21 October 2006

Reflections of an Adult Educator - Part 5

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 five Baptiste and Heaney questions, one post per day. Prior installments: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

It can be reasonably argued that the enterprise you described above will continue, whether or not the label “adult education” remains. Provide a rationale for continued use of the label or propose a more desirable alternative.
I consider the “adult” qualifier in “adult education” as referring not to the targets or objects of the education – those adults who would be educated – but rather to the educator her or himself. The educator as subject can be either an adult or a child, reflecting a spectrum of relative maturity concerning the enterprise of education. The child educator is one who believes exclusively or primarily in instrumentality, that is, the supremacy of content. For the child educator, lifelong learning is predominantly about so-called reskilling or training, creating the image of educator as circus trainer in which the objects of that education – the learners – are taught to sit up and beg on command for the morsels of individual renewal that emanate from the lips of the trainer. Child educators reinforce the hegemony of the particular process that establishes a corporate power hierarchy, that in turn, necessitates credentials and mandates credentialism. But with all of its trappings of superiority, this educator has not matured beyond the level of the perpetually insecure child, continually seeking external validation, both of those beneath themselves in the learning hierarchy, and those who create the system of validation itself.

On the other hand, the adult educator realizes that it is not the content of the learning, but the sustained effects of the learning that matter. Further, I am not referring to the effects on the would-be learner, although those effects are obviously implicated in the larger concern of which I speak. I refer instead specifically to the effects on the total societal environment that the learner can subsequently enable after assimilating the true transformative lessons of the education. In this, both adult educator and adult educatee are jointly and unrepealably educated, changing both the immediate environment in which the education occurs, and the larger social environment to which each contributes, and in which each lives.

  • 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.

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