Schools and Universities as Commons

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Tommaso Fattori:

"In order to access knowledge and education, schools and universities are also necessary, but the field of “services” which contribute to allowing access to knowledge and non-material commons in general is much broader than them. Just to quote the simplest examples, these services range from libraries (physical or virtual) to the Internet itself. One must always be aware of the broad horizons of services related to access to knowledge, which are often at risk of privatization: it is no minor issue that the Internet – which we could define a non-state public service and a global commons – is constantly under threat of enclosure. But it is also a question of looking at the public services we are examining here with different eyes: the school and university system. That schools and universities be public and not private is, once again, a necessary condition, but not of itself sufficient: commonifying schools and universities means rethinking these institutions according to the previously illustrated mechanisms: in primis democratic participation in the regulation, government and management of the service and ensuring common enjoyment of it, that is, that no-one will be excluded from it based on their income or other discriminating factors. But it also means taking a further step, which broadens the horizon and the function of the public service as commons: universities and schools are commons when they also perform the function of producing new commons to place at the disposal of the collectivity and of future generations.  So it is not merely a question of universal use of the service and its internal organization, but also of what the service does to broaden the “realm of the commons”. So that the concept does not remain abstract, I will give some example of what I mean. The school and university systems are truly commons when in their turn they produce new commons, which can potentially be used by anyone: open digital archives and common repositories, free teaching materials (for example, textbooks which can be co-produced by teachers and students), courses and lessons uploaded and  made available online, copyleft studies and research materials, contributions and support for  hardware sharing, physical materials and libraries at the disposal of the residents in the area and other forms of support to the local community (such as the free legal aid offered by law clinics), and so on.1 Creating new commons means combating the new enclosures of knowledge, which has now been fragmented and undermined by burgeoning intellectual property rights, and also means redistributing common wealth outside the specific reference communities (made up of students and teachers in a specific training institute), contributing  to increasing an open common heritage, to the benefit of the collectivity and of future generations." (draft manuscript)

Source info: Excerpts from a text prepared by Tommaso Fattori as part of the book-project "Protecting Future Generations Through Commons", organized by Directorate General of Social Cohesion of the Council of Europe in collaboration with the International University College of Turin. The text will be published soon in “Trends in Social Cohesion” Series, Council of Europe publications