Sunday, September 28, 2008

Meaning of Adult Education

While Malcolm Knowles is widely known as the Father of Adult Learning, and the program I am taking will undoubtedly be largely dictated by his work, he is far from the first to study the topic. One of Knowles mentors was Eduard C Lindeman, whose 1926 writing "The Meaning of Adult Education" was described as so fascinating he could not put it down. It is a rather small book, so I set out to see what was so interesting.

It is clear from the start that this is an essay about life. Any reference to the book will almost certainly quote "Education is life." The more you learn, the more aspects of life you are able to enjoy. While the words were never printed, I found myself thinking over and over, "The journey is the destination. Enjoy it!"

Most of the book is quotable in some learning context, but I'll start with some more radical quotes to provide some critical food for thought.

p 170 - "The real distinction between educated and uneducated persons is not to be found in such superficial criteria as academic degrees, formal study or accumulation of facts; indeed, formal learning may, and often does, lead people into narrow scholarship and out of life."

Hang on to your hat. This could be a bumpy ride. I'm starting a degree in Adult Education by learning that someone agrees with my dim view of Academia?

p 195 - "It is perhaps true that no single group in modern life stands in greater need of adult education than experts, specialists: those who continue to know "more and more about less and less."

I chose these quotes not as representative, but rather as an expression that I'd wanted to make but didn't feel it my place. Having made that connection with the author, I'll point out that the majority of the text is NOT about the woes of Academia. It is a rather enlightening view of what makes people so special. "Human nature is predisposed to optimism" he writes. He identifies aspects that are needed for people to lead their most satisfying lives. He reminds us that we need to cultivate our own personalities and experiences in order to truly live.

He discusses the social aspects of learning and what an important role it plays. Then he drops this bombshell about new technologies (1926 remember?):

Does it not bring us closer together? And will we not therefore learn to have more respect and good-will toward each other? This naive manner of placing human relations upon the quantity-contact basis probably stands in the way of our making the best use of communication inventions. It undoubtedly causes us to overlook the fact that highly-developed means of communication are indispensable to highly-centralized forms of social control. Some important differences persisted in the various regions of the United States before we all read the same syndicated news, listened to the same radio announcers, witnessed the same motion pictures, ate the same food, wore the same clothes, et cetera. Rapid means of transportation and communication tend to standardize us and therefore render us easier of control by single authorities...Our personalities can be redeemed if we insist upon a proper share in the solution of problems which specially concern us. This means giving more attention to small groups; it means as much decentralization, diversity and local autonomy as is consistent with order.

I don't take this to mean he was at all a conspiracy theorist. In context, this is related to the fact that each person can and should be able to intelligently form his/her own judgement. It is a development of one's personality based on that person's experience. Advanced communications make it very easy to accept the judgement of another instead of living your own life and enjoying it for yourself.

Experiencing life, learning from it, and then experiencing that much more is likely a vicious circle Eduard C. Lindeman would consider key to the good life. If Adult Education is rooted in that type of philosophy, I guess it is time to learn how to better richen the lives of others.

(If you do read or have read this book, please let me know if you enjoyed it too.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Adult Education

In spite of (or because of?) my employment at a University, I have developed a rather dim view of Academia over the years. When the University announced that it would offer a Master's Program in Adult Education it was very hard for me to seriously consider it. The encouragement of one Adult Education professor and a program specifically designed for Extension employees have made the offer too good to pass up. As encouraging as anything is the realization that plenty of people in Academia share my dim view of the system. Adult Education researcher Allen Tough noted that as little as 10% of what an adult learns comes from any type of formal instruction. This doesn't say much positive about adults in Academia, but sheds a whole new light on the possibilities for Extension.

As long as I stick with this program, I'll most likely use this space as a place to post notes, quotes, and maybe even a challenge question for the reader. As always, the primary purpose is for me, but I suspect others will find some points of interest too. If nothing else you can amuse yourself with my constantly changing attitude.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Potted Meat and Crackers

In January of 1972 my family took a road trip to see the University of Alabama play football against Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. I think my Great Uncle had gotten tickets through his contacts at the phone company where he worked. Mom prepared for the trip by getting find-a-word puzzles, books, snacks, and all those other necessities Moms are so good at remembering. She knew I'd be bored to death on the car ride and she was right. I think I read some stupid learning to read book about a horse named Bessie about a hundred times. I guess we didn't take that big ole Pontiac Catalina we had for so many years, because I don't remember lying on the "hat rack" and watching the clouds that day (a Pontiac had to have been the best car in the world for a kid who liked to watch clouds and stars out of the back window). Instead, I recall being in a seat just like the poor kids of today who are forced to miss out on some of the finer pleasures of growing up. Anyway...
When we arrived in Miami we were welcomed by my Grandmother's Sister, my Uncle, a bunch of cousins, and other family friends. The whole lot of us went to see the Orange Bowl Parade, of which I remember very little. I think there were clowns but I wouldn't even guarantee that. When the tailing fire truck passed we piled in behind with a mob of people and followed the parade back to an area close to our cars.
On the day of the game we road a bus to the stadium. I remember talk of how nice it was to be able to pass right by cars which were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic. Looking back now, I assume the tickets & bus ride were probably part of a package deal of the type given out as a company bonus. I'm not sure if the game was really slow, or if I just had the attention span of a 5 year old, but I recall it being very boring and disappointing. As best as I can tell that'd be about right, as historical records indicate my home state's team lost 38-6. Riding in a car for what seemed like an eternity, just to sit through a losing football effort may well be what started my interest in Auburn, my home state's other well known University.
The most memorable part of the trip was the football party held at my Aunt and Uncle's house. I wasn't especially close to my cousins whom I'd hardly met (since they were so physically distant for the time) and I was hanging close to Mom and Dad. My Uncle attempted to make me comfortable and offered something from a plate of appetizers. "Here you go, son. Wouldn't you like to try an hors d'oeurve?" My response was one which our family has laughed about for years, since it cut right to the bone of his fancy sounding offer. If there were a way to bottle the innocence and sincerity of an 5 year old child I'd love to have a few cases of this to use on University professors. I answered, "What is it? Looks like potted meat and crackers to me."