Education & Training

education & training
It is easier to educate a young person than to reform an adult.
Father Jose Arizmendiarrieta


  • RAISON D'ÊTRE (Reason To Be)


The quality of coopyouth education foretells the quality of the Cooperative Movement’s future. What coopyouth are taught today, they will manifest today and for many days to come. “Education, Training, & Information,” the 5th Principle within the Cooperative Identity, is testament to the centrality of education within cooperative theory and practice. In fact, education is considered by many cooperative practitioners, including Father Arizmendiarrieta, to necessarily be the raison d’etre for any cooperative: to educate people in working and relating cooperatively in all aspects of their lives. However, the task of cooperative education is made difficult in modern society, as it runs counter to the values and techniques of most educational models throughout the world, which Arizmendiarrieta describes as being “highly antagonistic to communitarian affirmations. While indulging and encouraging individualistic positions, they have profound reservations about proposals for freedom and human solidarity” (1999, 114).

As a companion to this section, reviewing the definition of "Education" in the glossary section "Definitions" can help to orient you to the more radical and comprehensive concept of education leveraged herein.


Father Arizmendiarrieta was one of the leading thinkers who espoused that cooperatives are, at their most basic, educational institutions that teach people how to be “homo cooperativus.” Put another way, he viewed cooperatives as places where people can fully realize and actualize their potential in a way that supports a new conception of the world as a cooperative commonwealth. His suppositions have borne fruit, given that the very structure of Mondragon, the world’s largest worker cooperative federation, began and persists as, at its most fundamental, a school. Aside from developing cooperatives around an educational institution as Mondragon has done, there are a variety of simpler ways to integrate education into a cooperative’s daily function in ways that both orient it as the cooperative’s “reason for being,” as well as to sustain the cooperative even when other aspects of the organization’s functioning slow or become challenging.


The lead quote used for this section, “It is easier to educate a young person than reform an adult,” speaks to two processes that are both necessary elements of contemporary education - learning and unlearning. Both sides of this same coin of education require vulnerability and openness on the part of the un/learner, which are necessarily supported by un/learning environments that feel safe enough that an individual is comfortable expressing that they do not know or understand something, as well as soliciting and receiving input from others to help them un/learn. The culture of a cooperative, alongside its stated priorities, greatly inform whether an organizational environment is sufficiently suited for un/learning. As indicated, the process of unlearning can be understandably more difficult than learning, as it involves complex emotional work in addition to processing forms of external information. The internal work of unlearning asks that a person accept that something they believed to be true is incorrect, that they were knowingly or unknowingly misled by a teacher or caretaker, and - in many cases - that something they held as true or moral is actually totally false or unethical. How long a person has held a given belief and how much they trusted the person or institution that provided them the initial information are two key factors that impact the level of difficulty of a particular unlearning process. One of the biggest battles within cooperative work, that some may not yet be prepared to undertake, is the unlearning and releasing beliefs and frameworks that are both overly represented in mainstream society and deleterious to the Cooperative Identity. Given the reality that both learning and unlearning must take place, it is the responsibility of cooperatives to create a sufficiently safe environment for those education processes, as well as acknowledge their own limitations in effectively supporting certain processes of learning and unlearning, which strongly inform decisions about new members and organizational learning priorities.

Unlearning Capitalism to Imagine Beyond It

The vast majority of today’s world has learned to relate to others and work within capitalism. As a result, society has been collectively educated – to greater and lesser degrees – with information and methods that are shaped according to the values of individualism, the sense the world is an equitable meritocracy, the idea that competitiveness is a virtue, and that material wealth makes a person worthy of respect and care. Unlearning the mores and norms impressed upon us via “capitalist realism” - a concept outlined in greater detail in the “Dirty Words” section, is an especially essential, difficult, and ongoing task in striving to transform our communities into cooperative societies free of coercion and oppression. 


A frequent and specific task of unlearning related to the process of education, itself, is resetting priorities around what skills are most important to our work within cooperatives. Mainstream society and, at times, the Cooperative Movement, places an abundance of focus on “rational” reasoning and technical skills. While this is changing within many corners of the movement, at many cooperative development training, you are more likely to encounter a session on “Business Planning'' than on “Group Dynamics,” though the latter is arguably foundational to whether or not any plans for business operations will be successful. Further, skills like those taught within the context of group dynamics - e.g. emotional regulation, equitable relationship management - are frequently called “soft skills,” which beguiles both how truly challenging these things can be and how essential they are to the health of a cooperative. Ultimately, these soft skills are what is required for someone to be a cooperative individual, or “homo cooperativus,” and often require the unlearning of maladaptive approaches to emotions and relations. Such un/learning in conventional contexts shaped by individualism and “professionalism” is relegated to an individual’s personal life, while cooperativism calls people to consider this work as a collective imperative. The key issue section on “Cooperative Culture” explores the mainstream distinction between the “personal” and “professional” within the context of cooperativism. “Teaching only the proper way for people to behave with one another, without confronting their selfishness, is like plowing the sea” (Arizmendiarrieta, 1999, 40).


While much of the discourse around cooperative education and training focuses on education within cooperatives and the movement, education of the general public is both how the Cooperative Movement grows, as well as an important way in which the Sixth “Cooperation Among Cooperatives” and Seventh “Care for Community” Principles can be actualized. Many of the contemporary movement building and cooperative outreach efforts today tend to adopt an approach more akin to marketing than education - which is a function of "capitalist realism," already mentioned above. Instead, when viewing education as a form of solidarity and care, cooperative practitioners have the opportunity to both teach others with which they are in solidarity how to cooperate, as well as to educate their neighbors and community members in what they are able to do via cooperativism. Education, a concept and activity absolutely central to cooperative theory and practice within cooperative organizations, is an expression of solidarity and care when enacted beyond the arbitrary parameters of individual cooperative enterprise into a cooperative;s communities, at-large. This speaks, again, to how cooperativism is not just a checklist for an organization, it is a comphrensive philosophy that speaks to individual behavior and all relationships between humans and with the world in which they live.