular
groups or classes of co-operator. Inevitably, as both kinds of
journal develop and add the discussion of policy to their news
and information services, the more they help to broaden the
outlook of co-operators on the economic and social mixes within
which their organisations live and move. Indeed, to every
important type of co-operative belongs its specific educational
field which comprises enlightenment not only on the internal
working of the co-operative but also on its intended influence
and effects on the external economy. Thus a consumers' co-
operative, in order to make its policy, strategy and tactics
intelligible to its members, has to keep them continually aware
of the consumers' place in the economy, the disabilities under
which they labour when bargaining individually, whether under
competitive or monopolistic conditions, as well as their actual
and potential influence when they combine their purchasing power
in co-operatives.

A similar awareness, though from a different angle, needs to be
developed in producers' co-operatives whose members should
understand the forces of demand and supply governing their
markets in both the short and long term, as well as the
conditions on which their societies operate remuneratively in
these markets. Similarly again, the members of a housing co-
operative should acquire through their society a general
knowledge of the extent and character of the housing problems of
their country and co-operative's actual and possible role in
their solution. The study of co-operation in a vacuum has no kind
of practical value or result. Co-operation only becomes
significant against its economic and social background and
without this knowledge co-operators are prone to expect sometimes
too much, sometimes too little, of their societies - for example,
demanding dividends when conditions do not permit societies to
earn them -and they may also fail to support their managements
loyally in difficult situations or warn them effectively against
possible mistakes.

Within the co-operative movement itself, if its educational work
is well done, the consciousness of the typical co-operator will
not be bounded by the primary co-operative of which he may be a
member. From the very foundation of their co-operative or from
the moment of their entry into an old-established society, the
members must be made aware that it is but a unit in a much larger
movement. Office-bearers should be made acquainted as early as
possible with neighbouring societies so that their minds are more
or less prepared for collaboration and eventual federation before
either becomes a practical necessity.

Sooner or later federation or amalgamation will appear on the
agenda and the task of educationists is to anticipate and prepare
for this. The alternative of federating first and attempting to
educate after invites the virtually inevitable result that the
outlook of the average member lags behind the actual situation.
National problems will be encountered which the great body of co-
operators are able to grasp only from a local standpoint. That
is in fact what has happened almost everywhere and it accounts
to a great extent for the sluggishness with which co-operative
movements have adopted the far-reaching measures of concentration
and re-grouping made necessary by their transformed competitive
situation. A similar but longer time-lag is to be observed on the
international level and has much to do with the slow and
irresolute development of inter-trading between co-operative
federations of different countries and continents over the last
60 years. It is not that the co-operative movement's
internationalism is not sincere, but that it remains for the most
part on the plane of mere sentiment and is snot informed and
directed by real knowledge and understanding such as education
alone can give.

Because co-operation must be efficient in its own sense of the
term, co-operative education necessarily includes an element of
technical training. Many of the techniques employed in co-
operative business are little different, if at all, from those
in use in any other form of undertaking engaged in the same
branches of industry or commerce. Where training in these
techniques is already provided by the State or the industry or
by the two jointly, there is no reason for the co-operative
movement to attempt to provide it independently. It has simply
to insist that its employees and officials receive the training
generally available. There is no substance in the assertion
sometimes heard that this training must be given `in a Co-
operative atmosphere'. On the other hand, the movement is obliged
to train its personnel in those technical processes which are
peculiar to co-operative practice and which mostly result from
the fact that a co-operative consists of members and not mere
shareholders. There are, for example, procedures for recording
members' transactions with their societies and for the
calculation and payment of sums due to them involved in the
dividend system. Or again, the observance of the Principle of
Democracy requires administrative and consultative `machinery',
the working of which must be understood, not only by a co-
operative's permanent officials, but also by its ordinary members
and the officers they elect, if it is to fulfil its proper tasks
and its rules are to be efficiently carried out.

The general assembly, for example, if it is to act effectively
as the supreme authority in any co-operative, must be familiar
as to its purpose, powers, procedures and standing orders (where
such exist) to a sufficiently large nucleus of members, otherwise
it will tend to atrophy and with it democracy in the society as
a whole. In fact this machinery must become so familiar to all
concerned that it can be handed over to what has been well called
`the effortless custody of habit'. But in order that habit shall
not degenerate into routine, it is also necessary that members
shall be competent to take full advantage of the opportunities
for initiative which the general assembly may offer. When they
have good ideas, they should know how to put them forward and get
them seriously discussed and ultimately voted upon. Technical
skill and know-how are indispensable. If they are not to be
acquired by the slow and uncertain processes of trial and error,
the society must provide training which must be within the reach
of every member. The fact that only a minority will avail
themselves of it is no argument against providing it. One of the
great advantages of the guilds, youth groups and other voluntary
associations encouraged within certain national co-operative
movements is that they serve as training grounds in which the
young and inexperienced can exercise themselves in debate,
record-keeping, reporting, secretaryship and chairmanship and
thereby acquire experience and confidence.

A man or woman, however, may be both knowledgeable about co-
operative affairs and, as member or official, a skilful
manipulator of the movement's economic and democratic machinery
without being in the full sense an educated co-operator, just as
a performer on any instrument can be a proficient executant
without being a thorough musician. Co-operative education has
therefore to be completed by the third element which we have
called social discipline. This implies something more than the
intellectual discipline represented by the social sciences which
throw light upon Co-operative Principles and their application,
although these disciplines are included in it. It includes also
the study of co-operation's underlying principles and their
mutual reconciliation, not in the abstract, but in the creation
and development of co-operative institutions offering solutions
to fundamental economic and social problems of the contemporary
world. Here is the common intellectual ground on which all co-
operators whatever their functions, whatever their background,
must meet if the movement is to achieve unity and hold together.
The educated co-operator must be capable of recognising the co-
operative idea in its endlessly diverse embodiments and of
visualising the multitudes of co-operative societies, unions,
federations and other institutions as members of one family with
a common allegiance.

The work of specialists, however well-trained and knowledgeable,
and the discharge of particular functions, however necessary and
efficient, are unproductive without a common centre of reference,
a common inspiration in the same idea. Specialisation must be
balanced and stabilised by co-ordination, otherwise it becomes
a centrifugal destructive force. Just as co-operatives in
practice advance towards a unity growing ever more comprehensive,
so must the study of co-operation complement analysis by the
synthesis of all those ideas which time and experience have
confirmed to be of universal significance. As the social
consciousness of the typical co-operator expands from his local
primary society to embrace the national and ultimately the
international co-operative movement, so he begins to perceive,
from the comparison of success and failure at different times in
different places, what truths about co-operation are of only
local or only national significance and to distinguish between
them and those others which are of universal application wherever
genuine co-operation exists.

But social discipline also includes the reverse face of the coin
of which co-operative principles are the obverse, namely,
standards of conduct for the individual. The members of the
movement, if they are collectively its masters, must be willing
as individuals to serve it. They are in the last analysis the
trustees of one another's welfare and a sense of trusteeship has
not only to be developed by education among co-operative officers
and officials, but also diffused as widely as possible among the
general membership, along with the sentiment of brotherhood and
mutual loyalty. There is another discipline to be learnt which
may be called democratic and it consists in the honest and loyal
operation of democratic procedures for consultation and decision
and good-humoured acceptance of democratic decisions, when they
have been fairly reached. It is not a defect in mankind to be
ambitious for power or to believe fervently in the rightness of
particular policies or doctrines. Yet it is inconsistent with
good co-operative standards of conduct to allow ambition to
trample upon the rights of others or for fanaticism to suppress
the beliefs and right to express them of others, or in the name
of either opinion or doctrine to undermine democratic
institutions or falsify democratic processes. Again if freedom
is to be maximised within co-operative institutions, the attitude
of individual members to one another must be one of tolerance and
if Equity is to be achieved and maintained in changing
circumstances, it can only be where co-operators cultivate their
sense of justice to the point where they recognise what is due
to others as readily as they do what is due to themselves.

If the foregoing arguments are carried far enough, we cannot
escape the conclusions that all co-operators more or less and
certainly all co-operative educators must be something of
philosophers and that co-operative administrators, especially
those likely to be called to occupy positions of authority in the
national and international co-operative movements, must have the
education of statesmen. Many in the past, with the requisite
native ability, have made statesmen of themselves by learning
from their varied experience. The movement however, has often not
reaped the full benefit of their wisdom because they arrived late
in life in leading positions, and exercised their authority for
only a few years before their retirement or death. One of the
tasks of co-operative education systems, in whatever country or
continent, is to search for latent ability among co-operators of
all types and ages, and having found it to develop it and
encourage its employment for the benefit of the movement. Yet
education will be frustrated in its work if co-operative
administration is not far-sighted enough to take the ability
disclosed in business operations, no less than talent. It is
ultimately not in competition for trade, but in competition for
ability, that the fate of the co-operative movement will be