20 October 2006

Reflections of an Adult Educator - Part 4

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

Increasingly “adult learning” is being substituted for “adult education.” What do you make of this substitution?
I have always maintained that education is what remains after you have forgotten everything that you have been taught. Adult learning, when considered relative to this context, shifts the focus from what remains to what is taught. The substitution of “learning” for “education” – and a nuanced and critical understanding of education at that – is a dangerous course for society, because a society is formed of “what remains” – the social values, the moral and ethical sensibilities, and the ability to effect transformation in the face of systemic injustice. I agree with Baptiste and Heaney’s (1996) assessment that learning connotes a political, ethical and moral neutrality that ironically encourages ignore-ance – literally the learned ability to ignore much that is problematic in favour of that which is instrumental, efficient and economic. With a new emphasis on learning as opposed to education, especially in the context of economic outcomes, maintaining the status quo and the positions of those vested in it is all but assured. Adult learners, that is, those to whom such learning opportunities are made available and who have the means and ability to avail themselves of them, become implicated in supporting the existing hegemonic structure even as they, themselves, become vested in it. Instrumental and functional learning is important as skills and specific capabilities create a foundation for any civilization or culture. However, all learning must be contextualized by the broader notion of education; eliminating the latter from the discourse negates any potential societal benefits of the former.

(final installment 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.

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