18 October 2006

Reflections of an Adult Educator - Part 2

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. Yesterday's installment is here.

What are the distinctive practices, institutions, organizations, purposes and predecessors of the enterprise you call adult education?

Rather than identifying the practices, institutions and purposes of adult education, I would cast my gaze towards those that are characteristically not adult education. In many important respects, vast swaths of this university – and the institution of university itself – are not involved in the enterprise of adult education. Equally, corporate education, and especially those activities identified as training, are not. These instances, when viewed through a critical lens, almost seem to recall the form of education, or “re-education,” of Mao Tse-Tung’s cultural revolution in China. In these re-education camps, as in our own education campuses, what is primarily emphasized is an enforced compliance with dominant normative behaviours, attitudes, thinking, philosophy, and the construction and valuation of specific knowledge and ways of knowing, irrespective of the particular politics of the institution, faculty, department or program. For example, a way of empirically discovering a breadth of perceptions from the grounds of multiple standpoints is qualitative investigation. However, this institute (OISE/UT) is one of only two areas in this entire university that values knowledge produced by qualitative methods. Moreover, the vast majority of what exists in this institute resides in the Adult Education and Community Development program.

It is little surprise, then, that some of the basic tenets of this program inform my opinion on the fundamental precursors of adult education. They are two-fold. First, a constructivist standpoint is needed – the idea that we each, individually and collectively, create meaning in a world that is subjective, contingent, complex and contextualized by an ever-changing ground. Second, all those involved in the enterprise of adult education must not only understand, but more importantly value, the notion that there are multiple ways of perceiving, transforming through emotion, and responding to environments, circumstances, subjects and objects. These processes, that can be said to collectively comprise cognition, do not represent “an independently existing world, but rather a continual bringing forth of a world through the process of living” (Capra, p. 267; emphasis in original).

(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.
  • Capra, F. (1996). The web of life. New York: Anchor Books.

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