19 October 2006

Reflections of an Adult Educator - Part 3

One of my final courses is a doctoral-level seminar on the Political Economy of Adult Education. We were asked to answer a series of questions that were the subject of a conversation between Ian Baptiste and Tom Heaney (1996). As people are sometimes interested in my philosophy of education, I thought I'd post my reflections on the four Baptiste and Heaney questions, one post per day. Prior installments: Part 1, Part 2.

Give examples of counterfeits of adult education practice.
The most significant and problematic counterfeiting agency of adult education practice is the discourse of lifelong learning. Among the OECD countries, a mandate for Lifelong Learning For All (OECD, 1996) was adopted and endorsed as “an integral part of employment and social policy” (McKenzie & Wurzburg, 1997). This particular orientation not only corrupts the espoused principles of adult education as an endeavour of enlightenment and emancipation – “social education for purposes of social change” (Lindeman in Baptiste and Heaney, p. 3). It also subverts adult educators’ ability to probe and critique societal hegemonic structures, and to instill an ethos of virtuous resistance among those who would be educated. Lifelong learning creates an imperative for instrumentality. But more than that, it introduces a tacit paranoia – fear for one’s livelihood and the ability to even participate in society – that precludes the option of non-compliance.

Even more problematic, yet devilishly subtle, is the language used to describe the endeavour of lifelong learning, and the emphasis on training that it suggests. Trainers speak of transferring skills and knowledge from themselves to the targets of their teaching, suggesting a rivalrous, or competitive, conveyance of material from one to the other. The connotation of transference is that what was once possessed by the giver becomes the exclusive property of the receiver, and that the value of knowledge somehow inheres exclusively in she who possesses it. Of course, such language is completely consistent with the myth of an ever more competitive world, and the idea that knowledge is power, not to mention fame and fortune. The discourse of lifelong learning is thus wrapped up in an imperative to remain competitive and employable by acquiring resources that are not in fact rivalrous, but serve the dominant discourse to be considered as such.

(more tomorrow)

  • Baptiste, I., & Heaney, T. (1996). The political construction of adult education. Paper presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference in Adult, Continuing, and Community Education, October 17-19, 1996, Lincoln, NE.
  • McKenzie, P. & Wurzburg, G. (1997). Lifelong learning and employability. The OECD Observer, 209, 13-17.
    Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (1996). Lifelong learning for all. Paris: OECD Publications.

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